MEDIA WATCH--There’s a myth going around these days that’s particularly damaging. The myth of Trump’s demise — and, as they say, it’s greatly exaggerated. In comes in three forms. One, there’s going to be a blow-out, so there’s no need to worry about American democracy. Two, that Trump will concede politely and walk away gently into the good night. Three, that American institutions will force Trump out of power. None of these three things is true, and they are leading to a false sense of confidence just before a crucial election. (Photo above: Jim Watson)
The first myth — there’s going to be a blow-out — is easiest to dispense with. Somewhere between 40 to 50 percent of America still supports Trump — despite the horror freak show of the last four years. The polls register 40 percent, but that number should be taken with a grain of salt: there’s always a secret hate vote when it comes to fascist-authoritarian moments. The evidence is ample — 2016, Brexit, and so on. Some percentage of people always tell pollsters what they want to hear — and then in the heat and silence of the voting booth, choose hate and folly.
The only question is how big Trump’s secret hate vote is. That’s anyone’s guess — but what can be said is that if it’s even around 5%, the election is still very much within question. Trump can walk away a winner without even resorting to alleged plans to thwart and manipulate the election. More likely, the margin of victory will be slender enough for Trump to do his worst — and throw the months between the election and inauguration into chaos — and perhaps even the months beyond.
That brings to me the second myth. This one’s preeminent peddler is Ross Douthat of the New York Times: Trump is going to…quit. Just walk away. Wait, what? Let’s not forget Ross’s track record: he’s been wrong about every single thing — every single thing — it’s been possible to be wrong about. And then there was the time he suggested putting women into sexual slavery to stop right wing terrorism. Wait…what?
That’s not a personal attack. It should illuminate the massive, gaping problem of American punditry — a failed intellectual class that has been unable to orient and guide people during a period of implosion. Ross is a figure without the education or life experience to have any clue whatsoever about he’s talking about: authoritarianism, fascism, social collapse. He’s not wrong over and over again because it’s a coincidence: he’s wrong over and over again because he’s, well, a fool: a person who refuses to admit their own cluelessness, and listen to those of us who have studied and lived all this. But America’s pundit class in general is taking Ross’s myth, and propounding it, spreading it, amplifying it. Trump will go down without a fight! Why, he’ll flee, quit, resign, simple politely say thank you and goodbye.
That myth is dangerously wrong. Trump is not going to go down without a fight. He is not going to quit, walk away, or simply say thank you and goodbye. How do I know? There are three reasons. — and all of them bode ill for American democracy
The first is investment. Trump and the GOP seem to have invested heavily in a set of policies and actions that denude American democracy. I’ve written about it extensively. It has five prongs: allegations of voter fraud, legal challenges and contests, influencing electors, stacking the Supreme Court, and encouraging right wing terror. It’s a huge — huge — investment of time, energy, attention, people, ideas. It’s taken this extremist faction of American society decades to have this possibility within their grasp: power unchecked. They are not going to simply walk away from that investment.
To simply walk away at this moment would be throwing away everything that those in the extremist wing of the conservatives spent a lifetime working for. All of them. From the theocrats who’ve wanted to put a justice on the Supreme Court, to the supremacists who’ve wanted to institutionalise hate, to the fascists who’ve worked so hard to capture America’s institutions, to the authoritarians and libertarians who’ve worked assiduously to destroy what was left of governance in the guise of nonexistent taxes, slashed funding, and eroded institutions.
The extremist wing of American society and politics is not simply going to walk away from the goal it has spent decades working for, planning for, strategising about, trying to create. It is not going to happen. What tends to happen at the crucial moment of social collapse — the key turning point, like the election America faces now?
The extremists double down.
That brings to my second reason Trump isn’t going to go down without a fight: history. Can you think of a single authoritarian leader who’s done what American pundits think Trump is going to do? Just…quit? Politely say goodbye and retire? Go ahead, mull it over. You can’t think of one because there isn’t one. Authoritarian leaders usually have to be removed by force, by incapacity and illness, or by death. Think of Saddam, Gaddafi, Kim Jong Il, and you’re not too far off the mark. Think of Putin or Erdogan if you want slightly nicer references. Authoritarians don’t go down without a fight. Ever. What they definitely don’t do is just…quit.
Those of us who’ve studied the history of social collapse and lived it find this myth especially jaw-dropping and dangerous. It’s patently obvious that America’s pundits are spreading it because they are cosseted elite white guys, with Ivy League degrees that haven’t taught them much of anything, and have literally no idea what they’re talking about. Those of us who’ve studied and lived authoritarian collapse will tell you that there is not a single example in modern history of an authoritarian (or aspiring authoritarian) leader simply…quitting.
It has, to my knowledge, never happened. Trump would have to be the first authoritarian leader in modern history to simply walk away — and when history teaches you a lesson that exacting, you had better listen. When history has laws, they are not usually broken, and one of them is: authoritarians don’t just give up and walk away, whistling and wishing you well. They double down at the turning point of collapse, fighting until the bitter end.
Why? Why don’t they just quit? That brings me to my third reason, which is institutional power. One major reason that authoritarians contest power until the bitter end is that authoritarianism can only really arise in societies with weak institutions to begin with. Therefore, authoritarians tend to know they have every chance of pulling off a soft coup, if they just hang in there. Maybe the opposition will get tired and go away. Maybe civil society will be intimidated and back down. Maybe the High Court will hand you victory, at last. Authoritarians know they can scrape by on the skin of their teeth — and the prize, which is absolute power, is worth it. That is one big reason why they don’t give up.
There is a fourth reason that authoritarians don’t give up until the bitter end. Because they know that if they do, and institutions start working again, they’ll be on the chopping block. Suddenly, they’ll face everything from inquiries to special prosecution to legal cases. Overnight, their world will begin to collapse. The stakes couldn’t be higher. If they win, they have absolute power — but if they lose, they are maybe even branded criminals, perhaps face jail time, steep fines, are hounded by decades by the workings of institutional power.
So the fourth reason that authoritarians don’t simply give up is that the price is too high: they know that the wheels of justice will begin to turn, and pursue them, probably for life. Better to hang in there until the bitter end, throw the nation into chaos, do whatever can be done, put in place that strategy to thwart and manipulate the election, try to steal it — because the alternative is poverty, humiliation, disgrace, and despair. Usually, for your whole family. Who wants that, really? Nobody, but especially not authoritarians.
That brings me to the final reason authoritarians don’t give up: their psychology. Authoritarians are not normal people. They are severely disordered. Usually, they’re malignant narcissists. And such a psychology operates by one simple rule. If I can’t have it, I’ll burn it all down. In an interpersonal relationship, a malignant narcissist becomes an abuser: I don’t love you, I don’t know how to love, but nobody else will have you, and so I’ll burn your future down, do whatever I have to do to possess you, stalking you, harassing you, beating you, violating you. A society under an authoritarian has just that relationship, too: if I can’t have you, nobody else will. I’ll burn it all down before I let anyone else have a relationship with you. I don’t know how to love you, care for you, nurture you, but you’re mine, and I am going to abuse you so badly that you will never forget it, be too wounded and battered to ever belong to anyone else.
Let me translate that into plain English. The greatest narcissistic injury Trump can suffer isn’t really insults or mockery and so forth — he gets that from the entire planet every day. Think about what a thick skin you need to have to survive that: it tells us that Trump has no functioning emotional core whatsoever. That means he has no sense of guilt, shame, remorse, or regret.
Let me say it again. He has no sense of guilt, shame, remorse, or regret. But those are the emotions pundits are imagining will drive him to simply quit. The humiliation and embarrassment and so forth of hanging in there. They are dead wrong. Having no shame, guilt, remorse, he cannot feel such things at all.
The greatest narcissistic injury he can suffer is to watch what he believes is his fall into the hands of another, just like an abuse, who forever stalks the ex he thinks belongs to him. In that case, Trump would do anything — anything — to stop that from happening, just like an abuser will hound and stalk and torment someone he thinks belongs to him — to death. Trump’s psychology will not permit him to simply quit. It will make him double down, over and over again, until America is at the brink of even more chaos than it is today.
If you doubt that, go ahead and take a hard look at Trump’s behaviour over the last few months. He’s sunk in the polls. Has he shown any signs of slowing down or reining it in? No. He’s doubled down, if anything. He’s gone from his usual hate-filled rallies to licensing right wing fascist militias. He’s gone from insulting the opposition to threatening to lock up governors. He’s said out loud he won’t accede to a peaceful transfer of power when the question arose — repeatedly. He’s openly led his supporters to begin demanding twelve, sixteen more years — because this election is a “fraud.”
This is not the pattern of behaviour of someone who is about to back down. It is rapid-fire escalation: the pattern of someone who is doubling down, the more challenged that he is. That is how authoritarians work. That is how malignant narcissists operate. Think of the abuser who won’t take no for an answer, going from merely haunting an ex online, to stalking her at work and at home.
That’s Donald Trump. He’s likely not going to take no for an answer. And neither is his movement of fanatics and fascists and theocrats.
That’s why there’s a careful, sophisticated, complex strategy to manipulate the election, and hand the victory to Trump, even if he loses the vote. The vote isn’t in question anymore: Trump’s not really contesting that now.
What is happening, though, is driving the Trump base into a frenzy — to support the five legs of undermining democracy I described earlier.
It’s a profoundly, deeply dangerous myth to suggest that America is out of the woods. Things are looking better — but only slightly, and only so slightly that exaggerating it brings about the tremendous danger of apathy. The sense of false confidence that Americans have right now couldn’t be more perilous. It comes from their pundits — the very same people who were wrong about everything, from camps to bans to raids to purges, and are wrong all over again. When a plan to steal an election is right in front of their face, American pundits say: “Don’t worry! He’ll quit! It can’t happen here!”
That, my friend, is what they’ve been telling you for the last four years. They’ve been wrong all along — and they’re still wrong now, only the most dangerously so of all. The next few months will not be easy. They will be chaos: a nation at the brink of the last stage of social collapse.
This election is far from decided. There is every chance Trump will lose the vote, and still walk away with the election. The pieces are in place for that, and already working away in the background, from stacking the courts, to manipulating ballots, to undermining mail-in voting, to legal challenges on Election Day. False confidence is the biggest mistake of all right now. So remember this much.
It’s likely Trump won’t take no for an answer. Like any abuser. That is why Americans have to be prepared to say it, over and over again, in firmer and firmer ways, until, at last, the game is over. The votes it stands on election night, will only be the mere beginning of the tests to come. Think of it as telling an obsessive, malignant, narcissistic abuser, for the first time, that you want to break up — and then think how many more times you are going to have to say it, more forcefully, every time they escalate their behaviour, until they finally get it.
(Umair Haque writes for Eudaimonia and Co. Posted most recently by Medium.com)-cw