Election Commentary

“Make America Great Again” is a cult leader’s battle cry

APRIL 29, 2017: President Donald Trump speaks at the the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg, PA
APRIL 29, 2017: President Donald Trump speaks at the the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg, PAPhoto: Shutterstock

To supporters of Donald Trump, I ask this tripartite question: Do you know, and do you care, and do you care to know?

Do you really know, care, and care to know Trump’s actual character: that he only cares about himself and his self-interests while caring little about the concerns and needs of the people of the country he was elected to serve and protect?

Related: Donald Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist is stacked with anti-LGBTQ extremists

Do you know, care, and care to know of his incompetence in business and in politics and that he is a scam artist who hasn’t any glimmer of understanding about anything even approaching the art of any deal?

Do you know, care, and care to know of his severe personality flaws and disorders rendering him literally incapable of functioning as an effective president of the United States? Rather, this man functions as an exceedingly dangerous force in undermining our standing around the world and bringing us to the point of rupture in our constitutional form of government?

And if you know this – those of you who are apparently so concerned with maintaining and expanding your “personal freedom” and “liberty” – why would you even consider supporting and voting for Trump? By doing so, you have essentially relinquished your personal freedom and your liberty as the cost for admission to his personality cult and some intangible promised security.

As someone who has studied World War II and the Holocaust virtually all of my life, I have struggled to comprehend how authoritarian leaders ascend in presumably liberal democracies build on guiding principles of freedom and the rule of law.

Authoritarianism as a form of government is characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms. These regimes may be either autocratic (concentrated in the hands of one person) or oligarchic (small number of powerful often rich people) and may be based upon the rule of a party or the military.

Influential political scientist Juan José Linz defined authoritarianism as composed of four qualities:

  1. Limited political pluralism with severe constraints on the legislature, political parties, and interest groups.
  2. Political legitimacy based on appeals to emotion and identification of the regime as a necessary evil to combat “easily recognizable societal problems, such as underdevelopment or insurgency.”
  3. Minimal political mobilization and suppression of anti-regime activities.
  4. Ill-defined executive powers, often vague and shifting, which extends the power of the executive.

During the late 1940s, researchers, led by Theodor W. Adorno, studied the historical conditions that paved the way for the rise of fascist regimes in the 1930s, World War II, and the Holocaust. They theorized about individuals who would support the growth of fascism.

They suggested that people of a certain personality type, which they labeled the “authoritarian personality,” were most ripe for extremism, in this case, those most susceptible to anti-Jewish prejudice and anti-democratic political beliefs.

These individuals suspended their autonomy and critical thinking facilities, and they pledged obedience, allegiance, and freedom to a powerful leader or social institution for the promise of going back to a future reminiscent of a mythic, idealistic past of economic, political, social, cultural, and personal security, where their “ingroup” won and led, and those “outgroups” served obediently and acquiesced to ingroup needs and demands.

In other words, they surrender their freedom for the promise of social and personal security, which usually includes the suppression of those outside the circle, the others.

Now enters the would-be mighty authoritarian strongman, Donald Trump.

After painting a gruesome image of a post-apocalyptic U.S., replete with vicious marauding gangs, gun shots whizzing throughout the inner cities, decrepit crumbling structures and highways, rampant poverty, declining health care systems, imminent terrorist attacks, ruthless criminal-drug-dealing-rapist invaders from our southern border.

After inciting violence at his rallies, and fear, stereotyping and scapegoating all Muslims and so-called illegal aliens, after promising to punish women who had and their doctors who performed abortions, after asserting that he will reestablish the Supreme Court to an ultra-conservative majority, and after promising to reverse both Roe v. Wade and marriage equality, and most importantly, after promising to “Make America Great Again,” Heir das Donald non-so-solemnly proclaimed during his meandering diatribe in 2016 at the Republican National Convention: “I am your voice! I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order.”

Trump never asked anything of his supporters other than their total loyalty to follow by placing their complete faith in him. And the authoritarian personalities followed brown-shirted in lockstep.

Trump had his followers wax nostalgic to the television shows from many of their youth: Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, Happy Days, and Full House, all reflecting the mainstream popular image of the U.S. family as white, middle class, with a nice home in the suburbs, and with all family members accepting their assigned raced and gendered scripts.

Democracy, though, demands an educated electorate. Democracy demands responsibility on the part of the electorate to critically examine their politicians and the issues of the day so they can make truly informed decisions. Democracy demands us never to relinquish our freedom and authority for some promise of a comfortable security by returning to a fairy-tale past.

Those peaceful bygone days where children played in beautifully landscaped yards within lily-white neighborhoods surrounded by rainbows above and unicorns never existed except in the mind of the cult believers.

When we relinquish our freedom for some sort of promised security, we are left with nothing at all.

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