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Hullabaloo


Thursday, September 08, 2016

 

And the home of the paranoid

by Tom Sullivan

Donald Trump, the man whose "university" is accused of bilking thousands of students (in New York alone) out of tens of thousands of dollars, who faces federal racketeering charges over the scam, who stands accused in lawsuits of stiffing hundreds of everyday tradesmen out of pay they are owed, and who, fact-checkers attest, lies more than he tells the truth, that man is warning he might be cheated on November 8.

Thomas B. Edsall writes in the New York Times about Trump's and his coterie's preemptive strike against losing face in losing the presidential election in November. For months they have coached supporters to believe that if Trump loses the election, it is only because he and they have been cheated. If the election is close, they are likely to harden in this view.

“This is a potentially dangerous outcome for the country,” Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver, told Edsall:

Part of the reason that our nation has been relatively free of political violence is that losers of contests have nearly always accepted their loss and opposed the victor through legitimate means, such as challenging them in future elections or working against their agenda in Congress. The 2000 election was very close and obviously very controversial, but Al Gore nonetheless conceded after the Supreme Court’s ruling. Were Trump and his supporters to continue to argue that the election had been stolen from them, it would mean that they reject nonviolent solutions to political differences. It could jeopardize future elections, undermine the legitimacy of the federal government, and create an environment in which political violence becomes more likely.
From the alt-right fringe to prominent Republican figures, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and Ann Coulter have suggested a Republican loss means the Democratic president is illegitimate. But then, the right has acted as though that is the case at least since Bill Clinton first took office. Any Democrat is illegitimate. The only real American presidents are Republican ones. Thirty years of hyping unseen "voter fraud" laid the foundation the current crop of right-wing conspiracy theorists have built upon.

Citing Richard Hofstadter's 1964 classic, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," Edsall observes how trenchant Hofstadter's description is of the afflictions of the congenitally "disenfranchised." Hofstadter:
In American experience ethnic and religious conflict have plainly been a major focus for militant and suspicious minds of this sort, but class conflicts also can mobilize such energies. Perhaps the central situation conducive to the diffusion of the paranoid tendency is a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest—perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands—are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power—and this through distorting lenses—and have no chance to observe its actual machinery. A distinguished historian has said that one of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen. It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resistance of his own, of course, to developing such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him—and in any case he resists enlightenment.
It is an old saw that the most important thing to know is what you don't know. It is important to know "how things do not happen," as in how elections do and do not operate. In the same way Naomi Klein described, that in times of crisis people put into use whatever ideas are lying around, the paranoid right, rather than admit not knowing, fills in the gaps of what they don't know with whatever fantasies are lying around. Fox News and talk radio have made trafficking in fantasies their business model. In this way, the paranoid make themselves susceptible to being conned and to conning themselves.

Their champion this year is a man Charles Blow describes as lying "with a ferocious abandon." The New Yorker's David Remnick said of Trump:
Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President, does not so much struggle with the truth as strangle it altogether. He lies to avoid. He lies to inflame. He lies to promote and to preen. Sometimes he seems to lie just for the hell of it. He traffics in conspiracy theories that he cannot possibly believe and in grotesque promises that he cannot possibly fulfill. When found out, he changes the subject — or lies larger.
And in the home of the paranoid, that's just how they like it.

2 Thessalonians 2:
And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.