This might sound insane, but Trump’s chances of winning a second term are better than his chances were of winning in 2016. How could this be? Any regular consumer of mainstream media would be expected to scoff at the prospect of a re-elected “President Trump” just as they did prior to his initial election four years ago. Yet, this should not be so shocking a possibility once we assess the psychological state of the people leading to, during, and potentially surviving a conditioning which is not dissimilar from the experience of individuals who struggle with being abused.
Abuse victims fall into their trap for a variety of reasons – typically from naiveté in trusting the intentions of a figure or group they barely knew – but the cycle of abuse which proceeds after entry is quite difficult to escape. For those of us who are actually paying attention to the concerns and the feelings we see and hear expressed by average Americans, the thought of a President Trump was not as improbable as the pundits on MSNBC and CNN had you believe. Likewise, listening to these same working class people leaves us to conclude that the danger of a Trump re-election is not only very real, but is far more probable than his initial election at the beginning of this nightmare. Like the terrorized individual who lacks confidence in some brighter future, the people are lingering in a state of oppression and are trapped therein by their distrust.
As things stand right now, Trump’s re-election hangs on who his opponent will be come November 2020. We often make the mistake of thinking that issues matter in American politics when it comes to voting. While specific issues absolutely drive voters to the polls, it is the consideration of character which has far more influence on how most of us vote. The more electric your personality, the more likely you are to win. This also extends to other measures of character, from honesty and integrity – to courage and strength. Humans in general are drawn to the most characteristically impressive among us, and that is also one of our greatest weaknesses.
Life would be easier if the only candidates we ever elected were the most intellectual among us, but policy and humanity are far more complex than the numbers that the experts produce on a spreadsheet and present for public consumption. After all, if it was just about the best and “smartest” policies, we could just hold elections between competing artificial intelligence programs with proposals representing opposing sides of the political spectrum. It would be a very intriguing and ostensibly far more productive way of doing policy because we would not be distracted by the ability or inability of these “candidates” to blend in with the public. The policy outcomes would be all that mattered, and that would be great, right? Not entirely.
Policy outcomes only tell part of the story, because they are limited to statistics. Life exists beyond the numbers that our assessments produce, though, as our individual experiences include things which can not be measured mathematically. This is why humans have a knack for gravitating more towards the “personality” than the “policy”. Certain personality traits are more appealing than others, because one’s personality can tell you how determined a candidate will be in serving you. The more confident a candidate is in what they are saying, the more trustworthy they seem. However, herein lies the backdoor for our emotional betrayal.
Why do I highlight the emotion? Our emotions are the origin of the emphasis on personality. This is as opposed to our logic; which emphasizes policy. The emotional seduction by the appearance of confidence in another is the key to our heart of hearts. This applies to every aspect of human interaction, from the leaders we choose all the way down to our personal relationships. For the same reason that no relationship is developed through an assessment of mathematical facts, no political movement emerges from a series of statistical seminars.
Abusive significant others reel in their victims with an aura of confidence about who they are and what they want, and then they trap their victims by tearing down that sad soul’s own self-confidence and rendering them dependent on the abuser so as to create the emotional conditions necessary for the victim to feel that escaping the abuse would be a detriment more than a benefit. This same manipulation of our emotions is how authoritarian figures rise and cling to power. They effectively present themselves as the bold, confident alternative to a system that we know and FEEL is failing us, and then they reel us in when the time for a change reaches a fever pitch. After that, they tear apart our sense of confidence as a society that life will ever be great without their guiding, vicious hand.
Emotions make us unique and are humanity’s greatest strength and weakness. They enable us to detect when someone doesn’t believe what they say, but they can also be tricked into believing what a successful con artist says; as the con artist is able to lie so well that they almost believe their own lies. This fine line is why an era of populism is so volatile and fragile. In populist times, the people are angry because the system (or systems) they have come to know and depend on shows signs of collapsing. During such times, humanity becomes blind to the warnings of our intellect and is instead triggered only to react. The fear of systemic failure cripples us as we revert to our primal animalistic state of pursuing survival.
Trump seduced the heart of the people by convincing them that while he was seemingly an evil bastard, he was THEIR evil bastard. Now, with his back against the wall and faced with the increasing threat of some semblance of accountability by the sloth-like efforts of Congress, this megalomaniac will escalate his attacks on our collective psyche. Like a caged animal with rabies, Trump will relentlessly and viciously lash out while his enablers defend him until the very end. If he survives this impeachment effort – which is still more likely than not given the firm grip he has on the base of Republican voters (the reliable group of citizens victimized yet still enslaved by their support for the party and president) and the clout that gives him in staving off the Republican Senate from convicting and removing him – then the 2020 Election becomes our last chance to stop the destruction of democracy.
Of course, Trump’s removal from office also comes with risks itself. Just like the abuse victim initially begs the police to leave their abuser alone, insisting that they NEED the individual responsible for their suffering, we will see a similar scenario play out with the cult of supporters blindly devoted to the leader who serves only himself yet keeps them convinced – like the Reverend Jim Jones – that he is their great protector fending off enemies trying to demolish everything that they love. Removing this aspiring tyrant from power is essential for the preservation of the rule of law, but it is not free of risks. His horde will react with vitriol and perhaps even violence no matter how he is deposed; whether it is by Congressional removal or by an election result.
As far as the election next year is concerned, Trump is still in a good position to win despite everything that we have seen since 2015 when he first announced. As mentioned earlier, it all hinges on who his general election opponent will be. Simply put, if the candidate doesn’t seem like they would have the strong character type that Trump does, then the odds are that they will lose to him. The Democratic nominee must be someone who clearly believes what they say and they must not appear to lack the confidence in what they say. If they stumble on their words in trying to find the right poll-tested talking points, then they are a political liability…because they are likely to LOSE.
Trump’s chances of re-election are 50-50 right now because the only candidate who clearly contrasts his deceitful confidence and strength with genuine, honest confidence and strength presently has a 50-50 chance of winning the nomination on the Democratic side. Can you really say – without hesitation – that anyone in the Democratic race but Bernie Sanders has the character strength and trustworthiness needed to defeat Trump? Forget your bias – if you can – long enough to compare and contrast each of the participants in the primary from a completely objective standpoint. Yes, it is difficult to force yourself to think outside the bubble in which we all live, but doing so is essential if we are to escape the clutches of Trump’s special brand of fascism.
Force yourself to acknowledge the strengths as well as the weaknesses of each candidate as seen by a hypothetically neutral voter while also considering the times in which we live and how the present conditions of society may or may not affect said voter. First, assess the candidates as a neutral Democratic primary voter, and then do so as a neutral “swing” voter for the purpose of weighing the chance that each candidate would stand both in the primary and ultimately in a general election campaign. Understanding each other is vital to our ability to comprehend the challenges we face and to recognizing the numerous hurdles which exist between now and the end goal of defeating Trump and ending Trumpism.
This thought experiment is what I weigh every moment in which I think about the current state of the race for president. Sure, Trump certainly appears to be in trouble right now with the walls closing in around him as the impeachment hearings proceed and the media sells us this narrative (as they have since day one) that the end is near. Could this narrative turn out to be true with Trump forced to relinquish the reins of power? Yes, and that is an end result which would be good for the Republic as the rule of law would be upheld while Congress would finally reassert itself in the balance of power. However, this outcome that we have been promised by the drama unfolding courtesy of our for-profit entertainment-based media is not the outcome we should count on.
Instead, we need to always be thinking ahead with an eye and an ear towards the lessons of history as well as everything we know about human psychology and our tragic natural tendency to submit to the will of tyranny. Why do abuse victims remain trapped under the thumb of their abusers and how is that connected to a similar phenomenon of the rise and success of oppressive regimes? An abuse victim does not leave an abusive relationship unless they learn to trust that everything will be alright on the other side. If the person or persons making an appeal to the victim to escape seem like they are insincere, then the victim will choose to remain with the conditions that are familiar. Very few things cripple humanity’s progress like uncertainty, because the unknown may seem intriguing, but we naturally fear what we don’t know.
Research may free us from that uncertainty, but that is an appeal to logic. Logic is only employed by humans when we challenge ourselves to think in a way which may contradict all that we believe to be true. The problem is that when our emotions overwhelm us, we forget to think logically and suppress our reason with our primal instincts. This is a survival tactic, and whether we want to see it or not, the systemic failures of our society – which have arisen from the abuses of capitalism run amok – have conditioned the average citizen to increasingly feel personally endangered. Our finances aren’t secure, our democracy isn’t secure, and it doesn’t seem like anything else is secure as a consequence.
Trump is not the reason we feel so insecure, and he isn’t the author of our collective pain, but he is the current face of a tyrannical system which has manipulated and exploited us for decades. The Republican Party laid the foundation and the oligarchy built the tower upon which Trump now stands to lovingly look over the anarchy in which he thrives. Unfortunately, by not consistently standing with the oppressed, the Democratic Party – to continue using this analogy – provided the bricks with which to build this corrupt order (or rather, disorder). The betrayal of the people by the supposed people’s party over the course of this rise of fascism is akin to an abuse victim experiencing the enabling betrayal by the mutual friends the victim has with the abuser.
Understanding this connection is crucial if we are to be fully informed as to why defeating and escaping Trump is going to be more difficult than the pundits are telling us. Yes, it is conceivable that Trump could lose to Biden, Warren, Buttigieg, or Bernie (I’m not convinced that any of the others can win). However, just as is the case with so many tragic stories of abuse victims, a high percentage of them either return to their abuser or find a new abuser. The only way to guarantee that a victim doesn’t relapse into the cycle of abuse is to leave them little to no doubt that life will be better outside of that cycle, and the same standard applies on the grander political stage.
With Biden and Buttigieg, the abused citizenry may feel that initial sense of comfort of a return to “normalcy”, but these two represent only that: a return to the way things were before. Forget, for a moment, Biden’s gaffes and his past political indiscretions or Buttigieg’s relative inexperience. Their real problem is that they are not willing – at all – to challenge the systemic problems which created the conditions for Trump to rise. They could arguably win in 2020, but their failures to bring real positive change which benefits all will likely result in Trumpism prevailing and returning with a new face in 4 to 8 years. Each would be a major let down for the collective, and that would only encourage the continuation of the cycle of abuse.
Warren, however, represents something different than Buttigieg and Biden. Mayor Pete and the former Vice President are not apprehensive in their representation of establishment politics. By contrast, Warren appears ready to challenge the establishment…until she suddenly doesn’t. Her policy proposals seem driven by an engrained passion for helping people, but her uncertainty about her positions is what betrays her. She seems to want to somehow include both the establishment and the populist sentiment all under one umbrella, but the two don’t mesh well. The end result is a politician who wants to change life for the better, but may not be willing to take the fight to the powers that be no matter the cost to her personal career. This will backfire politically for the same reason that Obama’s backfired; the people could come to feel that while she was a decent person, nothing really changed or they could decide that she betrayed them. Either way, the end result will be the same as with Biden and Buttigieg with Trumpism surviving and ultimately rebounding.
Abuse victims require something more than “normal” and they have too much uncertainty in their lives to go with an option defined by uncertainty. To escape the clutches of abuse one needs hope, real hope. Seeing a path of sincerity and tangible improvement is what inspires the downtrodden to abandon their pit of despair. Think, for a second, about how the psychology of being on a “winning team” inspires one to keep pushing forward and working hard. Trump has twisted this basic tool of motivation for his own selfish ends (with his promises that we will be “winning” so much that we will get sick of it), but the appearance and experience of success is truly contagious for humanity. For abuse victims, the undeniable promise of success in transforming life for the better more often than not catapults them into taking that proverbial leap of faith.
Out of all the candidates running on the Democratic side (or any side for that matter), Senator Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who offers not only a sincere message of hope which inarguably originates from his heart, but he has the proven record to back up his willingness to stand and fight for the collectively abused. People know they can trust that he will be honest with them about what he is thinking, and they know he won’t relent because of pressure from the rich and powerful. Bernie is clearly the opposite of Trump’s abusive nature, and he is determined to take on the entire system which perpetuates our exploitation.
Of course, electing Bernie would not be enough to end the cycle of abuse. Even he could fall short without accomplishing any or most what he’s promised to pursue. That’s why he has made it a point to explain the expectations of what our responsibilities as citizens will be to ensure the success of the so-called “revolution”. He has offered us the heavens, but insists that we must build the ladders to get there; he notes that he will merely provide guidance and will not stand in our way. Bernie doesn’t promise to be our savior, his message is that we – together – are the saviors (to borrow an expression from Doctor King) we’ve been waiting for.
Victims of abuse are easy prey for the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing. The perpetuation of suffering on an individual level and on a collective level is reinforced with this near-endless loop of abuse to false hope and back to abuse. One “knight in shining armor” after another emerges in the lives of the oppressed only to ultimately betray the victim’s fragile trust or to fail in living up to the promised expectations. Freedom from the cycle is only achieved when a would-be champion comes along and details a realistic vision which doesn’t say “I will take care of everything” but rather enlists the victim as a partner in their own salvation in which same said victim is empowered to eventually lead the way.
If we are truly hoping to defeat Trump and Trumpism then it is imperative that we understand human psychology and the connection between such and politics. Some people reading this will undoubtedly conclude it is a stretch to connect the cycle of abuse on a human interaction-based individual scale with the political pattern of oppression on the collective scale. However, it is difficult to ignore the overlap in the conduct of humans who tolerate their mistreatment at any level. We know how to help individuals get out of their personal horror stories and it stands to reason that such knowledge can guide us to liberate the collective as well. Bernie is the only candidate who appears able and willing to both defeat Trump and Trumpism, because his message and his record represent the only path which can effectively guarantee an end to the cycle of our abuse.