In my boundlessly naive youth, there was one aspect of Star Wars that I found entirely unbelievable. It wasn’t the existence of Ewoks, or Yoda, or the fact that a space emperor would see one of his children raised as a princess and ditch the other one in what appeared to be a dirt farm. It was the fact that anyone would agree to be a stormtrooper.
Why would anyone join forces with a dark side whose default setting seems to be blowing up planets, threatening to murder one another, and playing toxic mind games? Especially given that the stormtroopers didn’t really seem to benefit from their allegiance. Their loyalty did not appear to lead to lives of wine, women, and song, which might be enough to tempt people into following a despot. To my knowledge, Darth Vader not only inhabited a ship utterly devoid of any kind of beauty or pleasures, but he wasn’t promising those stormtroopers so much as a decent dental plan.
Certainly, vast swaths of the population have pledged loyalty to dictators in the past—you need only look to Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia to see that. But they’ve usually done so because if they did not, you could very possibly end up in Siberia or face a firing squad. A massive, endless amount of propaganda was also created to insure that, to the common man, to people who did not follow politics too closely, those leaders seemed good. Mindless, unmerited loyalty to an openly corrupt being always struck me as a little too far fetched.
In what is, God willing, the last days of the Trump administration, I do not find such mindless loyalty unbelievable anymore.
The Force is strong in my family. ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/oT0jFfy5Lb— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) September 29, 2019
The free-floating, stupid cruelty of his administration is utterly evident. On television, Trump is asking foreign officials to interfere in our election, after apparently strong-arming Ukraine for information on his opponents. Two associates of Trump’s lawyer, Giuliani, have already been arrested on charges relating to Ukraine.
But in the midst of all that, Trump has similarly abandoned our Kurdish allies, who helped fight ISIS, in Syria. Turkey has already begun an offensive against them. Even die-hard Republican Lindsay Graham suggested the decision was “a disaster in the making…Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration. This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS.”
If media reports are accurate and Turkey has entered northern Syria — a disaster is in the making.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 9, 2019
It is thought that Trump chose to do this to advance his business interests in Turkey. As Jeremy Newberger noted, “Letting a foreign leader slaughter an entire people so your hotel does well in their capital is some James Bond villain level shit right there.”
Letting a foreign leader slaughter an entire people so your hotel does well in their capital is some James Bond villain level shit right there.— Jeremy Newberger (@jeremynewberger) October 10, 2019
And remember, these decisions are being made by a man who thought it would be a good idea to fill a moat around the border with alligators. He thought it would be cool if refugees attempting to find a better life—and it’s worth remembering that the number of unaccompanied children attempting to cross the border last year was 54,000—were eaten by alligators.
Instead of draining the swamp, his plan was to fill it with animals that would rip people, many of whom are children, apart before killing them. It is a stupid plan (most immigrants do not cross the border, but arrive on planes and then overstay their visas), but it is also a remarkably and childishly cruel plan.
If this were a Game of Thrones type show, a scene about a king wanting to toss people to alligators would immediately be followed by a scene of him cackling madly on a throne and yelling “Kill all the prisoners” in a distorted voice. It would be the scene used to justify whatever revolution followed, because, of course, the people had no choice.
In light of all of this, it’s not surprising that, even on Fox, support for impeachment is at 51 percent. What is surprising is that there is anyone who does not support it.
Of course his devotees can justify Trump’s behavior, and twist themselves into elaborate contortions to do so. Fanatics can justify any leader’s behavior—it’s why people thought Charlie Manson or Jim Jones had some solid ideas about murdering people—but it is very hard to come up with a justification in response to, “I want to feed people to alligators.” If even a five-year-old said that, you’d begin to worry he was a sociopath.
So why do people keep trying? At least on a superficial level, Trump’s followers’ behavior is similar to those who have joined a cult. Hundreds of people have shared stories of family members they feel were lost to Fox News. The New York Times notes that one way people are kept in cults is that the leaders “set up a we-they philosophy: We have the truth and you do not.” You can see that in Trump’s repeated assertions that any media unwilling to praise him is “fake news.” Steve Hassan’s book The Cult of Trump details how Trump’s insistence on ego stroking is another characteristic of noted cult leaders. If that’s the case, Hassan offers a brief primer for turning Trump cultists around. As reported by The Washington Post, you can:
(1) Take a timeout from the sources that reinforce your point of view. (2) Read about how social influence works on people. (3) Consider Trump’s critics; read the Mueller report. (4) “Go back in time to before you came to adopt your current belief system.” (5) Ask yourself if your fears are rational.
But then, you try tearing Trump devotees away from Fox and asking them to consider a timeout to read The New York Times, or, as they call it, Fake News. I can’t help but question whether anyone who believes that Democrats are running pedophile rings out of pizza parlors is going to sit down and read all 448 pages of the Mueller report.
As Marc Fisher at The Post noted, it might be more likely that these voters will simply get bored, and move on to the next thing. Trump, mercifully, may be losing some of his luster, as Presidents often do over four years.
Practically speaking, maybe the best we can do is reply to Republican what-about-isms regarding Barack Obama or Elizabeth Warren by saying: No one else wants to feed people to alligators. In a sane world, that really ought to be enough. But then, that’s if we still live in a remotely sane universe.
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