As primary elections are taking place across the United States, many people I know are flabbergasted at the popularity that Donald Trump has demonstrated despite his apparent lack of substantial thought, his boorish disregard for anyone he doesn’t like, and his general immaturity. Given than many of the other candidates are almost as bad in their own ways, I myself am disappointed but unsurprised.
Donald is the quintessential politician. Most politicians at least try to have some sort of rational policy plan for getting people what they want, even if the plan is usually no good. Trump all but dispenses with the idea of having a detailed plan, and talks directly to his voters’ feelings. Criticizing him on his lack of coherence would be like trying to deter a pack of wolves from eating you by calling them bad dogs. Being a good dog is completely irrelevant to how a wolf operates. Furthermore, people admire wolves! Wolves are edgy and hardcore. But there’s a reason they don’t live with us, guard our houses, inspect luggage, or occupy any other place in civilization: they are first and foremost concerned with their own place in the pack, and doing whatever they can get away with. When we aren’t busy admiring wolves, we fear and shun them.
Like a wolf, Donald represents the brute force and raw power of nature. With raw power, you don’t need finesse; you don’t need empathy; you don’t even need respect. You can take whatever you want with impunity, you can bully people, and when your demands are questioned you can reply, “Because I said so.” All it takes is more money, celebrity, authority, or military than anyone who disagrees.
Most everyone has some group of people they associate with a grudge or grievance. Donald speaks to those animosities, saying that we don’t have to put up with them anymore. We’ll get back all the things we lost. We will “win!” Other politicians do much the same thing, but unlike them, Donald speaks seemingly on impulse with total lack of inhibitions. Because he appears not to pay attention to the consequences of his actions, and because he acts untouchable, people assume he really does possess all the power he claims, and so the power becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a phenomenon known as Refuge in Audacity.
Were this phenomenon limited to Donald, he would merely be another rich arrogant celebrity. However, the people who support Donald feel he could extend that power to the entire country as president. Regardless of whether or not he actually has such power, I recommend that Donald’s supporters ask themselves some key questions:
Is this the dream now? To become so powerful that you don’t have to care about anyone else? To never have to compromise ever? To get what you want simply because you want it? To embody greed for domination and supremacy; sloth for stagnation and sloppiness and never having to take responsibility for your actions; wrath for ignoring any sort of limitation; and hubris for having absolute power with no possibility of resistance by those who disagree? That’s all four types of control addiction (greater and lesser scope, imposing chaos and order) coalescing to form a spirit of pettiness and mediocrity.
It’s admittedly a tempting idea on a visceral level, but if you met a person like that in real life, perhaps at the supermarket, or at the movie theater, or even at your workplace, would you admire them? Would you think to yourself, “it is good that such a person exists in this world, but the only thing wrong is that that person should be me!”? More practically, how long would that person’s power last before the world turned against them in justified indignation? How can you maintain power with such a careless attitude, when others (the people who “lost”) are working hard to bring you down?
You might think that the only alternative to being the wolf is to be the dog, obsequiously jumping on cue, eating what you’re given, and answering to someone else (and being adorable, but that’s neither here nor there). That’s not true at all. You can still be a person.
Instead of raw power and overwhelming force, you can develop finesse, skill, and character, which have the benefit of being much harder to take away from you, because they become a part of who you are. By balancing and modulating greed, sloth, wrath, and hubris, you can manifest them as the positive qualities of ambition, contentment, boldness, and scrupulousness. You can become skilled enough that raw power need never be the first resort whenever you want something, or when something doesn’t look to be going your way.
It’s a difficult path, the path of being someone people want to help rather than being the person who gives them no choice. It requires a balance between changing oneself to fit the world and holding firm while the world resists your attempts to change it. It requires helping other people attain their own goals, rather than giving in to self-indulgence. Ultimately, though, it’s the only path that will create a world that we can be proud of.
Who am I voting for? That’s the wrong question. The question is this: Given that few if any of the current candidates look to be able to govern competently, what am I doing to help the population thrive anyway, and to help ensure we give more attention to better candidates next time? Stay tuned for the answer.
No doubt, we’ll get the president we collectively deserve. But we deserve to deserve better than this.
Edited 3/7/2016: P.S. Here are two excellent articles covering aspects of this phenomenon that I have overlooked.
This article elaborates on the role of dignity and personal identity, the self-narrative that leads people to consider Donald Trump a worthy candidates: https://medium.com/@emmalindsay/trump-supporters-aren-t-stupid-3d38f70f2a2f#.ev9q3rl02
This article goes into detail on authoritarianism as a defense mechanism, triggered by a person’s aversion to the experience of change in the order of society to which they are accustomed: http://www.vox.com/2016/3/1/11127424/trump-authoritarianism