I asked a friend of mine, a die hard Trump supporter, how he could justify picking a guy like Trump, considering the man’s track record both recent and over the past decades as a businessman in New York. My friend replied that he was better than the status quo, better than what we’ve had so it was worth taking a flyer on the man who would build Walls.
Given the remarkable similarities between Trump on the stump and Mussolini in early twentieth century Italy marching his black shirts to the palace of the Italian king Victor Emmanuel, given the eerie resonances between these too, I pressed him, would you have taken a chance on Mussolini back then as an Italian? Not, my friend responded, if we had known then what Mussolini would become. But, my friend went on, you can never know the future so, given how terrible things now are (I didn’t even address that aspect of his point) it’s worth a shot. How much worse can it get he asked?
Well it can get a lot worse, can’t it? As Dan Henninger recently wrote on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal “The Trumpians and Cruzians, who of late have been knifing one another in a blind rage, say this is a rebirth. So was Rosemary’s baby.”
Every choice we make is done with an eye to the future. While it’s true that we can never know what will come, we can and do make judgments about the future every day. We predict based on what we now know. Otherwise there’d be no point to making choices by deliberation at all. If we’re all just driven by our feelings of the moment, if rational considerations play no part, then we’re no better than chimps or our other mammalian cousins. But most of us think we are somewhat better and that what makes us so is our capacity for deliberative thought, even when deliberation fails, as it sometimes does, to get it right. Sometimes, at least, it works and the proof of that is that our species, and not the chimps of the Gombe Game Preserve, are running the planet.
So here we are with a candidate like Trump who has shown himself to be a manipulator of audiences, loutish, boorish, bullying and ignorant on substantive policy questions, with insufficient capacity for self-reflection or a willingness to even put in the hard work needed to up his game. Here’s a guy who preens and postures and mugs at the camera, just like Mussolini famously did, and speaks to his audiences in incoherent gibberish most of the time, a style of rhetoric which has, as its primary merit, the fact that it doesn’t challenge our thought processes. He rambles and repeats and rambles some more, while changing the subject and speaking as loudly as he can, boastful and brutish. The main merit of his rhetoric (such as it is) is that it’s kind of fascinating to watch, his oft repeated verbalizations, however simplistically formulated, sticking in our minds like mud thrown up against a wall (whether paid for by Mexico or someone else).
On what basis can we imagine that a man like this would be good leader for our country? How can we think, looking ahead dispassionately, that this man in the White House would speak or act in a better way than he has been doing?
And when we see all the eerie similarities between this guy and Mussolini, how can we look our future selves in the eye? What will we tell ourselves then . . . that it was worth a shot?