Trump’s Demagoguery Threatens Democracy Itself

Now is the time for blunt talk. Donald Trump is a dangerous demagogue generating “scripted violence.” Trumpism threatens not just the First Amendment but democracy itself. I call him a right-wing populist using fascistic rhetoric to target scapegoated groups. Other journalists and scholars have dubbed him a fascist or a totalitarian. But we all smell the stench of the burning bodies.

So let us have our terminological debates, but setting aside all intellectual disagreements, as citizens of an increasingly unfree society, we must stand up and speak out.The First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion, and that includes the right to call religion ridiculous. It protects devout Roman Catholics and those in the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster–even those who sometimes wear colanders as hats. At Talk to Action, where this essay was first posted, we are nonpartisan, welcome respectful contributions discussing human, civil, and constitutional rights, and find debates between theists and atheists annoying (no trolls blasting either are allowed). Democracy is what we cherish…and it is in trouble.

Some early studies of prejudice, demonization, and scapegoating treated the processes as marginal to “mainstream” society and an indication of an individual pathological psychological disturbance. More recent social science demonstrates that demonization is a habit found across various sectors of society among people who are no more prone to mental illness than the rest of society.Philosopher Hannah Arendt taught us that ordinary people can become willing–even eager–participants in brutality and mass murder justified by demonization of scapegoated groups in a society

Lawrence L. Langer raises this as a troubling issue regarding the Nazi genocide:

“The widespread absence of remorse among the accused in postwar trials indicates that we may need…to accept the possibility of a regimen of behavior that simply dismisses conscience as an operative moral factor. The notion of the power to kill, or to authorize killing of others, as a personally fulfilling activity is not appealing to our civilized sensibilities; even more threatening is the idea that this is not necessarily a pathological condition, but an expression of impulses as native to ourselves as love and compassion.”

A troubling concept–that some of us who helped jumpstart this website have discussed for decades–is that when most people in a society realize that a fascist movement might actually seize state power, it is too late to stop it. So let us act now: as Republicans, Democrats, Independents and the folks who think voting just encourages a corrupt system. As people of faith, the spiritual, the agnostic, and those who think that God is Dead because she doesn’t exist. We are all in the same lifeboat here. Grab an oar.

Facing History and Ourselves reminds us of the “Fragility of Democracy” in a series of essays by Professor Paul Bookbinder, an international expert on the Weimar Republic in Germany in the period just before that nation collapsed into the inferno of Nazi rule and genocide. No, we do not face a crisis like that faced by the German people in the 1920s and 1930s. Yet as Bookbinder observes, there were moments when Hitler’s thugs could have been stopped.

In her small yet powerful book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt concluded that evil was banal, and that if there was one clear universal truth, it is that ordinary people have a moral obligation to not look away from individual or institutional acts of cruelty or oppression. We recognize the processes that lead from words to violence, they are well-studied, and the theories and proofs are readily available. Silence is consent. Denial is complicity with evil.

Trumpism

Resources on Trump’s Voter Base


The Trump Collection Landing Pages:


White people who are (or fear they are, or fear they soon will  be) downwardly mobile–so race and class issues–but cross-reference to the hetero-patriarchal “Free Market” Calvinists in the Christian Right — 15% of voters in Presidential elections. Intersecting with anti-Muslim/anti-Mexican xenophobes. A toxic brew.


Doug Brugge

January 1 ·2016

At least glance at the two maps that compare Trump support with racially charged internet searches. Pretty amazing correlation in my opinion. And the analysis…

See More


Donald Trump’s Strongest Supporters: A Certain Kind of Democrat

In a survey, he also excels among low-turnout voters and among the less affluent and the less educated, so the question is: Will they show up to vote?

NYTIMES.COM|BY NATE COHN


A Berkeley professor tries to explain Trump to labor in Hartford https://t.co/u2piaE3Zc4 via @ctmirror

Unpacking Trumpism in the context of American history
https://t.co/x2XSQmtSFy via @HuffPostBlog

Republican Primary Voters Over 91% White, Older:
Posted by Arbiter Staff Writers

Who Are Donald Trump’s Supporters, Really?
Four theories to explain the front-runner’s rise to the top of the polls.
Derek Thompson, March 1, 2016, The Atlantic

Who Are Trump’s Supporters?
By David W. Brady & Douglas Rivers,September 09, 2015,
Real Clear Politics

The Media Myth of the Working-Class Reagan Democrats
by Neal Gabler, May 6, 2016, Moyers & Company
The numbers don’t lie. The notion that angry blue collar voters could sway the election just may not be true.

Pundits Will Pay No Price for Being Arrogantly Wrong About Trump
By Janine Jackson, May 6, 2016, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting



Why do Tea/Trumpists Feel Angry

‘Trumping’ Democracy:
Right-Wing Populism, Fascism, and the Case for Action
by Chip Berlet

Excerpt:

Folks who support the Tea Party and other right-wing populist movements are responding to rhetoric that honors them as the bedrock of American society. These are primarily middle class and working class White people with a deep sense of patriotism who bought into the American dream of upward mobility.46 Now they feel betrayed. Trump and his Republican allies appeal to their emotions by naming scapegoats to blame for their sense of being displaced by “outsiders” and abandoned by their government.

Emotions matter in building social movements. The linkage of emotion and politics are at the heart of a forthcoming book by University of California, Berkeley, sociologist and author Arlie Hochschild.

In it, Hochschild reports on many conversations with Tea Party members in the South, where the movement is strongest.47 Many she spoke with long doubted that Obama was American; even after the publication of his long-form birth certificate some still suspect that he is Muslim and harbors ill will toward America. Hochschild also observes that this set of beliefs was widely shared among people who otherwise seemed reasonable, friendly, and accepting. How she wondered, could we explain this?

Her premise is that all political belief:

is undergirded by emotion. Given the experiences we’ve undergone, we have deep feelings. These shape our “deep story.” And this is an allegorical, collectively shared, “honor-focused,” narrative storyline about what “feels true.” We take fact out of it, judgment out of it. A “deep story” says what happened to us from the point of view of how we feel about it.

The “deep story” of the Tea Party is that the American Dream has leveled off. Ninety percent of Americans between 1980 and 2012 received no rise in salary while dividends from a rising GDP rose dramatically for the top 10 percent.

Arlie Hochschild:
DEEP STORIES, EMOTIONAL AGENDAS AND POLITICS

October 26, 2015, resources, an analysis, and abstract of the Hochschild talk, by Jonathan G. Haney.


Right-Wing Populism:

Just in Case: Progressive Security and Safety: Threats from Right-Wing fanatics spurred on by demagogic political rhetoric have turned into isolated acts of violence against progressives. Pick up your self-defense homework here.

Donald Trump, Nasty Rhetoric, and Scripted Violence

by Chip Berlet

Adapted from my published scholarly study:
“Heroes Know Which Villains to Kill:
How Coded Rhetoric Incites Scripted Violence,”


New Preface, December 2015

Trump is ratcheting up his xenophobia while making the “liberal” press his adversary. As he works to gain votes, he is throwing Muslims, Mexicans, and other scapegoats to the wolves.

Demagogic rhetoric targeting unpopular groups of people can incite violence. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump can claim he never told his followers to hurt anyone, and perhaps avoid legal consequences, but Trump is morally responsible. His nasty vilification produces “scripted violence.” The victims of Trumps rhetoric are piling up. The term “incited violence” also describes this process that draws from the media studies concept of “constitutive rhetoric.” Incitement to violence also has legal ramifications.

Last August the Washington Post in an editorial warned that “Mr. Trump’s immigrant-bashing rhetoric breeds violence.”[1] In a column, Robert Reich collected a long list of violence in the path of Republican bigoted blustering. Those that commit bigoted violence “often take their cues from what they hear in the media” wrote Reich in November following the murderous attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.[2] Reich said “the recent inclination of some politicians to use inflammatory rhetoric is contributing to a climate” in which violence against targeted groups is real.

While Trump is a right-wing populist, his rhetoric recalls that of Hitler’s murderous German Nazism; while his demeanor is like a Saturday Night Live sketch of Benito Mussolini and his Italian Fascism.

Writing about Trump’s nasty rhetoric, and the alarming welcome it has found during the Republican pre-primary media blitz, American Prospect journalist Adele Stan put it bluntly:

===What Trump is doing, via the media circus of which he has appointed himself ringmaster, is making the articulation of the basest bigotry acceptable in mainstream outlets, amplifying the many oppressive tropes and stereotypes of race and gender that already exist in more than adequate abundance.[3]

And it is not just Trump. Some of the other Republican hopefuls closer to the Christian Right also demonize gay people and feminists, and excoriate defenders of reproductive rights. One militant slogan is “If abortion is murder, then act like it is.”



Excerpt from Published Study

How does the process of scripted violence work? The leaders of organized political or social movements sometimes tell their followers that a specific group of ‘Others’ is plotting to destroy civilized society. History tells us that if this message is repeated vividly enough, loudly enough, often enough, and long enough—it is only a matter of time before the bodies from the named scapegoated groups start to turn up. Social science since World War II and the Nazi genocide has shown that under specific conditions, virulent demonization and scapegoating can—and does—create milieus in which the potential for violence is increased. What social science cannot do is predict which individual upon hearing the rhetoric of clear or coded incitement and turn to violence.

In their study of how media manipulation for political ends can help incite genocide, Frohardt and Temin looked at ‘content intended to instill fear in a population’, or ‘intended to create a sense among the population that conflict is inevitable’. [4] They point out that ‘media content helps shape an individual’s view of the world and helps form the lens through which all issues are viewed’.

Frohardt and Temin found that media can create a sense within a target population of potential perpetrators of violence that ‘imminent’ and serious threats were to be expected, even though ‘there was only flimsy evidence provided to support them’,

===When such reporting creates widespread fear, people are more amenable to the notion of taking preemptive action, which is how the actions later taken were characterized. Media were used to make people believe that ‘we must strike first in order to save ourselves’. By creating fear the foundation for taking violent action through ‘self-defense’ is laid.

In approaching some of these questions social science uses the concepts of ‘constitutive rhetoric’; the vilification, demonization, and scapegoating of a named ‘Other’; coded rhetorical incitement by demagogues; the relationship between conspiracism and apocalyptic aggression; and the process of scripted violence by which a leader need not directly exhort violence to create a constituency that hears a call to take action against the named enemy. These processes can and do motivate some individuals to adopt a ‘superhero complex’ which justifies their pre-emptive acts of violence or terrorism to ‘save society’ from imminent threats by named enemies ‘before it is too late’.

can see conspiracy theories built around fears of liberal subversion by President Obama;[8] fears of government attempts to merge the United States, Canada, and Mexico into a North American Union; [9]and fears that Muslims living in the United States are plotting treachery and terrorism.[10]

Conspiracism evolves as a worldview from roots in dualistic forms of apocalypticism. Fenster argues that persons who embrace conspiracy theories are simply trying to understand how power is exercised in a society that they feel they have no control over. Often they have real grievances with the society—sometimes legitimate—sometimes seeking to defend unfair power and privilege. [5] Nonetheless, Conspiracism can appear as a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames demonized enemies as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm. [6]

If we assemble the ingredients and processes, we arrive at the following list which traces the linkages from words to violence:

  • Pre-existing prejudice or tensions in the society that can be tapped into.
  • Intensity of the vilifying language, its distribution to a wide audience, and repetition of message.
  • Dualistic division: The world is divided into a good ‘Us’ and a bad ‘Them’.
  • Respected status of speaker or writer, at least within the target audience. A constituency is molded.
  • Vilification and Demonizing rhetoric: Our opponents are dangerous, subversive, probably evil, maybe even subhuman.
  • Targeting scapegoats: ‘They’ are causing all our troubles—we are blameless.
  • The employment of conspiracy theories about the ‘Other’.
  • Apocalyptic aggression: Time is running out, and we must act immediately to stave off a cataclysmic event.
  • Violence against the named scapegoats by self-invented Superheroes.

Levin persuasively argues that both culture and self-interest shape prejudiced ideas and acts of discrimination or violence, which are ‘in many cases, quite rational’. According to Levin, respect for ‘differences can be so costly in a psychologically and material sense that it may actually require rebellious or deviant behavior’, in contrast to the existing norms of a society. Attacking the “Other” turns out to be a common human failing.

While scholarly research exists on its own intellectual merits, we need to recognize that helping unravel the complexity of bigotry and xenophobia assists those working to extend human rights.

Hannah Arendt, in Eichmann in Jerusalem concluded that evil was banal, and that if there was one clear universal truth, it is that ordinary people have a moral obligation to not look away from individual or institutional acts of cruelty or oppression. We recognize the processes that lead from words to violence, they are well-studied, and the theories and proofs are readily available. Silence is consent. Denial is simply evil.


Revised and expanded from my scholarly chapter “Heroes Know Which Villains to Kill: How Coded Rhetoric Incites Scripted Violence,” in Matthew Feldman and Paul Jackson (eds), Doublespeak: Rhetoric of the Far-Right Since 1945, Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag, 2014.

Full Text Now Online Here at Academia.edu


References:


[1] Washington Post Editorial Board, “Mr. Trump’s immigrant-bashing rhetoric breeds violence,” August 21, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mr-trumps-politics-of-incitement/2015/08/21/c33d0f2e-483d-11e5-8ab4-c73967a143d3_story.html

[2] Robert Reich, “Why Hate Speech by Presidential Candidates is Despicable,” November 29, 2015 http://robertreich.org/post/134235925280

[3] Adele M. Stan. 2015, “A Nation of Sociopaths? What the Trump Phenomenon Says About America,” American Prospect, September 9, 2015. http://prospect.org/article/nation-sociopaths-what-trump-phenomenon-says-about-america.

[4] Mark Frohardt and Jonathan Temin, Use and Abuse of Media in Vulnerable Societies, Special Report 110, Washington, DC, United States Institute of Peace. October 2003, http://permanent. access. gpo. gov/websites/usip/www. usip. org/pubs/specialreports/sr110.pdf, (accessed 26/9/2012). Although an excellent study, the report is flawed by the failure to include a single footnote. See also Kofi A. Annan, Allan Thompson, and International Development Research Centre of Canada, The Media and the Rwanda Genocide (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2007).

[5] Mark Fenster, Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1999).

[6] Berlet and Lyons, RightWing Populism, p. 9.

[7] Chip Berlet ‘Protocols to the Left’.

[8] Chip Berlet, “Collectivists, Communists, Labor Bosses, and Treason: The Tea Parties as Right–Wing Populist Countersubversion Panic’, in Critical Sociology, July 2012; 38 (4) pp. 565-587; Berlet, ‘Reframing Populist Resentments in the Tea Party Movement.’.

[9] Berlet, ‘Fears of Fédéralisme in the United States’.

[10] Brigitte Nacos and Oscar Torres-Reyna, Fueling Our Fears: Stereotyping, Media Coverage, and Public Opinion of Muslim Americans (Lanham, MD: Rowman& Littlefield, 2007); Center for Race & Gender and Council on American-Islamic Relations, Same Hate, New Target: Islamophobia and its Impact in the United States; January 2009—December 2010 (Berkeley: University of California, Center for Race & Gender, and Washington, DC: Council on American-Islamic Relations, 2011).

[11] Hofstadter, ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics.’

[12] Ibid., p. 4.

[13] Ibid., emphasis in the original.

[14] Thompson, The End of Time, pp. 307–308.

Scripted Violence

What is Scripted Violence?

Trump’s rhetoric is a form of “Scripted Violence” setting up the named scapegoated as targets for physical attacks. Read the full final draft of my chapter: Heroes Know Which Villains to Kill: How Coded Rhetoric Incites Scripted Violence.”

 

Learn how Trump uses “Scripted Violence” rhetoric that encourages some of his followers to act out in verbal and physical attacks on Trump’s named scapegoats without a direct connection–but an indirect yet powerful connection that makes Trump morally culpable.

What’s Going On?

Right-wing Republicans, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz,
Fox News, Talk Radio, the Koch Brothers, the Tea Parties,
the Patriot movement, the Oath Keepers, the Oregon Standoff,
the New World Order conspiracy theories,
Obama is a Muslim?

It’s not one big conspiracy folks, but there are linkages and processes that are as old as the Presidency of Andrew Jackson
and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War.

Here is more bad news…even if Trump loses, the toxic bigotry he spews is a form of “scripted violence” that encourages angry people to harm and perhaps kill the scapegoated targets he identifies slyly as enemies of the “real” Americans: Angry White Men

How the Rhetoric of Right-Wing Populism
with its “Producerist” Conspiracy Theories
Fuels a Bigoted Right-Wing Juggernaut
Promoting White Nationalism

Available in these formats:

A Full Slide Show on Right-Wing Populism & “Producerist” Conspiracism:
As Web Pages (html)
MP4 VideoDownloadable PDF File

A Single-Page Chart
A Set of Connected Charts





The Trump Collection Landing Pages:


Scripted Violence and:

Loughner

Brevick

Trump