This week in Milford, New Hampshire, Trump held a big rally and, predictably, it was packed. A group of students from a local boarding school went to check it out, several of them visitors from Germany who wanted to see what all the fuss over the front-runner was about. As they wove their way into the overflow area where people were crammed in, one of Trump’s supporters felt he was being crowded, and started yelling at them. When he heard them speaking German amongst themselves, he lost it, and started screaming, “You’re not even from this country! What are you doing here!” He got madder and madder. He was purple with rage. He threatened to punch one of the girls. He began yelling for the secret service men to come and take them away. The secret service did come over and, to their credit, escorted this gentleman out.
As Trump arrived and began speaking, the crowd ate it up. He hit all the usual notes: “Build the wall. Keep the immigrants out. I know how to make deals and can make this country great again.” Some people were listening with their eyes closed, enraptured. This was the message they had been waiting for, the voice in the wilderness, promising them the Land of Milk and Honey.
That land is Trumpland, where people with accents are suspect, where civility has vanished, where paranoia rules. People are on edge. People are angry, and that anger is fanned by the incessant tweets from the Beloved Leader. If you ever wondered how the massacres in Rwanda could have been fueled by radio hosts urging people to go out and kill! kill! kill! now you can see how that works. His most recent comments expressing his desire to torture prisoners of war are only the latest in a long series of Molotov cocktails that are playing well to those who have made American Greatness their watchcry and think it has something to do with being white, Christian, and a billionaire. It’s tempting to simply shake your heads over these people. They’re the ones who thought the class clown would make a good class president. But dismiss them at your peril–they are on the march.
Of course it’s easy to see the appeal of someone who is not a professional politician, an entertaining outsider who claims to be the only one telling it like it is, and many of his supporters have thought long and hard about whose name they’re going to check on Election Day. But beware! The anger, fear, and demagoguery that’s riling people up this year is what I call the Dark Side of the Sacrament of the Group. When we find ourselves with a group of like-minded individuals, stirred up by a charismatic speaker, we can feel transported–a kind of rapturous transcendence sets in. But, people! Please don’t check your reason at the door when you’re attending those rallies! Do we really want to endorse waterboarding? Do we really want a president who thinks Greatness is measured by real-estate deals, and put-downs? Do we really want a president who prides himself on his caustic wit? We need a wiseman not a wise guy! Or a wise woman will do, too.
If you liked this try “Twain and Mencken on Trump”