Four Pieces of Writing That Must Be Read in the Trump Era–to Protect the Republic

I really enjoy the experience of coming across a new idea that changes my perception or understanding in a significant way. I’ve been thinking about four pieces of writing that did that for–all of them crucial, I would say, to Americans. I list those articles, with a brief description, in the first comment. (Note: The title is more of an attention-getter than something I literally believe.)

7 thoughts on “Four Pieces of Writing That Must Be Read in the Trump Era–to Protect the Republic

  1. Putin’s Real Long Game by Molly McKew in Politico

    This article introduced me to the concept of hyper-warfare and active measures. I think both are important for Americans to understand, especially to protect our liberal democratic society.

    The Information Crisis by Dave Roberts and Chris Hayes in Why Is This Happening?

    The basic idea here is that one’s understanding is largely based on trust–specifically trusted sources of information–rather than individual effort to critically examine information. In this way, knowledge and understanding is far more social than I thought.

    How to Culture Jam a Populist in Four Easy Steps by Andres Miguel Rondon in the Caracas Chronicles. (A similar article appears in WaPo, but I prefer the CC version.)

    This is written by a Venezuelan who opposed Hugo Chavez. I think he provides one of the most important guides to defeating Trump. If we heed his advice and succeed in implementing what he prescribes, we can defeat Trump.

    The Rise of American Authoritarianism by Amanda Taub at Vox. There’s a Vox explainer video which would take less time to consume:

    I think this is a good companion to the Rondon piece. Rendon’s thesis is that a populist like Trump wins primarily by high polarization. If I remember correctly, Taub’s piece suggests that certain people have an authoritarian streak, and this involves the desire for a strong man, especially in times of great social and cultural changes. Put these two ideas together: Trump exacerbating white grievance and anxiety over social and cultural changes in order to stay in power. If we can find a way help people with this grievance, or at the very least not exacerbate it, we can deflate support for Trump.

    1. Mitchell,

      If it means anything, I would say the main value in reading and understanding these pieces is to not only better understand the times, but understand the path out of it.

      Has he defined our times for the near foreseeable future?

      That is a depressing thought–that Trump could define the times his presidency. I feel like the problem is bigger than Trump, although one could argue he is an avatar for that problem and identifying the times with his name would make sense.

  2. I doubt I’ll read any of these until the “era” is over. By the way, will it still be his era in the years immediately following his term in office? Has he defined our times for the near foreseeable future?

    1. Oh, I guess (God willing) we’ll soon be referring to it as the post- era, like now we’re in the post-Obama era. Or something like that.

  3. I’ve been re-reading the Rondon piece above, and I saw something that happened at a Trump rally in Georgia that made me think of it. Here’s the clip:

    And here’s what Rondon said about the narratives that populists like Hugo Chavez and Trump use to create a movement:

    Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior. Capture the people’s imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a tale. One that starts with anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.

    That’s how it becomes a movement. There’s something soothing in all that anger. Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The problem is now made simple.

    The problem is you.

    and

    What makes me (you) the enemy, you may ask? In their mind it’s very simple: if you’re not among the victims, you’re among the culprits. In your case, you’re that modern bogeyman called the liberal urbanite hipster who thinks all cultures and religions are valid and equally worthy, who thinks of the working-class disparagingly. You are, in short, ‘a citizen of nowhere’ whose utopia is a massive, world-wide kumbaya with carrot chips, no church, and no soul either.

    If we want to defeat Trumpism and prevent something like this from happening again, I highly recommend reading the Rondon’s piece.

    This also seems relevant:

    1. Tweets like the one below–essentially calling Trump supporters stupid–is the wrong approach, if Rondon is correct. (More after the tweet.)

      His second recommendation to Americans trying to defeat Trump is to show no contempt for his followers. Trump has crafted a narrative that has cast Trump opponents, particularly those from the elite class, as the enemy. This group, according to Trump’s narrative, poses a threat and feels contemptuous of them. Trump is fighting against these enemies on behalf of his supporters.

      I believe Chotiner is correct in a sense that Trump isn’t fighting to improve the lives of his followers–Trump doesn’t care about them. But I think he’s wrong in that Trump is fighting against these perceived enemies. One example of this “fighting” are the words and actions that anger progressives.

      But even if Chotiner was totally correct insulting Trump and his supporters is counter-productive. It provides evidence that Trump’s populist narrative is accurate, reinforcing it. The goal should be to undermine Trump’s narrative.

      Here’s what Rondon says about this:

      The Venezuelan Opposition struggled for years to get this. It wouldn’t stop pontificating about how stupid it all is. Not only to their international friends, but also to the Chavista electoral base itself.

      “Really, this guy? Are you nuts? You must be nuts.” We’d say.

      The subtext was clear: Look, children — he will destroy the country. He’s blatantly siding with the bad guys: Fidel, Putin, the white supremacists or the guerrilla. Besides, he’s clearly not that smart. He’s threatening to destroy the economy, too. He clearly has no respect for democracy. For the intelligentsia. We, who work hard and know how to do business. We, who’ve researched this, thought about this, grasped this. In history, in economics, in diplomacy, in accounting. Now, learn this word. Repeat after me: fascism.

      Many of the journalists, pundits, former government officials, and academics that I follow are doing the same thing. If Rondon is correct, this is a big mistake.

      Edit
      Chotiner tweeted something soon after:

      Here’s a possible explanation:

      First, the claim that Trump equates America, it’s interests, with himself, his interests, is unreasonable. Normally, one would say this idea is insane. Given the evidence over four years, I don’t the claim is insane. However, this is one reason Trump supporters may reject it.

      Second, Trump supporters are using a populist narrative as their primary lens to perceive and understand politics, including Trump’s actions. Trump is fighting the enemies–enemies of America. Once one accepts this, one would logically conclude that Trump cares about America and his supporters. The lynch-pin, holding the narrative, is anger and grievance. The narrative directs both at enemies and threats to Trump supporters.

      If this is true, then we have find ways to decrease the anger. We have to find ways to undercut this narrative–particularly the part that Trump opponents, as well as immigrants, non-Christians, people of color, are the enemy. If we succeed, the narrative and its power would fall a part.

      That’s my hypothesis, anyway.

      Edit

      I agree Trump never fought for anyone besides himself. But in the narrative he’s using, he is fighting against enemies of his supporters–the elite establishment, the media, Democrats (who are really Socialists), etc.–and by doing this he’s fighting for his supporters. Whether this explanation fits the situation, it does seem very plausible to me.

      Edit

      Alternative theory: Criticism on twitter has a greater chance of increasing polarization. The more polarized the country, the more power Trump has.

      12/19/2020

      The problem with arguing is that it has the potential for increasing polarization. Quiet shunning is similar fraught, so should be done with great care.

      I actually don’t think calm and reasonable explanations will be effective.

      The ultimate goal should be to decrease the negative feelings (e.g., anger, resentment, fear, etc.) that Trump supporters direct at Trump opponents, the media, the establishment, etc. Until then, these emotions impedes any rational discussion of facts and science. That’s my sense, anyway.

      12/22/2020

      This (Nichols’s quote) is better than his previous position–and if the choice is between insulting or ignoring Trump supporters, ignoring is far more preferable. But I tend to think someone has to address the reasons many Trump supporters are angry, if we’re going to defuse that anger. And if we don’t the threat of someone like Trump will still exist. That’s my current opinion, anyway.

    2. I really hope this doesn’t reflect what Biden believes deep down inside him.

      …especially if he thinks the Trump and the animus he whipped up will simply fade on its own. I could be wrong (and I hope I am), but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Biden and Trump opponents have to avoid increasing polarization and they have to do things that decrease it. Again, I hope I’m wrong–I hope the whirlwind dissipates on it’s own and quickly.

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