Friday, March 04, 2016

Trump True Believers

In 1951, philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote a small book, The True Believer, where he analyzed the psychology of mass movements and fanaticism. I read it a half-century ago and went back to it in the past several weeks trying to understand the Trumpism Movement.

Birth of Trumpism
It is a truism that many who join a rising revolutionary movement are attracted by the prospect of a sudden and spectacular change in their conditions of life.
The core of Trumpism is ultra-nationalism. He promises a revolution where millions of "foreigners" will be uprooted and expelled from the country, where one religious faith will be banned from entering, where foreign countries will be brought to heel and surrender to his will, and where the curse of "political correction" will be lifted from white people and non-whites will be returned to subservience. Trump promises to accomplish these things and elevate the United States from "crippled" to "great" just two years. His followers think they are inferior and fervently believe Trump will make them masters of this country.

The Seeming Irrational Attraction of Trump
When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program.
Observers have been bewildered by the fact that evangelicals have fallen for a crude, thrice married adulterer. They have been baffled that conservatives could follow a man who backs seemingly liberal policies.

Hoffer notes that mass movements appeal to the same type of people and, therefore, mass movements are interchangeable. People will migrate towards whatever movement is most compelling. This is why Hitler managed to attract a few thousand Jewish supporters and Trump can brag that Latinos have voted for him.  The movement attracts them like moths to a flame, to their own destruction.

Hate and Trumpism
Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.
Hitler is quoted as saying that if the Jews did not exist they would have had to be invented. "It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one." Trump has many unifying agents but the most prominent is Hispanics. They are the "rapists and murderers" that pollute the purity of America. Reading the comments section of conservative websites and you will hear that all the evils of the world are caused by gardeners, maids, and lettuce pickers.
Whence come these unreasonable hatreds, and why their unifying effect? They are an expression of a desperate effort to suppress an awareness of our inadequacy, worthlessness, guilt, and other shortcomings of self. Self-contempt is here transmuted into hatred of others.
Republican Party Made It's Own Devil
There has to be an eagerness to follow and obey, and an intense dissatisfaction with things as they are, before movement and leader can make their appearance.
Many people have correctly observed that the Republican Party and Fox News created the fertile ground for the growth of Trumpism. They cultivated dissatisfaction with the country for its own sake without offering alternatives. The growing frustration and feelings of impotence created a movement just waiting for a demagogue.

None of last year's "deep bench" of Republican candidates offered the strength and charisma to spark a movement. None but Trump.

Qualities of Leadership
Exceptional intelligence, noble character, and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable. The main requirements seem to be: audacity and a joy in defiance; an iron will; a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth; faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonials); unbounded brazenness which finds express in a disregard of consistency and fairness...
Read that text from 65 years ago, it is an exact description of Donald J. Trump. Eric Hoffer opined that among the most decisive qualities was audacity and the ability to attract able lieutenants. Up until a couple weeks ago it seemed that Trump lacked that last quality but Chris Christie and Jeff Sessions are the first willing sycophants to join the "TrumpTrain."

Other Points
Suspicion too is an ingredient of this acrid slime, and it to can act as a unifying agent.
Trumpism is awash with conspiracy theories, every act of opposition to Trump is bombarded with charges of conspiracy against the people and their chosen leader.
Mass movements do not usually rise until the prevailing order has been discredited.
Republican discrediting of President Obama and Tea Party dismissing the RINOs of the Republican establishment paved the way for Trumpism.

Eric Hoffer's book is a must read for understanding how and why Trumpism came into being and why it is possible that none of the attacks directed against Trump will succeed.

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