April 14th, 2016


What next, after Trump?

[Some political musings. This is relatively off-the-cuff, not too carefully thought through yet, looking for responses.]

I finally finished reading siderea's latest opus, "The Two Moral Modes". (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) Highly recommended, although it falls somewhere on the spectrum between "disturbing" and "chilling". I wish I could say it was wrong, but I suspect the analysis is at least largely correct.

One of its premises is that there is a general mode of thought, common to many people in the US, to which Donald Trump is speaking *quite* directly, and that explains at least some of his devoted following. It has nothing to do with what I would usually call "morality", and (for purposes of this argument) not much to do with practical things like economics; rather, it has to do with espousing a firm distinction of "Us" vs. "Them", that taps into a not-very-latent desire for a well-defined out-group to abuse. None of this liberal wishy-washiness about "Them".

And I'm starting to realize that, in a weird way, we may have dodged a bullet. I mean, I believe that Trump is more an effect than a cause -- that he's tapping into a lot of pre-existing fear, hostility and (to use siderea's term) reviling, not just causing it through rabble-rousing. He's not steering this: rather, he has the born salesman's touch for figuring out what you already want, and pitching that *this* snake-oil is exactly that. If you look at his constant message changes, it's obvious that he's simply reflecting what he thinks folks desire.

Why is this lucky? Because he's such an *obvious* jackass. I mean, Trump is a cartoonish buffoon. He's doing a great job of turning himself into the leader that Mode 2 wants, but at the price of doing it so obviously that everybody else is completely repulsed. Unless you desperately *want* to believe in him, it's almost impossible to see the slightest sincerity or conviction (or competence) in the man.

Consider: what if we'd gotten a better politician instead? By historical standards of demagoguery, Trump is a crude amateur: unsubtle, careless, and crass. And he's *still* polling frighteningly well. Not well enough to get elected unless something weird and horrible happens, but well enough that, in a typical parliamentary system, he'd wind up leading one of the main parties in parliament, and quite possibly Prime Minister. A more polished operator, with his sales talent plus a modicum of discipline, might well have won this election even in the US.

So let's assume that Trump doesn't become President. (Because really, it's not worthwhile to assume the apocalypse.) If he *is* tapping into a deep latent stream of badness, that's not going to just go away -- it's going to keep fermenting. Indeed, given a taste of possible power, it's likely to catalyze and become something much more concrete.

At which point, what? Some of the politicians who *are* good at this, and sociopathic enough to view it cold-bloodedly, will surely be trying to figure out how to use it to their advantage. They won't *call* themselves fascists, of course, but the smart ones are going to recognize that there are a lot of people out there who are craving what amounts to a fascist / Mode 2 leadership, and will be trying to position themselves for that.

The silver lining is that Trump, through his sheer sloppiness, has probably woken everyone up to this. By being so obvious about it, he's breeding an early opposition. Still, I see a rocky road, and likely some serious political realignment, ahead. I don't see any way that the waves of emotion that Trump has stirred up are going to simply go away quietly.

Opinions? Anybody want to play with a bit of psycho-historical speculation here?