Discover more from Robert Reich
Trump’s debate response: The fascist who doesn’t want America to think
He deals in images designed to invoke defiance in supporters and outrage in opponents
I hope you read today’s Common Good essay, which I posted late last night.
In the meantime, though, I want to talk about symbols, images, and fascism.
Here is Trump’s mug shot from his arraignment yesterday in Georgia. It’s a look of defiance — which I’m sure he practiced repeatedly beforehand — intended to make his supporters and his Republican base feel defiant, too.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this is Trump’s thousand-word response to Wednesday night’s Republican debate, which he declined to attend.
He timed his arraignment in Georgia for yesterday so that it — and this photo — would dominate Thursday’s and Friday’s news, rather than anything or anyone emerging from the debate.
But a defiant photograph isn’t “news.” It’s a symbol, an image. Which is exactly what Donald Trump is. He has no political platform, no specific policy agenda, no new ideas, and no plan for what he’ll do if he gets a second term.
He exists as a symbol for the anger, discontent, bigotry, and vindictiveness he has unleashed in America.
He is as close as America has come to a fascist leader, who doesn’t want his followers to think or analyze. He wants them only to feel.
Trump’s lackeys fell in line, expressing the defiance Trump projected in his mug shot.
On Newsmax, Sarah Palin called for civil war.
Fox’s Laura Ingraham told viewers that Trump’s arrest was proof that government officials are trying to “take them out.”
Fox’s Sean Hannity said the Department of Justice will target Republicans “until there’s nothing left of the party.”
All brainless bile.
Last Thursday, Trump complained that Fox News “purposely show the absolutely worst pictures of me, especially the big ‘orange’ one with my chin pulled way back. They think they are getting away with something, they’re not. Just like 2016 all over again … And then they want me to debate!”
Of course he’s angry. For the man who’s all symbol and image and without substance, a photo like the following conveys a brainless buffoon. It must drive him crazy.
But Trump is not a brainless buffoon. He’s a cunning marketer, a diabolic manipulator of the public, a sly producer of his own daily reality show. His lead in the GOP’s presidential sweepstakes has grown. He will almost certainly be the Republican candidate for president next year — even if he’s in jail.
How to debate a symbol? How to take on an image? How should Biden and the Democrats, and everyone who cares deeply about this country, respond to a demagogue who obsesses over what he projects rather than what he stands for? How to deal with a fascist who doesn’t want followers to think but only to feel rage?
Expose him for who he is.