“Thy shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Exodus 20:16
Sociopathic behavior by Donald Trump has now spawned more than 9,000 lies and misstatements during his first 773 days in office, according to The Washington Post. As bad as that is, the mental state of his followers, who believe him, despite all evidence, is even worse.
Much has been written and said about Trump’s narcissistic personality, his ego and his sociopathic behavior, not to mention the possibility of early onset Alzheimer’s and loss of cognitive ability. Whatever the case, that seems to be less and less the point. .
The far greater problem can only be described as the mass psychosis of his base.
Why is it that his ardent supporters—about 35 to 40 percent of the population—refuse to see through his lies? What is it about him that gives him this great power to deceive so many people and have them willingly believe what he says, no matter how ridiculous?
Trump not only tells lies, he repeats them over and over again. How could they not be true… even if they’re not?
For example,Trump has falsely stated 131 times he passed the biggest tax cut in history; he’s stated falsely 126 times that his border wall is already being built and he’s falsely asserted 116 times the U.S. economy today is the best in history, according to The Post.
And, he adds new whoppers everyday.
His latest: On a European tour last summer, he claimed publicly more than once that his father was born in Germany. In fact, his father was born in The Bronx, N.Y. Why does he do it, even when his lies are so obvious?
Here are just a few other recent examples:
— “Puerto Rico got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane, more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before.”
— “The Democrat(ic) position on abortion is now so extreme that they don’t mind executing babies AFTER birth.”
— Says of immigrant family separations at the border, “we had the exact same policy as the Obama administration.”
— “The Democrat plan would just obliterate Medicare and terminate Medicare Advantage … seniors who have been paying for this for years (and) will not be taken care of anymore.”
All are easily provable lies or misstatements.
Many Trump supporters, however, are oblivious to his sociopathic lying. No matter how authoritative the sources or convincing the evidence, they constantly rationalize or pivot to justify even the most obvious lies.
And when they can’t, they blame shift. The data is unreliable, the source is corrupt, or controlled by the so-called “deep state.”
Trump can get away with this because he has tapped into something that exists in our collective subconscious. It’s called a “belief system.”
His supporters believe something, not because its rooted in truth, but because it feeds their beliefs. We all have them. And, if you believe something is true, then it can be more powerful than truth itself.
Belief systems can be a good thing. They bind us together as a society. Many of those beliefs are bandied about every day, like the term “rule of law” or “no man is above the law.”
These concepts are embedded in the Constitution, which is, itself, a belief system. It spells out the rules by which our society functions.
This belief system is buttressed by our institutions, Congress, government and the judiciary–members, of which, incidentally, have all sworn to faithfully uphold and execute the law. The media is outside that circle, but still plays the role of “fourth estate.”
What separates Trump supporters from everyone else is their lack of faith in the system. They believe it’s corrupt and stacked against them, economically, racially, or socially. They believe elites and emerging minorities have co-opted the system for their own benefit–at their expense.
When a leader arises that feeds into the corrosive belief that the system is fixed, the seeds are sown for a demagogue like Trump to rise to power. He reinforces what they believe, so they believe him over anyone else, even if they are easily proven to be misguided, or he’s easily proven to be lying.
Hitler and Lenin are classic examples of how demagogues can capitalize on widespread alienation by feeding on myths and beliefs.
Germany’s defeat in World War I set the stage for widespread social change. Even so, Hitler was largely ignored until the German economy collapsed.
The ensuing chaos and loss of faith in the government caused people to question their beliefs and search for scapegoats. Hitler rose to power on the myth of German racial superiority and the belief that a racial minority—Jews— was responsible for all of Germany’s woes.
Once the German people bought into those myths, his power was solidified. But he could only convince people, if they had lost faith in the current system. World War I did that. Germany was left in social upheaval followed by economic collapse in the Great Depression.
Lenin also capitalized on Russia’s humiliation in World War I, which triggered social upheaval and loss of faith in the Russian monarchy. He offered a new belief system based on Communism. “From each according to ability, to each according to need.” The slogan was egalitarian, but it paved the way for 70-years of authoritarian dictatorship.
Trump has tapped a similar loss of faith in our system and exploited it with his sociopathic lying.
Authoritarianism has long been linked to Trump supporters. People with that mindset are less likely to care that a political leader is dishonest, according to research, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Trump’s Fascistic tendencies, revealed in the political tactics he’s using to solidify national support, should send chills up the spines of Americans, according to video published by The New York Times.
The danger is in the normalization of the same tactics that gave rise to the Nazi Party and Hitler in Germany, Benito Mussolini in Italy and modern day Fascist movements in Turkey, Russia, Hungary and elsewhere, says Jason Stanley, a philosophy professor at Yale University, who narrates the video.
Social and economic forces have caused a large segment of the population to feel alienated and dislocated. They see the rich grow richer, while they get left behind.
Traditional jobs disappear due to globalization, automation or any number of other reasons, causing a way of life to vanish for many people, leading to a breakdown in families and communities.
Coupled with that is a strong belief that the system–our government and social institutions–are corrupt and tilted against them in favor of some shadowy figures who are pulling all the strings to promote an equally shadowy ideology like “Globalism,” or “Socialism,” or some other “ism.”
Then, along comes Trump, who paints himself as an outsider (when he’s nothing of the sort), and plays into those fears and prejudices.
He attacks and undermines our institutions— the government, the courts, the media, academia, law enforcement— while selling himself as the only person who has the answers and their interests at heart. How many times has he said only he alone can solve the nation’s problems? Hitler campaigned the same way.
So, if Trump were to say Democrats were aliens, a fair portion of his base would believe him, just like they believe it when he says Democrats secretly hate all Jews, or Democrats support open borders, or Democrats are un-American or the mainstream media is “fake news.”
Trump’s lies, of course, would have far less currency if not for Fox News. There’s little question at this point that the cable network is the administration’s propaganda arm, operating under the guise of a “news” network.
Fox News and its legion of talking heads, from Sean Hannity to Tucker Carlson, reinforce and legitimize Trump’s claims by faithfully repeating them.
If Trump says Democrats are aliens, you can bet the semi-official propaganda outlet would report it, and Trump supporters will believe it—against all evidence to the contrary.
The upshot is, Democrats and those who believe in our current system of democracy should spend less time focusing on Trump’s rhetorical excesses and more time crafting a platform that will restore confidence in our institutions and break this Trump-induced psychosis.
Following World War II, the allies discovered that “Nazification” was so ingrained in the psyche of the German people, it required a major public education campaign to restore democratic ideals.
Now, the nation is faced with nascent “Trumpification,” based on fabrications, racial and economic myths and the demonization of minorities.
To counter that, Democrats need to pledge to restore and safeguard our democratic ideals as a major part of any presidential campaign platform.