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Trump’s Trial Balloons – Preludes to Authoritarianism

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Photo by Jim Mattis | CC BY 2.0

President Donald Trump is actively engaged in lobbing any and every insult towards all those opposed to his United States of white male supremacy.

But his apparent lack of respect, self-discipline and accountability is not random, it has a purpose.

The anal stage

Like a 2-year-old child during the anal stage of development, Trump is constantly experimenting with the boundaries of his control. As parents everywhere know, children who are not mindfully guided during this stage can become little dictators.

Accordingly, Trump has internalized his experiences as an unchecked serial sexual harasser and all around corrupt individual as part and parcel of his authoritarian personality and governance technique.

In America 2017, Trump can get away with virtually anything and retain his seat at the Oval Office. He knows all too well that there is a predominantly white, racist, misogynist, militant, and extremely wealthy capitalist core of Americans that will support him regardless of his tantrums, lies and aggressions.

Notably, throughout this surreal rollercoaster ride, Trump maintains his access to the nuclear football and the relatively unchecked privilege of issuing draconian executive orders and presidential pardons.

Trump can cut resources to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the most serious, man-made environmental catastrophe – climate change.

He can pardon a repugnantly racist and corrupt law enforcement official during a year of unprecedented hatred and police brutality.

He can escalate direct military actions, fund and support war and genocide, and bully sovereign nations that do not threaten America in any way, simply because there is no one willing and/or able to challenge his authority.

From broken taboos to totalitarian dystopia

Last year I wrote an article about the case of Elor Azaria, an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldier who was caught on camera summarily executing an unarmed and incapacitated Palestinian man by the name of Fattah al-Sharif. In the piece I claimed that before societal taboos can be broken, they must be tested. In line with this notion, the absurd slap-on-the-wrist verdict handed down to Azaria has led to a sort of mainstreaming of Palestinian genocide in Israeli society.

This dynamic is relevant to our present predicament.

From my original piece:

A civilized society is comprised of a collective of people who share a common moral fabric, which is held together by taboos at its extremes. The moral boundaries define the mindset at the center, which represents the majority of the society’s people. These boundaries are typically codified by laws and the practices of enforcement. For example, the United States constitution defines the rights and restrictions and it is the evolving interpretation and enforcement of these by which people are either included or excluded from the American collective.

Within societies there are constant tugs of war between forces that reside on its extremes. The fundamental goal of these forces is to stretch or shrink the moral boundaries of the society in directions that serve particular agendas: ideological, economical or otherwise.

Taboos which truly anchor a society are deeply entrenched within the human psyche. Thus, the process of undermining them with the purpose of redefining a society is gradual and includes resistance on the one hand and persistence on the other.

The process of breaking taboos and redefining moral boundaries begins with experimentation. When such an experiment is successful, it becomes a precedent that serves to shatter a taboo. Furthermore, if experiments and the resulting precedents they set are not met with sufficient resistance, the extreme boundaries of the moral fabric stretch, shifting the society as a whole in a particular direction that can be either regressive or progressive.

Whether or not he is conscious of this process, Trump is currently engaged in powerful and consistent attempts to stretch the moral boundaries of American society to the extreme right by breaking taboos that define a liberal democracy.

Presently, he is exploring his options by releasing trial balloons – if there is no significant pushback by the public, a precedent is set and he can assume that it is safe to revoke, confiscate and monetize public domains. This will continue until the entire public sphere is gone – i.e. if unrestrained, America will become a fascist dystopia.

Villainizing AntiFa as a trial balloon

With record low approval ratings, Trump is in trouble. Via his authoritarian, narcissistic world view, he perceives dissent in general and the press in particular as enemies that are to blame for public discontent.

In this context, the “Unite the right” rally presented Trump and his people with an opportunity to release a trial balloon aimed at testing the limits of curtailing dissent.

Initially, the public response to the rally in Charlottesville was impressive and inspirational. Anti-fascist (AntiFa) groups came out in solidarity against the hatred peddled by neo-Nazis and stood their ground. The liberal-left media covered the events and correctly projected AntiFa as courageous defenders of the people against the terror of white supremacy. The AntiFa movement was gaining momentum.

However, Trump’s immoral, yet calculated response, in which he equated neo-Nazis with AntiFa, set off a dynamic that villainized AntiFa and conveniently shifted the conversation away from discussing Trump’s sordid connections with right-wing extremism.

Initially, the mainstream media responded with scorn to Trump’s “many sides” statement, yet slowly they picked up on his narrative (e.g. see here), a trend that tragically included prominent left-wing thinkers such as Chris Hedges.

The debate highlighted and promoted a rift in the left, between those who condemned and disavowed AntiFa and those who supported them. As such, Trump’s trial balloon had successfully set a precedent in which the left was caught splintered and weak in its opposition. Being the media whore that he is, he has heard this message loud and clear.

As if on cue, on Friday, September 1st, Politico disturbingly reported:

Federal authorities have been warning state and local officials since early 2016 that leftist extremists known as “antifa” had become increasingly confrontational and dangerous, so much so that the Department of Homeland Security formally classified their activities as “domestic terrorist violence…

In comparison, white supremacist terrorist attacks are regularly portrayed by the media as “lone wolf” incidents and white nationalist groups are not classified as terrorist organizations, in spite of warnings from the FBI. Alarmingly, evidence shows infiltration of these groups into law enforcement.

AntiFa, solidarity and resistance

Presently, it is absolutely crucial to identify Trump’s trial balloons for what they are – dangerous attempts at creating precedents toward shattering taboos – and respond with united and firm opposition.

Trump’s “many sides” trial balloon has revealed a left that is splintered, weak and afraid to stand firmly and unreservedly behind its own people and against Trump’s racist base. As such, it can serve as a dangerous signal for Trump to move forward with plans to crush dissent using militarized police forces.

In order to avoid this catastrophe, the American left must get out of its comfort zone and come together in support of AntiFa activists and their moral right for resistance. If it capitulates to Trump, it will be a major win for the capitalist and imperialist agendas that are destroying America and the planet.

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Yoav Litvin is a Doctor of Psychology/ Behavioral Neuroscience.  

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