Even a cursory stroll through history will show you how dictators come to power. They find something scary — usually an abstract like Communism or “those people” — and make you either afraid of them or threaten you with them. They invariably lie about the threat, blowing it way out of proportion, or just make shit up; whatever it takes to scare you. Then they tell you that they are the only person who can save you and the world from them. That’s human nature; in small doses, that’s how advertising works. And you buy into it. That’s how you win elections.
That’s also how Donald Trump won the Republican primary and how he’s campaigning for president.
Trump claimed that people – “some people” – called for a moment of silence for mass killer Micah Johnson, the now deceased mass shooter who killed five police officers in Dallas on Thursday night. There is no evidence this ever happened. Searches of the web and social media showed no evidence. Even Trump’s campaign co-chair said today that he can’t come up with any evidence that it happened. As in the case of the celebrations over the fall of the twin towers, even to say there’s ‘no evidence’ understates the matter. This didn’t happen. Trump made it up.
The language is important: “When somebody called for a moment of silence to this maniac that shot the five police, you just see what’s going on. It’s a very, very sad situation.”
Then later at the Indiana rally: “The other night you had 11 cities potentially in a blow-up stage. Marches all over the United States—and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac! And some people ask for a moment of silence for him. For the killer!”
A would-be strong man, an authoritarian personality, isn’t just against disorder and violence. They need disorder and violence. That is their raison d’etre, it is the problem that they are purportedly there to solve. The point bears repeating: authoritarian figures require violence and disorder. Look at the language. “11 cities potentially in a blow up stage” .. “Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac!” … “And some people ask for a moment of silence for him. For the killer.”
At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, if you translate the German, the febrile and agitated language of ‘hatred’, ‘anger’, ‘maniac’ … this is the kind of florid and incendiary language Adolf Hitler used in many of his speeches. Note too the actual progression of what Trump said: “Marches all over the United States – and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac!” (emphasis added).
The clear import of this fusillade of words is that the country is awash in militant protests that were inspired by Micah Johnson. “Started by …”
We’re used to so much nonsense and so many combustible tirades from Trump that we become partly inured to them. We also don’t slow down and look at precisely what he’s saying. What he’s saying here is that millions of African-Americans are on the streets inspired by and protesting on behalf of a mass murderer of white cops.
This is not simply false. It is the kind of wild racist incitement that puts whole societies in danger. And this man wants to be president.
Donald Trump is certainly not the first presidential candidate to use this tactic, even in my own lifetime. Richard Nixon, George Wallace, and Barry Goldwater all tried to scare the electorate by pointing at Others and warning of their nefarious schemes, but only Gov. Wallace emanated the whiff of fascism and hatred. Nixon was tortured by his own self-doubt and paranoid demons to embrace the ego-centrism that being a dictator requires, and Barry Goldwater couldn’t keep up the act. Ronald Reagan, even in his most cynical, couldn’t pull off the scary-face agitator, and I imagine that if he were around today he’d be horrified by the pessimism and America-bashing that Mr. Trump indulges in in order to get people to see him as their Savior.
He’s already proved that there’s no lie too big, no threat too small, no insult too outrageous to hurl to win the election. And he doesn’t even have the formal nomination yet.