HIS GROWING INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION FOR DANGEROUS IGNORANCE
The election is over. What has America done? Are we better off with Trump instead of Clinton? Throughout his business career and two presidential campaigns, critics across much of the political spectrum provided repeated warnings regarding Trump’s darker and more negative character traits. He will now be tested under the significantly intense and complex pressures of the world’s highest and most demanding leadership position. Is this man stable and ready for the job? Based on consistent patterns in his behavior, I cannot answer this question in the affirmative.
CBC News, a division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, created a very informative documentary called, “The Rise and Rage of Donald Trump : The Fire Breather”. It highlights just how extreme and menacing the Trump candidacy is:
Canada, like 17 more of the top 20 richest countries in the world, has a very unfavorable view of Trump. He has created a high level of mistrust and serious concern for them. The regions exempt from these dominant negative feelings about him are specific portions of America and Russia as a whole, a nation directed by one of the 5 oppressive dictators that Trump has praised repeatedly: Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Un, Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi. Much research has concluded this, including a YouGov/CNN poll in April 2016 of more than 20,000 adults. The analysts noted:
“Trump leads Clinton by 21 points in Russia, while Hillary has a lead of more than 21 points over Trump in 15 other countries….Perhaps least surprisingly of all, Hillary Clinton’s lead over Mr Trump is highest in Mexico, the country which a President Trump would screen behind a concrete wall along the US southern border. She leads Trump there by 54 points, scores ahead of the other G20 countries.”
A Trump presidency is an international diplomatic disaster just waiting to happen, not to mention how many experts on both conservative and liberal sides say his domestic policies will seriously damage our economy and other aspects of our quality of life. The surveyed favorable opinions of civilians and records of public approval from world leaders of other countries toward the United States reached a serious low under Bush Jr. and were largely repaired during the Obama administration. These gains would almost certainly be lost if Trump is elected. In many parts of the world, a whole lot of people are already very troubled, baffled and disgusted by his unprofessionalism, pettiness, ignorance, bullying, hateful speech and isolationist policies.
Time remarked in a piece titled, “The World Doesn’t Think Donald Trump Would Make a Great President, Poll Finds”:
“In a survey looking into the public image of the U.S. around the world, Trump inspires little confidence: 85% of the Europeans surveyed doubted Trump’s ability to do the right thing regarding world affairs. Among them, 92% of Swedes and 89% of Germans said they had no confidence in Trump’s ability to handle the international aspect of the presidency. Some 87% of Australians and 82% of Japanese agreed….The poll showed that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton inspired confidence from the majority of countries surveyed. Across the 10 E.U. nations polled, 59% have faith that she will do the right thing in world affairs….But neither candidates enjoy the popularity of U.S. President Barack Obama, who received favorable rating on foreign affairs from 77% of Europeans. In 15 of the 16 countries surveyed, majorities expressed confidence in his proficiency when it comes to handling world affairs….Overall, the U.S. enjoys largely positive views around the world. At least 50% of people in every nation surveyed held favorable opinions of the U.S., with higher-than-average ratings in Poland (74%), Italy (72%) and Japan (72%)….The poll was conducted in 10 European nations, four major Asia-Pacific countries, Canada and the U.S.”
International trust in the leadership and competency of Clinton has risen in the past 8 years:
In many nations, Pew Research found that Trump is viewed as being even more disliked that Putin. UPI remarked about various surveys, “Republican Donald Trump…doesn’t enjoy high ratings in any of the countries polled. Only 9 percent of respondents in the 10 EU nations said they are confident in his ability to handle world affairs. Eighty-five percent expressed no confidence.”
Much of the attraction to Trump, according many of his followers, is that he speaks plainly and reacts to situations like a non-politician. This is reminiscent of the famous affinity that many Americans from the heartland, both geographically and metaphorically, had toward George Bush Jr. They felt they could relate to him as they would when having a beer with a friend. These two figures have in common a swaggering machoness and anti-intellectualism, in that they possess an apparently unlimited amount of self-confidence and value instincts over book learning. Is it bravery and acumen or recklessness and naiveté? Many seasoned politicians and analysts from around the world have said that these leaders’ self-assurance is more like arrogance and impulsive dismissal of advice from veteran counselors. They have concluded that Trump and Bush Jr. are missing two vital personal qualities that are necessary for anyone to achieve responsible and successful governance: 1) earnest mental curiosity about policy options and 2) introspection regarding one’s strengths and weaknesses. People that want their leaders to talk with explicit toughness and plain language like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood are enamored by those traits in Trump and Bush, even though it may have nothing to do with the country actually being improved or made safer because of their guidance. Their followers find a deep sense of comfort and security if someone is in charge who is visually and audibly strong, even when this is displayed to a cartoonish degree.
In large measure, American voters with an elevated desire for these same preferences didn’t roll their eyes and immediately reject similar candidates who, like Trump and Bush Jr., weren’t as knowledgeable on world history and governmental procedures as most previous leaders. They carried themselves in a much more casual manner, speaking off-the-cuff, while thinking and evaluating problems considerably more often from “the gut”. They placed a substantially smaller emphasis on rational argument and appeals to verifiable evidence. They mocked the traditional authority of seasoned political advisers and especially those in academia who were automatically judged to be out-of-touch with everyday Americans and common sense. This pattern supremely frustrated fact checkers because what felt true to these leaders or what they wished to be true many times didn’t remotely square with reality. Even given the relatively poor track record that typical American politicians have on consistently telling the truth, this new breed of office seekers set a lower standard. In 2006, comedian and political satirist Stephen Colbert called it “truthiness” in relation to the Bush administration. Over the next decade, more examples were offered from the GOP through Sarah Palin, Ben Carson and Herman Cain. These aspiring politicians spoke in an fiercely nationalistic way, along with a folksy quality that to a portion of the American people seemed refreshing in comparison to the professional class of Washington D.C. In July 2016, during an episode of The Late Show, Colbert recalled his invention of the word “truthiness” and compared it to the age of Trump. As reported by The Week:
“‘Just to remind you, 11 years ago, I invented a word: truthiness,’ Colbert said….’You see, truthiness is believing something that feels true, even if it isn’t supported by fact.’ He said that he (the Colbert Report Colbert) and Trump have a lot in common, both being ‘over-the-top TV personalities who decided to run for president,’ though Trump has surpassed him now. ‘Truthiness has to feel true, but Trumpiness doesn’t even have to do that,’ he explained. ‘In fact, many Trump supporters don’t believe his wildest promises, and they don’t care.’ He cited the border wall as an example. ‘If he doesn’t ever have to mean what he says, that means he can say anything,’ Colbert said. ‘Here’s the deal: Truthiness was from the gut, but Trumpiness clearly comes from much further down the gastrointestinal tract.'”
AUTHORITARIANISM AND FASCISM
Trump has many times been compared to Joseph McCarthy, the infamous senator and firebrand at the center of the Second Red Scare in the early 1950s. Much of their behavior fits the role of a demagogue. A basic definition of that word is “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument”. Synonyms include “rabble-rouser, political agitator, soapbox orator, fomenter, provocateur”. Indirectly or loudly, he repeatedly incites people to disdain and especially fear others who are different. His descriptions of the world involve multiple scapegoats: immigrants, refugees, Democrats, Obama, Clinton, China and many more. Often, an enemy of Trump rapidly becomes an enemy of his followers. Anyone who doesn’t fall in line and applaud Trump is likely to be vilified at some point. His incredibly simplistic distinctions between “bad people” and “good people” gives his hearers an easy to understand worldview where the threats can be lumped together in just one place. They don’t have to wrestle through those annoying gray areas. Trump’s hyper-macho persona brings out anger and forcefulness in those who desperately want to believe that all those outlandish things he’s saying are true.
His campaign built on wild assertions and incendiary rhetoric has stirred up outrage, suspicion and hysteria similar to that of two famous movements in the 20th century. One is the America First Committee of the 1930s, regarding their supreme concern for isolationist policies, quasi-fascist sympathies and alarmist attitudes. Trump has used the phrase “America first” many times, including during the Republican National Convention, though it’s not likely that he or his listeners are associating this terminology with the former organization. His tone recalls as well the The John Birch Society, founded in the 1950s and obsessed with grandiose conspiracies. They alleged, for example, that President Eisenhower was secretly a communist. Interestingly, this organization was co-founded by Charles Koch, father to the Koch brothers who are the among the largest individual donors to conservative causes today. The Koch brothers, Charles and David, organized a group to give almost $900 million during the 2016 campaign. Compare that to probably America’s most famous liberal donor, George Soros, who’s highest donation years were 2004 and 2016 with $25-30 million each time. The Koch Industries fortune began largely through the construction of factories for both Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler. Trump has further entrenched his legacy of conspiracy theorizing by praising Alex Jones, arguably the world’s “conspirator-in-chief”. Jones uses his very influential multimedia company, Infowars, to distribute an abundance of radio shows, videos and articles. Each piece contains near credible sounding bits of news that sharply expand into predicting our worst fears coming true momentarily. Trump told him in an interview, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.” Jones praised him back and has since advocated for the Trump candidacy. He’s a man who’s made millions by spreading a diversity of very frightening underworld stories. A recurring example: many of the most powerful business people and politicians are covertly plotting to mass murder 80-99% of the world population. Why? In order to control and oppress the rest of us or intentionally start World War III.
Dictionary.com defines a fearmonger or scaremonger as “a person who creates or spreads alarming news”. Trump trades in this kind of paranoia, half-truth and emotionally driven judgment that unfortunately taps into some of the worst qualities in the American character.
Many Trump supporters appear to be united and drawn to him by authoritarian tendencies:
A university political scientist that specializes in studies of authoritarianism explains:
“Running a standard statistical analysis, I found that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. Only two of the variables I looked at were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter….Authoritarianism is not a new, untested concept in the American electorate. Since the rise of Nazi Germany, it has been one of the most widely studied ideas in social science. While its causes are still debated, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians obey. They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened. From pledging to ‘make America great again’ by building a wall on the border to promising to close mosques and ban Muslims from visiting the United States, Trump is playing directly to authoritarian inclinations.”
An article from Vox.com notes through reference to other academic research in political science that authoritarianism, when defined as “a desire for order and a fear of outsiders”, is the overwhelmingly central factor uniting Trump supporters:
“Perhaps strangest of all, it wasn’t just Trump but his supporters who seemed to have come out of nowhere, suddenly expressing, in large numbers, ideas far more extreme than anything that has risen to such popularity in recent memory. In South Carolina, a CBS News exit poll found that 75 percent of Republican voters supported banning Muslims from the United States. A PPP poll found that a third of Trump voters support banning gays and lesbians from the country. Twenty percent said Lincoln shouldn’t have freed the slaves….People who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear….
“Through a series of experiments and careful data analysis, they had come to a surprising conclusion: Much of the polarization dividing American politics was fueled not just by gerrymandering or money in politics or the other oft-cited variables, but by an unnoticed but surprisingly large electoral group — authoritarians….Their book concluded that the GOP, by positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, had unknowingly attracted what would turn out to be a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies….This trend had been accelerated in recent years by demographic and economic changes such as immigration, which ‘activated’ authoritarian tendencies, leading many Americans to seek out a strongman leader who would preserve a status quo they feel is under threat and impose order on a world they perceive as increasingly alien….
“Trump embodies the classic authoritarian leadership style: simple, powerful, and punitive….Authoritarians are thought to express much deeper fears than the rest of the electorate, to seek the imposition of order where they perceive dangerous change, and to desire a strong leader who will defeat those fears with force….would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in American politics — and whose policies went far beyond the acceptable norms….Authoritarians prioritize social order and hierarchies, which bring a sense of control to a chaotic world. Challenges to that order — diversity, influx of outsiders, breakdown of the old order — are experienced as personally threatening because they risk upending the status quo order they equate with basic security….
“This is, after all, a time of social change in America. The country is becoming more diverse, which means that many white Americans are confronting race in a way they have never had to before. Those changes have been happening for a long time, but in recent years they have become more visible and harder to ignore. And they are coinciding with economic trends that have squeezed working-class white people.”
Finally, here are some other definitions of fascism:
“an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization” and “(in general use) extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practice.” — Google Dictionary
“a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition” or “a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control” — Merriam-Webster Dictionary
“a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism” — Dictionary.com
Trump has done all of the above things as much as a new politician could in 21st century America. Historically, expansions of autocratic powers have often been gradual. The same could occur with Trump if his authoritarian impulses are not resisted and derailed.