Office Hours: What's really going on here?
Should we be concerned?
I would never suggest that you watch even a small clip of a Trump rally — unless it signaled a new and even more pernicious turn in Trump’s strategy for undermining American democracy. The following clip, from his Saturday rally in Youngstown Ohio, runs 2 minutes and 19 seconds. I think it important that you take a look.
Today’s Office Hours question: What’s really going on here? What is Trump signaling, why are his followers responding the way they are, and should we be concerned?
(I’ll chime in with my own thoughts later today.)
Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comments. Please continue! But I’m going to weigh in now with some thoughts of my own. (Sorry again for asking you to watch even a few minutes of a Trump rally, but I think it’s important to be aware of the new strategy Trump is using.)
Trump appears to want to transform his political movement into a kind of religion — a cultish messianism closely allied with QAnon.
As several of you note, the melody played at the Youngstown event is nearly identical to a QAnon anthem titled “Wwg1wga” (an acronym for “where we go one, we go all”). The song was also played at a Trump rally in neighboring Pennsylvania and in a recent video linked to him.
As the music played during the Youngstown event, many in the audience pointed an index finger into the air, which denotes the “one” in the QAnon slogan.
The music and imagery are almost identical to fascist rallies of the 1930s and 1940s.
But there’s a subtle difference between fascism and a messianism. QAnon sees Trump as locked in a war against satanic, child-trafficking liberals and Democrats. A chief tenet of the cult — which has gradually spread from the fringes of the far right closer to the center of the Republican Party — is that Trump will ultimately be returned to power.
Last week, Trump posted an image of himself on his social media site Truth Social, wearing a Q pin on his lapel and under a slogan reading “The Storm is Coming.” Adherents to QAnon believe that the “storm” is the moment when Trump will retake power after vanquishing his enemies, having them arrested and potentially executed on live TV.
Trump has flirted with QAnon before, but the FBI is now warning that Trump’s fuller embrace of it could lead to violence.
Several of you noted how QAnon plays into Trump’s messianic fantasies, and also into his attempt to sow hate and paranoia. At Saturday’s Youngstown rally, he said “A vile group of corrupt, power-hungry globalists, socialists and liberal extremists in Washington has been waging war on the hardworking people of Ohio. Our biggest threat remains the sick, sinister and evil people from within our country.”
Part of my worry here is how intentional and planned this all is.
It used to be that Trump went on rants when he drifted off the teleprompter. But in Youngstown last Saturday he was on the teleprompter all the time (you can tell from the fact that he finished all his sentences, his syntax wasn’t garbled, and he didn’t drift off message).
In other words: He and the people now working for him know exactly what they’re doing, and are planning it precisely.
My other worry is with his supporters (such as the 5,000 or so who appeared at this rally and seemed mesmerized by him).
As the political philosopher Hannah Arendt and others who analyzed the rise of Hitler in the 1920s pointed out, people under economic stress or who feel their status and social standing are under attack are highly vulnerable to a demagogue who blames others for their problems – immigrants, ethnic or racial minorities, conspiracies of “enemies within,” gay people, even women.
They want to identify with the demagogue — even grant him super-human powers of “deliverance” for them.
Ohio – as much of the old rust belt -- has been left behind economically and socially. This is especially true of white males without college degrees.
How to stop this rot?
In the short term, it must be the ballot box — delivering the Republican Party (whose officials and candidates are actively enabling Trump or shamefully silent about him) a decisive loss in November’s midterms.
Over the slightly longer term – no longer than the next year -- it’s essential that Merrick Garland prosecute Trump for his attempted coup, his incitement to attack the US Capitol, and his theft of top-secret documents.
Longer term, though, the nation needs to find ways to spread prosperity and dignity the vast swathes of America that have been left behind.
What do you think?
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