We are now less than two months from the presidential election of 2016. If you ever had any doubt that our society is in crisis, the nature of this year’s political season should give you pause. We are indeed living in unprecedented times.
It’s Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. How did we get here? What is the significance of this election and, most importantly, who is going to win and why?
Even if you have already decided that Clinton is a better choice than Trump, it is still important to understand how Trump got to be one of two people who could be the next President of the United States. Clinton is a known political entity, but what does the Trump candidacy tell us about the future of our political process going forward?
Let’s begin by looking at the motivations of the people at the top of their tickets. Why is Clinton running for president and why is Trump doing so?
I think it’s fair to say that anyone running for president has at least some motivation to attempt to shape the world according to their view of how things should be. It’s also true that politicians have personal ambitions and goals in addition to their mission to change the world according to their beliefs.
With respect to Hillary, one of her personal ambitions is to be the first woman president and open doors of possibility for women. She has also a lot she wants to accomplish that she believes will empower our citizens. When you look at her personal history, you see someone motivated by a mission of service.
With Trump on the other hand, my reading is that his primary motivation for running for president is self-promotion. This is not so unusual. If you look at the people running for president in the last two cycles, you see several people with that motive, especially on the Republican side. They don’t have any realistic chance of winning. But they know if they run, they can gain attention and lucrative speaking and media gigs later.
So, was Trump’s entry into the Republican primary race a stunt that got out of control? There has been a lot of speculation that some of the more self-damaging things Trump has done in his campaign are a sign that he doesn’t really want to be president.
My reading is no. I believe he went in thinking he could be the Republican nominee and eventually president. Trump run for president is a rebranding effort. It’s an attempt to move his career from that of businessman and professional celebrity to being the bully in the White House. He wants to be for the United States what Putin is for Russia.
Trump’s self-interested motivations for running are problematic in more than one way. It’s pretty evident that he has narcissistic personality disorder. Thus, he has an oversized ego and is somewhat delusional with respect to who he is and what he can do. I imagine he thought to himself, “I can do this. It’s not so hard. People will flock to my campaign.”
As it turned out, he received 14 million votes in the Republican primary and defeated 16 rivals, including some very well funded opponents and conservative icons.
Running for president feeds his pathological need for attention and assures him the spotlight, at least for the time being. If he wins the White House, his brand is triumphant and this will move his business ventures to unprecedented levels of success.
However, along with the attention of being the Republican nominee, there is increased scrutiny about all aspects of Trump’s life.
If you look at how Trump has conducted his campaign and look at his past life from a nonpartisan perspective, you cannot help but come to the conclusion that Donald J. Trump is a thoroughly dishonorable human being. By this I mean he is someone who has a consistent pattern of lying, cheating, and stealing.
It would be a book length treatment to detail these misdeeds, so let’s just look at a couple of telling indicators. With respect to lying, PolitiFact, a fact checking organization, rated 72% of Trump’s public remarks about factual circumstances as false. That means that nearly three-fourths of the time he’s not speaking the truth whenever he purports to cite factual support for what he says.
We don’t know for sure how many of the falsehoods that come out of Trump’s mouth are deliberate lies and how many are a result of his uncritically accepting whatever he takes on from the alt-right propaganda mill.
In any case, Trump doesn’t seem to be concerned with veracity. He’s interested in the impact of what he says. He’s following the sociopath’s credo: what sells is right, good, and true.
With respect to cheating and stealing, you only have to look at the 3,500 lawsuits that have been filed against Trump in his business career. To detail these would require another book.
If Trump is indeed so dishonorable, how did he get this far? How does he get away with it? Trump has said things in his time as a candidate that would have ended the candidacy of anyone else.
If you look at his disapproval numbers, you might think he is not getting away with it: 34% approve and 61% disapprove of him. However, Clinton’s are almost as bad: 39% approve of her candidacy and 55% disapprove. Although Clinton has a clear lead at this time, the outcome of the election is still in doubt.
There is no doubt that Trump has a passionate partisan following that is willing to overlook his faults or put them into some context where they are perceived to support their world view.
This is no accident. In addition to his narcissism, Trump has a sociopathic personality disorder. This means that he is skilled in manipulating others without regard to the consequences. He feels no guilt or shame in tricking people. In fact, he delights in it and brags about it.
Let’s put aside psychological diagnosis and just call this “mind-fucking.” By this I meant Trump is highly skilled in getting people to believe what he wants them to believe irrespective of evidence, facts, or common sense.
In Trump’s ghost written book The Art of the Deal, it reads in part: “I play to people’s fantasies… People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and it’s a very effective form of promotion.”
At one point in his campaign, Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Part of Trump’s self-promotion motivation for running for president is to further his acting ambitions. Trump is an actor always playing himself. Thus his campaign is to a large extent performance art. It’s the performance art of mind-fuckery.
The smug looks of self-satisfaction he always seem to have shows us how much he loves playing this game. He’s assuring himself a privileged place in the Mind-Fuckers Hall of Fame.
We can easily envision him recruiting ghost writers for his next best sellers: The Art of the Insult and A Primer on Politically Incorrect Speech: How to Get Away with Saying Absolutely Anything.
Trump is running his campaign on the model of a reality TV show. Success is measured in terms of ratings. The more attention you get the better, even if it is attention for deplorable things you say or do.
From this model it’s possible to run an entire political operation without the usual encumbrances of a traditional campaign. You don’t need to run very many ads, you don’t need a big staff, you don’t need record breaking amounts of money, you don’t need to depend on super PACS, and you can be very selective about where you do campaign appearances and who you talk to.
However, it’s imperative to dominate the news cycles as much as you can. So Trump has to keep making outrageous statements so the media will keeps their focus on him and relatively ignore the Democratic candidate.
Especially when he is ad libbing as opposed to reading off a teleprompter, Trump’s speaking style is usually an attempt to arouse an emotional reaction in his audience rather than to convey a substantive point. At the same time, he is trying to influence you with respect to what he wants you to believe.
Trump tries to steer away from definite policy statements whenever he can. “My voters don’t care and the public doesn’t care,” he said in a Time Magazine interview.
The emotional content of his speech activates the sympathetic nervous system and so the higher brain centers are not as fully engaged. Then he can convey messages directly to the unconscious.
A full inventory of Trump’s mind-fucking tricks would require another book and this time it would a text on critical thinking. Some examples will have to suffice.
Speaking of the prospect of Hillary Clinton’s picks for the Supreme Court, he said, “If she gets to pick her judges—nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people. Maybe there is. I don’t know.”
This comes pretty close to advocating violence. Note though that Trump is not stating directly that people should take up weapons to overturn the results of the election. He’s just referring to it as something that might happen.
He puts it into the space and then he backs off from it by saying, “I don’t know.” Thus he avoids responsibility for what he just put out that may motivate crazy people to do violent things.
Trump often uses this insinuation trick to bring up topics which are too incendiary to be stated in a straightforward way when he wants to convey suspicion without evidence, proof, or facts.
He will say for example, “something is going on,” or “people are saying.” But he never tells you what he thinks is going on or what people he’s talking about. This gives the imagination of the listener an opportunity to create their own dark scenarios. He is encouraging a conspiracy mind set where the government and media are seen as being totally corrupt.
In another case Trump said, “And, by the way, with Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.”
The crowd roars approval and overlooks the fact that Trump is advocating that we should go to war over a gesture. The message conveyed is how tough Trump will be as president and how nobody will be able to get away with insulting the United States again.
When Trump was confronted with the patent falsehood of his statement that “Obama founded ISIS,” he said he was just being sarcastic. It’s like saying, it’s just a joke. But he later said, “Obviously I’m being sarcastic. Then — but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you.”
In this case, he is trying to evade responsibility for his statement while at the same time reassuring his base that he really meant it.
This is typical of Trump’s modus operandi. He’s constantly changing what his positions are to avoid criticism.
This is another mind-fucking trick. Keep people in the dark about what you really mean and where you really stand while at the same time communicating to your base through these insinuations and innuendoes that he’s still going to be the hard line president he promised to be when he made the most outrageous claims.
He wants more moderate voters to hear that he has backed off of some of his most extreme statements while at the same time sending reassurances to his hard core right wing supporters.
Trump would like us to believe that America is falling apart and headed for disaster at every turn and only he can save us. You just have to trust him to be the strong leader we need in a time of increasing chaos and disorder.
For example in his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention he said, “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
I think his sociopathic tendencies show here because he seems to be saying that it takes a corrupt person to fix a corrupt system. In any case, even if he did understand the corruption better than anyone, it doesn’t follow that he has the remedies to fix the system or that he is the only one who does.
Trump, the president candidate, is a fictional character that Trump the actor created in an attempt to mythologize himself into someone supremely competent and intelligent who can effect immediate change through the force of his will. Trump touts himself as someone who always gets his way.
If we look at Trump’s real life, of course, this is far from true. He has had four business bankruptcies and two divorces to name just a few of Trump’s less than all powerful outcomes. However, his character, the person he played on The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice, always wins.
Although Trump the candidate is a fiction, some people buy into the mythological persona he promotes. Ann Coulter, for example, wrote a book entitled In Trump We Trust. I think she must be thinking that demagogue means demigod.
Jon Voight, the actor, compared Trump to Mother Teresa and Albert Schweitzer. He was being completely sincere in saying this.
The world view that seems to motivate Trump’s political ambitions comes from the extreme fringe of the right wing of the political spectrum. He espouses the politics of the alt-right.
The alt-right is a political movement that supports white identity politics. They take Trump’s signature line “Make America Great Again” to mean “Make America White Again.”
Alt-right is the home base of angry and fear based white men who feel like their identity is being threatened by the changes that are happening in our society.
They are a diversity phobic group that includes elements which are overtly racist, anti-feminist, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant. They share Donald’s vision of a Crippled America (the title of Trump’s book), and they look to radically change society to expunge the perceived toxic elements of multiculturism.
We know that Trump is aligned with the alt-right because he’s taken on Steven Bannon as the chief executive of his campaign. Bannon is the executive chairman of a web-site called Breitbart News. Bannon says this is a platform for the alt-right.
Here are some of the recent headlines of Breitbart News. “Gabby Giffords: The Gun Control Movement’s Human Shield.” “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.” “The Solution to Online Harassment is Simple: Women Should Log Off.”
Clinton said that half of Trump’s supporters are “deplorables” and this is the group she is talking about. The alt-right is now taking on this ascription so they can be proud and unapologetic deplorables, meaning that their vision of how society should be is indeed radically different from the mainstream.
However, these extreme right wing people cannot be the entirety of Trump’s support. Clinton pegging them as about half is probably right. The election would not be close if these were the only supporters he had.
Trump’s candidacy resonates with a larger group of disaffected people who are sympathetic to some degree with his campaign.
The Trump phenomenon is rooted in choices people make about how to make sense of the changes that are happening in our society.
There is a sense of disturbance in our collective consciousness because we know that our future is not going to be like our past. Basic questions of existence can then come up. These are issues of identity about who we are, where we fit in, and what is worth doing.
This sense of existential crisis can manifest as a mood I called existential intensity. Then you experience excitement, anticipation, the sense of it being a meaningful time coupled with uncertainty, anxiety, and apprehension.
Some of us are able to embrace change and, when we do, we’re more likely to experience a skew towards the more positive emotions of excitement, anticipation and meaning. But, if we have a mind-set that resists change and see it in a negative perspective as a catastrophic loss of the familiar, then uncertainty, anxiety, and apprehension will be prominent.
The Chinese symbol for crisis illustrates this duality well as it’s made up of the characters for opportunity and danger.
Many of the really big challenges we face at this time in our civilization are global in nature. But often people lack the ability to see things in a bigger framework of meaning beyond their own immediate concerns.
The temptation is to focus attention on some outside group that can be seen as the problem. Fear and anger towards something definite is preferable to a sense of uncertainty and anxiety about a future that may seem beyond our control. A fortress mentality can develop that wants to wall off the local identity group from the problems happening in the world at large.
If external threats can be identified, there is a sense of relief in having something to project your negative emotions upon. This takes the focus away from any need for self-examination or change. Whatever is unfamiliar can be made into the enemy.
You can blame the designated others for whatever struggles you are having in your life or that you anticipate for the future. The focus goes to attempting to restore the past when diversities had less prominence and little or no power. Thus we get to “Make America Great Again.”
This reactionary political element will still be with us if Trump loses in November. However, it’s unlikely that another figure will be able to embody it as effectively as Trump has been doing in this election cycle.
Because the ideological balance of the Supreme Court is at stake, many Republicans are choosing party over country and supporting Trump even though they are repelled by his political affiliations.
So even though Trump has turned off many Republicans, he still has the support of the Republican Party. As the party hasn’t disowned him, this means he’s going to get a lot of partisan Republican votes and so he will win almost all of the red states.
There are several other factors that are keeping Trump afloat in spite of his repugnant politics.
Because the word “trump” has the connotation of being a decisive, overriding factor, this supports the mythology of his cult of personality.
Like most sociopaths, Trump can be very charming and engaging. He’s so good at being bad that we are captivated by what he’s going to say next. It’s like looking forward to the next chapter in a compelling novel to see what the character is going to do. Trump keeps us focused on him with his daily outrage.
We tend to like whatever is familiar to us and Trump is a genius at gaining attention. Clinton is also a celebrity, of course. She was well liked when she was in a prominent position as first lady and Secretary of State and in the news frequently. But she has been out of the news and thus outside of our attention for much of the election cycle. She just cannot compete with Trump in showmanship.
Because Trump is a celebrity and an actor, we tend to not hold him accountable to usual moral standards. The personae of actors are fictions. Actors are just who we want them to be. They are projections of our imagination and there is willful suspension of disbelief that they could be in any way dishonorable.
Thus O.J. Simpson was acquitted in his murder trial in spite of strong DNA evidence and his flight from the police.
Trump also has the novelty factor going for him. For sure, if we elect him, the established political order will not be the same. His way of trying to capitalize on this is to say, “What the hell do you have to lose?” I’m looking for the “What the Hell” placards to appear at Trump rallies. But, I guess we won’t see these because his rallies are made up almost entirely of partisans and not people on the fence.
Because Clinton is a woman running for president, sexism becomes an issue in the campaign. The same angry and fearful white men who feel threatened by change also feel threatened by having a woman in charge of the country.
Throughout history, women with political ambitions have been considered a threat to the hegemony of male domination. Just as the election of President Obama brought racism into the political conversation, the prospect of a woman president does the same for sexism. The prospect of change brings about a backlash to change.
Lastly, Clinton has weaknesses as a candidate. She has not succeeded to date in putting forward a compelling narrative of how electing her will make a positive difference.
If the Democrats can survive this election, then the progressive and liberal momentum in our society can move forward and our country can manifest much more of its great potential. Demographic changes are on the side of the Democrats, and it’s unclear how Republicans will be able to successfully reinvent themselves after a Trump loss.
If Trump wins, then we’re thrust in an Orwellian dystopia that will make the novel 1984 seem understated by comparison.
My forecast is that Clinton will win the election in spite of the factors mentioned above. The antiquated Electoral College system heavily favors Democrats since the biggest concentration of population in our country is on the coasts where the Democrats have mostly solid blue states.
Clinton only needs a handful of swing states to win but Trump needs them all.
Clinton’s best poll numbers happened right after the two conventions when people could compare the two campaigns one right after the other. Trump numbers crept up steadily later when Clinton was not much in the public eye and getting bad press about issues like email and having pneumonia.
When you put them on the stage together for a political debate, it’s going to be hard for Trump to play his usual games. The focus will be on policies and, in that respect, Trump is all hat and no cattle.
Trump’s admission that Obama was born in the United States was the single most damaging day in his entire political career. Now the focus shifts to Trump’s lies and his persona is cracked.
This is the high point of his political ascendancy. His poll numbers are going to go steadily down from this moment forward. The truth about Trump is going to bleed through the hype and, although his partisans will be unswayed, the independent voters will take notice.
It’s easy to imagine scenarios that skew the outcome in Trump’s favor like unexpected world events. However, I don’t see anything coming into play before the election. The October surprise will be that Trump won’t show up for all of the debates.
Now more than ever politics matters.