The Daily Escape:
Bentonite Hills, Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef NP, UT – photo by BonsailLXIV
Donald Trump exits the presidential stage today, and not a minute too soon. In a sense, we’re very lucky that he was limited to one term. His mass radicalization of the far right of the Republican Party took just four years to become the Party’s mainstream, and to start an armed insurrection.
Throughout his term, he behaved as if Democrats, immigrants, Black Lives Matter protesters, Blue state residents, and the press had seized the country from Real Americans, the Trump voters. Since the election in November, he’s blanketed the nation with the Big Lie that the election was stolen.
Trump used mass radicalization to build a huge group of followers. The feedback loop was clear: Trump projects omnipotence, while the followers yearn for someone who has all the answers. Some would call it a “lock and key” relationship.
On January 6th, his followers stormed the US Capitol believing they were supposed to seize it for Trump. What is striking are two characteristics his followers seem to show. First, they display global grievance: They are angry at nearly everything outside of a fixed group of ideas and concepts like “freedom”, the Constitution, gun ownership and hatred of “socialism”.
Second, they have an overwhelming sense of entitlement: They alone are the arbiters of right and wrong. They have the right to be the judge and jury if something needs redress. If they commit a violent act, it’s the other side that’s responsible for inciting them.
Domestic terrorism analysts are concerned about the security implications of millions of right-wing Americans buying into baseless claims. The line between mainstream and fringe is vanishing, with conspiracy-minded Republicans now sitting in Congress and marching alongside armed extremists in their spare time.
These self-proclaimed “real Americans” are cocooned in their own news outlets, their own social media networks and, ultimately, their own “truth.” They support bogus claims like the November election was rigged, the coronavirus is a hoax, and liberals are hatching a socialist takeover.
Jason Dempsey, a military analyst notes that too many people are turning to force as a response to fears about political divisions:
“…they’re carrying guns and wearing body armor…We’ve got to get past that and be wary of the idea of militarism that doesn’t lead to a common conception of service, but leads to the kind of tribalism where we have to protect ourselves and our families by force against those we disagree with.”
Nobody expects this mass radicalization to go away when Trump’s out of office. As Arie Kruglanski, a University of Maryland professor who’s written extensively about radicalization says:
“We don’t trust the government. We don’t trust the Congress. We don’t trust the Supreme Court. We don’t trust now the science. We don’t trust medicine. We don’t trust the media for sure….So who do we trust? Well, we trust our tribe. We trust conspiracy theories that tell us what we want to hear.”
The danger of insurrection is here, and probably, thanks to Trump, will stay here for a long time.
QAnon, proliferated last year. The Q followers insist that Trump was all that stood between us and a “deep state” cabal that was running a global sex trafficking ring and harvesting a chemical from children’s blood.
The cherry on the top was the myth that the presidential election had been stolen: 33% of Republicans say they believe that the QAnon theory about a conspiracy among deep state elites is “mostly true.” And 36% of registered voters think voter fraud has occurred to a large enough extent to affect the election outcome.
The QAnon conversation online pivoted from taking down the global cabal to “Stop the Steal.” So when Trump invited supporters to Washington for mass demonstrations on Jan. 6, pro-Trump agitators and QAnon believers saw it as a demand for action.
Who believes in conspiracy theories? Those who have negative attitudes to authority, who feel alienated from politics, and who see the modern world as unintelligible. Conspiracy theory believers are often suspicious and distrustful, and see others as plotting against them. They struggle with anger, resentment, and other hostile feelings as well as with fear. They have lower self-esteem than nonbelievers, and need external validation to maintain their self-esteem. Belief in conspiracy theories often also goes along with belief in paranormal phenomena, and weaknesses in analytic thinking.
Trump, has created what James Meek calls “a self-contained alternative political thought space.” Loyalty to Trump is now a social identity for many people. So if Trump says that the 2020 election was rigged, why would a Trump loyalist disagree?
At the same time, Trump both sows and leverages a growing mistrust of institutions. Only 35% of Americans feel “a lot of trust” that what scientists say is accurate and reliable. Educators and media who try to tell the truth, aren’t useful weapons against conspiracy theories, because they simply become targets of the conspiracy theorists.
Let’s give the last word to Paul Krugman:
“Unlike the crazy conspiracy theories of the left—which do exist, but are supported only by a tiny fringe—the crazy conspiracy theories of the right are supported by important people: powerful politicians, television personalities with large audiences.”
When Richard Nixon resigned and Al Gore conceded, pundits and politicians smugly reassured us that things were fine because there were no tanks or soldiers in the streets, proving that the system worked.
How’s that working out for us this time?