Donald Trump is not a leader. He is an entertainer and a marketeer at best, and an authoritarian fascist at worst, writes Joyce Fegan.
ARE YOU not entertained?
When someone says, or does something, that is repulsive to us our fist reaction is anger and outrage.
For the last two years, and for a while before that, Donald Trump has served us up daily controversies, to tweet, WhatsApp and generally get outraged about. He holds us, and our emotions, in the palm of his hands.
And we pour ourselves into his manufactured controversies via the palm of our hands too, by channeling our disgust into group chats, social media comments and the checking of news alerts.
Donald Trump is not a leader. He is an entertainer and a marketer at best, and an authoritarian fascist at worst.
There are two tools that he has used in his communications strategy. The first one is manipulating the concept of free speech.
The concept of being tolerant of other people’s views and the freedom of expression gets bandied around a lot. Interesting to note, is that this rhetoric has been consistently used by those espousing hate and lies.
For example, Donald Trump says that America is about to be invaded by a caravan of migrants. He consciously and actively chose the stoking of this fear, over celebrating the state of the US economy, to mobilise people to vote Republican in the midterm elections.
He might not be smart, but he knows how sensitive humans are to fear.
If anyone dared question the arrival of this “caravan” he would literally lose control. So much so, that he has now banned Washington correspondent Jim Acosta of CNN from the White House. Acosta simply asked how far away these migrants are.
Fact check: These migrants, some of who are in need of urgent medical care, and as young as two-year-olds in nappies, are 935km away in Mexico City. It will take them another 197 hours to get to the closest American border on foot.
In the age of Trump, when tolerance and freedom of speech are being discussed, it is in this context — when someone challenges fear-mongering, bigotry or disinformation. The challenger is told they need to be tolerant of other people’s “views”. When they’re angered by lies and are then met with more lies, they are again told to be tolerant.
Nowadays, it seems freedom of speech really means the ability to spread propaganda, discrimination and disinformation, in an uncontested manner.
The second tool this authoritarian president uses is speaking in headlines and sound bites. Just like he understands a human’s propensity towards fear and plays on that, he also knows how busy and sometimes, lazy, we can be, and he plays on that too.
“Fake news”, “make America great again”, “build a wall”, “caravan”, “drain the swamp”, and “loser” are just some of the words and phrases he uses repeatedly. Repeated theory becomes fact. He knows this. If we keep hearing the same thing over and over again, similar to how propaganda works, we start to accept this as reality.
He knows most people are trigger-happy smartphone users and will jump from app to news site, to social media platform and back again, rarely reading in-depth analyses of his country’s environmental abuses, and seldom reading a newspaper from cover to cover.
He speaks in the way he knows we have the time to listen to. He distracts and divides people. Something which authoritarian leaders always do — divide and conquer.
The six-time bankruptee has also created this “us and them” mentality in the US, where he refers to himself and his followers as a “movement”.
How can you be a movement when you are the democratically elected establishment?
Against him and his supporters, is everyone else: the media, activists, and generally anyone who is not homophobic, racist or misogynistic.
As Ryan Tubridy said on his radio show on Thursday morning, before interviewing a Nigerian man about his experience of Ireland (that is the real definition of tolerating different views), the broadcaster spoke of how leaders’ behaviour trickles down into society.
There is no doubt we are living in divided and distracted times. So, what do we do about it? Continue to let a man who boasts about sexually assaulting women set the news agenda and just mindlessly react to him?
Martin Luther King’s son spoke about this last weekend in Virginia, to a crowd of people in Charlottesville, who had to face down the Ku Klux Klan in 2017.
“Unfortunately, our commander-in-chief is a divider-in-chief. We can’t fight him at the level he’s fighting at, but we can fight against injustice. We can fight against wrongness,” said Martin Luther King III.
He then spoke about the real meaning of tolerance and the difference between being tolerant of views we disagree with and views that are damaging.
“We need a greater tolerance for those who hold different views, but a lower tolerance for threats, intimidation, and words that express contempt towards other human beings,” said King.
HE ALSO referred to people getting distracted by demagogues.
“The demagogues who try to demonise people because of race, ethnicity or religion, want to distract working people from unifying across racial, ethnic and religious lines,” he said.
Right now many people are told to be “tolerant of opposing views” while facing rising bigotry and discrimination, but where do you find the balance between calling out hatred and moving towards peace and progress?
“It is important to condemn hatred whenever it emerges but it is equally important to consciously teach the values of non-violence,” said King.
As we move into the second half of Trump’s first presidency, he has raised €88m for the presidential election in 2020, we must find new, proactive ways to deal with him, both in the media and in our daily lives.
What might seem like outrageous entertainment is really the distracting front of a dangerous, fascist leader, whose popularity in America doesn’t seem to be waning. After two years of this circus, it’s time to get smart, not just angry.