For many, the impeachment inquiry is long overdue. For others, it will be a call to arms. What follows is an excerpt from my forthcoming book (2020) that evaluates American identity in historical perspective; assesses the current state of affairs and America’s (possible) next identity; and provides a path forward for individuals, communities, and leaders. Bottom line: it is going to get much uglier (but there is a way out).
From Chapter 4, “The Age of Deceit”
It is difficult to predict if liberating MAGAs from the sinister grasp of Trump and the Trumplicans is even possible. When one observes the rage in their eyes, directed at all the wrong targets, changing their minds about Trump may be impossible. Like trying to convince an addict they will feel better once they take the needle out of their arm, white racial resentment feels too damn good in the moment to be convinced that the rush, however transient, is supporting politicians and policies that are actually killing them. For brainwashed MAGAs, such data—such intelligence—likely emanates from the deep state boogeyman they have been taught to fear by Trump and Fox News. To them, the underlying fear of being displaced from their historical position in social, political, and economic order by persons of color, women, and those who praise a god (or no god) unlike their own, is terrifying and, apparently, worth dying for.
It is possible that other voices—maybe even a Democratic candidate for president—will be able to reach some MAGAs with arguments and policies that might provide them a better path to a better life before they die from Trumpism. Two other developing conditions may prove more effective, however, in eroding MAGA support. First, that some MAGAs will realize their leader—Trump—is a fraud; that his interests are not theirs and that they are serving his interests much more than he is serving theirs. Deceit and trust are incompatible and followers must trust their leader or the cohort fails. And, deceit—Trump’s fundamental modus operandi—will, at some point, destroy that trust. Second, that the fear and anger Trump has stoked in MAGAs is unsustainable (as fear and anger always prove to be), especially when it becomes clear he is more interested in maintaining their fear and anger for his own benefit than he is in providing them relief. These conditions may make many MAGAs open to a different candidate, or retreat from politics altogether.
That said, for a few, facing the reality of being deceived will induce unbearable cognitive dissonance. I expect there will be a few MAGAs that are so blindly committed to Trump that they become his jihadis—domestic terrorists—willing to strap on a suicide vest to go out in a blaze of delusional demagogue-loving glory. These are the core of Trump’s core and many, if not most, suffer from what psychologists recently defined as “identity fusion” where mitigating cognitive dissonance is set aside for the fusion of one’s own identity with that of a demagogue; in this case: Trump.[i] They see no daylight between their identity and Trump’s. An attack on him is an attack on them. More troubling, they will do anything he asks. Lonely suicides of despair by handgun—an epidemic in many Trump communities—may be replaced by extremely gruesome and violent homicidal acts that cost many innocents their lives. Trump’s political demise may be slow in coming, but when it arrives it will likely come with the ferocity and power of an avalanche. We should expect, based on Trump’s own detachment from any semblance of reality, that he will neither comply with the will of the people nor the rule of law, and will summon his base to act violently in his name. Despots do not go quietly; they do not implode, they explode—more often than not in a magnificent fury of self-destruction producing significant collateral damage—in this case for America and the world to endure.
Surviving this age of deceit and transcending it toward the next phase of objectivism will require a force of will and character consistent with the strength of those who founded the United States in Crisis I, preserved the Union in Crisis II, and defeated fascism in Crisis III. The seeds of deceit, planted first in Crisis IV by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, have blossomed into a field of noxious weeds that threaten to strangle American democracy and destabilize the entire international system (anarchical though it is and always has been). The question is, can we summon our better selves to affect a rebirth—a deliverance from deceit?
Success begins with re-establishing traditional American values; setting aside narcissism for individualism based in personal responsibility; hubris for exemplar exceptionalism—leading by example; and entitlement for perfectibility—ceaselessly seeking to improve the world in which we live. Returning to these values is our only hope of restoring our competence, our adaptability in times of both crisis and opportunity and, moreover, a new American identity that builds on the successes of prior generations.[ii] As we will see in chapter 6, values such as these are fundamental to the structure of our decision-making capabilities; they provide the spine of the process through which we simplify complexities to set our course.
With the wrong values or no values (as is the case with Trump), our future is likely to follow a random path of chaos and destruction.[iii] Cultural amnesia and the deterioration of liberal institutions affected by a toxic malaise of indifference—a rot from within the soul of America—could, slowly but surely, topple America’s idealized empire of freedom. As cartoonist Walt Kelly suggested in his famous poster for the first Earth Day in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Prior generations of Americans held fast to these higher values and did the hard work to assure our future; if we want to retain the American power they sacrificed so much for, and restore the American Dream for our children and grandchildren, we had better correct our current course, and soon.
i See, William B. Swann, Jr., Angel Gomez, D. Conor Seyle, J. Francesco Morales, and Carmen Huici, “Identity Fusion; The Interplay of Personal and Social Identities in Extreme Group Behavior,” Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 2009, Vol. 96, No. 5, pp.995-1011.
iii See William Steding, “Trump’s Value-free Presidency,” December 6th, 2016, Ameritecture, https://ameritecture.com/trumps-value-free-presidency/.