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writing for godot

Resisting the Trump Effect: Individually, Nationally and Globally

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Written by Judy Pasqualge   
Wednesday, 20 June 2018 00:36

I am a US citizen, watching the United States from afar in Sri Lanka, a country that has seen, over decades, the ravages ‒  personal, group and national ‒ caused by the politics of self-profit using the gambit of tactics from demonisation to pogrom to civil war. It is a country that now stands on a knife edge, a sharp one that people here do realise, of sinking further into either a brutal military-run system or disintegration into geographic ganglordism. There is one main conclusion that I’ve come to. This is that it is well to view the situation of people, groups and countries as one of being already at war, and thus to always rethink how best to act.

This is the great commonality of mankind at this particular historical moment.

And for those of us who as US citizens hold some responsibility for the actions of our government and leaders, there is a three-fold aspect of this war:

1. an international one, because the US is directly and indirectly involved in many countries, even most ‒ militarily and economically.

2. a national one, because now, as always, what is at stake is the survival of the stated positive values of our political system ‒ fair play, equality before the law, various freedoms.

3. a personal one, because now it is important to determine and practice the most effective ways to deal with the above two ‒ and this requires clear thinking, and not being at war internally.

President Trump won the 2016 election for two main reasons: his message and its dissemination. He has a viewpoint and had many other, professional manipulators behind him. He activated many people and in addition was unintentionally (I hope) helped by positions and tactics used by mainstream sectors of the media and Democratic Party.

Message

Trump’s message of prejudice, hate (against any who do not conform to his way) and being a victim centred on using demonising stereotypes. It is likely that the continual dissemination of this message, including the constant indignation expressed by mainstream opponents, not only had an appeal at the conscious level, but a huge impact on the unconscious one ‒ much more than is believed.

It is likely that many people, who in their normal lives would never think of being so out rightly prejudiced, were very affected by the repetition of this message. In the context of the US, I suspect, this appeal especially concerned attitudes about minorities and women ‒ the usual scapegoats in US history ‒ and about whites who come across as acting superior to other whites (a key image of too many Democratic candidates and higher party players).

Dissemination

From afar, during the 2016 election campaign, it was clear that the mainstream media was giving a lot of free air time to Trump’s message, in particular his ‘outrageous’ statements. Trump wanted attention, and he got it, often via newscasters who sounded indignant and emotional. Such focus served to decrease the amount of time spent on the crucial issues at stake.

This trend continues today, here especially as viewed on CNN.

Free dissemination of the message by the media was in addition to the outright conspiratorial aspects (secret agreement to do unlawful acts or use illegal means to lawful ends) of the Trump campaign, likely involving campaign finance, foreign involvement and social media manipulation.

What Next?

To counter the message, there are several things that people can immediately do.

First: stop speaking in terms of stereotypes, especially demonising ones, and especially of Trump supporters or his media celebrity backers or Republican Party members.

The aim is to add to the information available, not to stir emotions. Labels such as racist or stupid do not serve to clarify positions, but can strengthen the sense of solidarity of Trump supporters.

In this regard, any individual or group can examine any negative stereotypes held about any ‘group’ of people, identify the especially demonising ones, and then drop this as a tactic.

It is well to realise, and it is well known, that many people who may have a tendency to be prejudiced actually only become strongly activated after they have joined a group.

And, it is also well known that people act differently when alone or in a group. As such, people ‘in a group’ can be affected by different outside contacts.

Many Trump supporters are now some two years ‘into the group’ ‒ and there is also the common human tendency to want to appear consistent to oneself. On the other hand, after two years there is also quite a bit of dissonance there, involving what was believed or hoped for, and what the administration has actually delivered.

All supporters need not be demonised and shunned.

As an aside, and so that people can better understand and be understood, the use of terms and labels that really need definitions can be avoided, for example: identification of a person as following a certain ‘ism,’ or as being/having a particular psychological type or disorder, or as being on one end of a false dichotomy.

Second: concentrate much more on the issues involved, and less on the hype regarding Trump’s message and the political soap opera of the top players.

As individuals and groups, a key demand can be for the mainstream media to start seriously covering issues ‒ this could be one repeated demand by the whole range of groups now actively fighting administration policies.

This an age-old problem seen, for example, in election coverage by CNN and the New York Times ‒ as your viewers, we now expect more; you can no longer pretend to sit on the fence on issues.

As a minor aspect of this, there needs to be a balance in the coverage of the Mueller investigation and of other issues.

Third: as seen in the width and depth of the fightback now going on in the US, there is actually widespread agreement on many issues.

These can be easily determined, and then incorporated into the specific focusses of various groups, whether minority, immigrant, women, workers, etc. Attention can be briefly but consistently, repetitively given by a variety of spokespeople.

One example, and a crucial one, is the need to take back the US election system: campaign finance reform, gerrymandering, exclusion of voters, Congressional action to negate Citizens United. What would happen if every group gave one minute to this issue, in every public speech/programme, for a certain period of time, noting the support of other major groups, and calling on its own supporters to learn about it, and pressure their own elected officials? Information can be easily standardised in a brief way.

Fourth: individuals can learn more about manipulation and their own reactions to it. Basic is the realisation that:

1. as noted above, individuals do act differently alone than in a group. If you think you yourself are different, then this view can be examined. If you think this does not apply to other people, then your own evaluation may not apt.

Demonising often involves tarring an individual with the worst that has ever been done by a group; it’s not fair.

2. people tend to believe that when they are emotional and having thoughts in their heads that this is actually thinking. It is not; it is just an emotional track; and manipulators do know this. The reason behind an emotion may be legitimate, but the emotional reaction itself is usually not appropriate, especially if excessive.

3. many people seem to think that they themselves are not affected by manipulators, or propaganda, etc., but that others are. Wrong. No one can examine every input so effectively as to preclude influence.

These traits are normal for all human beings, so this is another great commonality.

The individual can try to guard oneself against this, and take a few steps (in order):

1. stop and try to get/access information about a situation, reaction, manipulator

2. stop any emotional response

3. in a manipulative or conflict situation, try to de-escalate it, rather than escalate. This does not imply not fighting, just with how one fights.

4. as a general strategy, whether regarding ideas, emotions, strategy or actions, consider what the exact opposite would be, and whether either end of the spectrum is apt.

Fifth: Be assured, the whole world is now watching what is happening in the US. President Trump has gotten everyone’s attention. It is talked and written about, including in vernacular languages.

People are quickly noting similarities between the US president and their own leaders, party heads, elites, ganglords ‒ and even joking that they could teach Trump something.

Trump’s meanness is spreading, especially in treatment of minorities, Muslims and women, or other traditional local scapegoats.

Also spreading is the image of fightback: ideas about the commonality of issues, areas of focus, about tactics.

Occupy, MeToo, students vs. the NRA, people of all groups actually turning out to demonstrate for the rights of immigrants or arriving foreigners! Don’t underestimate the impact, it is huge.

Many people are watching to see if the US system of democracy ‒ which is so widely idealised by US officials ‒ is capable of holding to account the lawbreakers of the pre- and post-2016 election, OR if ultimately impunity will win.

People in many countries are well lessoned in how impunity operates, and its effects; and there is great solidarity coming down on the side against it.

As a first step, people in the US can reject the idea that ‘people abroad hate Americans’ ‒ this is a demonising stereotype. Another is that ‘our’ values are somehow different, even superior, to others ‒ the best values are universal and applied universally.

In this light, it is a great time for people in the US to concentrate on and speak about the connections between their own situation and that of so much of the rest of the world. The US role via its military or economic policy cannot be ignored. US economic and foreign policy is directly tied to the privileges many in the US do enjoy, and that many people in other places do not.

As with commonality on national issues such as the takeback of elections, groups can start to systematically deal with foreign policy issues, incorporate them into a commonality of struggle, and responsibility. Educating on the basics of an issue a month, for example, will support such commonality.

For example, as this is written, it would be great to see a focus that tied together the killing of children in US schools by assault weapons, WITH the ICE separation of children from their parents, and WITH the US policy to use drones to target individuals for assassination no matter if others around them, including children, are also killed.

Repetition and hammering in, along with a concern and respect for, and solidarity with, people outside the US, will add to our own solidarity.

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