“We have to take extremely careful steps to prevent the rise of demagogues who will drive [suggestible people] on to extreme positions and then organize them into very dangerous armies, private armies, which may overthrow the government.” -Aldous Huxley
Commenting on the dangers that demagogues present to democratic society, by using Pavlovian methods of suggestion best absorbed during times of acute stress, Aldous Huxley pointed out the roughly 20 percent of the population that is most susceptible to hypnotic suggestion, or Pavlovian influence. According to Huxley, it is this 20 percent who pose the greatest threat to organized society because, even though they make up a minority of the population, they would be well-united in their grief and therefore organize into a formidable force driven by radical ideology in the service of their leader.
By now, you may have seen Trump’s mugshot. If you have not, you should. If you have, I invite you to think carefully about what message his countenance suggests. Anger, defiance, irritation—I see desperation. I see it as the bomb everyone saw fused. In his eyes, I see an invitation to his followers—a trial set for them, that if they really consider him to be their leader, they’re going to have to prove it. And they’re going to have to prove it in open defiance of what Trump supposedly stands against: The Federal Government. The reckoning that the Federal Government, the Biden Administration—bureaucrats in every level of government—would have to contend with if we see any degree of coordinated violence would be nothing less than an open challenge against the supremacy of the United States government, itself. Failure to immediately designate a coordinated attack as anything less than treason—not just domestic terrorism, but treason—is a simple invitation to permit more attacks without the full weight of the United States coming down in response. Already we have seen isolated pockets of attempted treason—though they are not labeled as such—in the “lone wolves” that have responded to Trump’s diatribes against mean judges, nasty politicians, and openly-labeled enemies of the state, otherwise known as members of the media whom Trump does not like.
The politically-attuned reader may be screaming their head off at me, rightly so, about one event I seem to be forgetting: The storming of the Capitol on January 6th. As far as I’m concerned, everyone who entered that building with or without the intention to overturn the election—because ignorance or stupidity should be no defense—should have been charged with treason. They weren’t there to cause property damage, defecate on walls, or steal Pelosi’s papers. The people who entered the Capitol themselves interfered with a United States election. The Government has issued sanctions to foreign governments and agents for much less. And despite the obviousness of why they entered, or at the behest of whom, somehow Trump had enough Republican supporters in Congress who dismissed his instruction to fight and enter as nothing more than benign speech gone wrong, misunderstood—a tenuous, exaggerated interpretation.
Look at Trump’s mugshot. If we see another coordinated attack, surely now there can be no fair doubt by those who defended Trump—and who are interested in seeing the United States continue to exist—that it was brought about by the urging and direction of Donald J. Trump. The Twitter post displaying his mugshot might as well be a war poster, that of an Uncle Sam who wants you to fight—for him. “ELECTION INTERFERENCE,” it reads below his picture. “NEVER SURRENDER.” Never surrender to the reality that he lost? Never surrender the fight to install him in office? Election interference; never surrender. Never stop donating to his campaign so he can legally become president again? It is not difficult to imagine that with 50+ election interference cases lost, a defamation case lost, Trump probably does not see the courts as winning battlefields. Given his election loss, and the doubt he has sown about the election process, and elections themselves when he or his chosen candidate is not the winner, it is not difficult to imagine he doesn’t have much faith in elections, at all. How frustrating it must be for a self-proclaimed perennial winner to so constantly and publicly lose. And since he has been at the courts’ mercy thus far, the only means to escape its clutches—by which I mean the justice system of the United States—could be with a more forceful shove.
Let’s do a little armchair psychology into this man. He is nearly eighty-years old. He’s a millionaire. He faces dozens of charges, any one of which could see him spending his last days in prison, rather than in the comfort his wealth could otherwise provide. If the Prisoner’s Dilemma teaches us anything, it’s that Trump’s co-conspirators will take any deal that secures their freedom or lessens their sentence, to Trump’s detriment. If I were Trump, I wouldn’t like my chances.
But for as long as Trump is permitted to roam free, as he has been, Trump has an opportunity to, if not openly declare war—maybe loosely-couched in the language of a figurative battle—then to invite others to fight his battle for him. Recall the 20 percent of the population most susceptible to demagogic influence. What are their grievances? There are racial and economic grievances, that of being “left behind” as a dwindling racial majority, whose economic opportunities are as lost as is the Old English tongue. The voters who gravitated toward Trump, and who still do, absorbed and agreed with the message that, if only America focused on itself—if only it could somehow retain its economic might derived from global participation, while pursuing isolationist policies—the Great Society might be achieved; if only we could lessen the chances of recruiting talent from around the world, we could better compete against the entire world; if only we could let other world leaders do as they will, we could be safer against outside threats. How intense must the stress be, real or imagined, for this subset of the population that they cannot recognize the cognitive dissonance informing their desires.
We saw the latest example of this in, supposedly, the right-wing crowd pushing Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” to Number 1 in the Billboard charts. The song, as I hear it, reflects economic grievance, but it is not difficult to see why the White Supremacist crowd took to the song. Three lines obscured the message intended to be for the working class:
“I wish politicians would look out for miners
And not just minors on an island somewhere
Lord, we got folks in the street, ain’t got nothin’ to eat
And the obese milkin’ welfare
Well, God, if you’re 5-foot-3 and you’re 300 pounds
Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds
Young men are puttin’ themselves six feet in the ground
‘Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin’ them down”
Three lines, smack dab in the middle, is the racial dog whistle Anthony appears not to have intended. And I say he might not have intended because he lost support when he said in an interview that diversity is a good thing! He’s also not happy that his song was brought up in the Republican debate, saying he considered everyone on that stage the Rich Men North of Richmond. But we know the association right wing news has made with supposed “welfare queens” who abuse the system. The presumption is that they’re black, and if not black, then a minority, or an illegal alien, someone whose lethargy is condoned and supported with the taxes of hardworking (white) Americans, as if they are the only ones taxed.
Trump, despite not being on the debate stage, despite multiple indictments, despite constant humiliation and failure, despite the long, well-recorded history of contemptible statements and behaviors, remains the Republican frontrunner. His prospects of dying in prison seem very real—why wouldn’t he have the desperation to match it?