This Is What Evil Looks Like

This week the Trump campaign was forced to withdraw a campaign video because Warner Brothers had objected to the unauthorized use of music from the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises. This is far from the first time the Trumpettes were caught using intellectual property without permission; you’d think they’d learn.

I didn’t see the video before it was taken down. But the descriptions of it are fascinating.

Trump tweeted out a two-minute video at about 4 p.m. that used Hans Zimmer’s “Why Do We Fall?” from 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises and showed the following text in the font from the film’s title card:

“First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they call you a racist. Donald J. Trump. Your vote. Proved them all wrong. Trump: The Great Victory. 2020.”

There’s a much longer description here that is worth reading. But the primary question I want to explore here — after what the bleep? —  is, what does this tell us about Trump and his followers?

The first thing that struck me was the incomplete use of the famous quote, “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.” This quote is often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but there is no evidence whatsoever that Gandhi ever said it. What is it saying that the video added “Then they call you a racist” but left off the attack and the winning? Somebody is resentful about being called a racist, apparently. And how does winning an election “prove” that one is not a racist? Racists vote, alas.

More significant, to me, is the ambiguous use of “you.” Who is “you”? When I first read this, I read “you” as referring to Trump’s fans. But it can also be read as Trump referring to himself in the second person. And that’s what really fascinated me about this video. The blurring of identity between Trump and his fanatical base of voters says a lot, IMO.

Because he is a narcissist, Trump sees his fanatical fans as extensions of himself. His glory is theirs also; his “greatness,” which Trump sees reflected in their adoration of him, also reflects back on them. In his mind, they are a unit.

At the same time, many of our great social observers and philosophers — Erich Fromm, Eric Hoffer, Hannah Arendt — have long noted that alienated and insecure people easily surrender their own ego-identities and autonomy to mass movements and authoritarian strongmen. People march blindly into mass movements because the group provides something the individual feels is lacking in himself. Trump, to his fans, is a larger-than-life being of great power and certitude. By surrendering their autonomy to him, they feel that they absorb that power. Through Trump, they find connection, strength and a sense of belonging. The baffling, ambiguous world becomes a place of absolute clarity, with bright lines between good and bad, right and wrong, truth and lies, all as defined for them by Trump.

So the “you” is both Trump and his fans. But now let’s move on to the question of what Trump’s campaign promises other than The Great Victory.

Clearly, the withdrawn video offered validation. Your feelings and opinons are vindicated, it says. They call you racist, but you are right to feel as you feel, and they are wrong, and when we win we will be lords of the universe. Those who disrespect you will be shut up, at least, if not cast out.

Health care? Better wages? Access to higher education? Nah. Lords of the universe don’t need to worry about such things. Maybe the good stuff will come with the territory, once we overcome everyone we fear and hate. But in truth, Trumpism is not about government. It has no real ideology and no cause other than itself.

Greg Sargent writes that Trump’s appeal is built on cruelty, lies and hate.

At a fundraiser in Texas late Wednesday, Trump seethed that our military is constrained from getting “a little rough” at the border, because “everybody would go crazy,” preventing it from acting the way it would “normally act,” or how “another military from another country would act.”

He dimly realizes that most people would disapprove of U.S. troops firing on desperate families with small children, but he doesn’t really understand why. Empathy and compassion are alien to him.

Greg Sargent goes on to say that Trump genuinely believes that the border crisis — which is largely his own fault — will be a winning issue in 2020. He’s going to stoke up the fear and demagoguery to the eenth power. “Trump obviously believes that the worse this gets, the more easily he’ll persuade swing voters that the migrants are a criminal ‘infestation’ that must be repelled through cruelty or even force,” Sargent writes.

Indeed, Greg Sargent wrote elsewhere, cruelty is the point. It is not a means to an end; it is the end. Trump and his followers want the power to be cruel, to punish anyone they don’t like for, well, existing. The earth must be remade in Trump’s image, so that the faithful will have power and authority to hurt those they fear and resent. True power is the right to be cruel. True freedom is the power to deny freedom to others.

Yes, this is what evil looks like.

For the most rabid of Trump’s followers it hardly matters that he has betrayed them at every turn. He promised better jobs, lower taxes, better access to health care, and an end to the opioid crisis. He has utterly failed to deliver any of that; for the most part, he hasn’t even tried to deliver any of that. He doesn’t know how, frankly, and he’s not interested in learning. Other people were supposed to work out the details; that’s what flunkies are for.

But as long as he promises belonging, certitude and validation; as long as he promises punishment to those who are Not Us  it won’t matter. His base will not abandon him.

Fortunately, there aren’t enough of them to re-elect him. But, Democrats: Don’t screw it up this time.

Related, from the Mahablog archives:

This Explains a Lot (2006)

No Cause, Just a Movement (2010)

Why People Turn to Dictators (2016)

15 thoughts on “This Is What Evil Looks Like

  1.  "But, Democrats: Don’t screw it up this time."

    They won't.

    The conditions that led to the outcome we saw in 2016–GOP dirty tricks, Russian interference, the media going apeshit on Hillary because of a nearly thirty-year long mad-on they had for her, and of course purists running off to fling votes to third-party charlatans because they took the whole damned thing for a joke–those conditions will not be there in 2020.

    Well, not all of them.

    The media will still jam their fist on the scale for the GOP and Trump.  They will still give the Democrat a much harder time (especially if the Democratic nominee is a woman), and there is the "both sides!" narrative that refuses to die.  However, we know about interference from Russia, we have countered the GOP anti-voting rights actions, and more voters are coming forward to cast ballots who have never voted before.  2017 and 2018 showed that people are upset and have realized that yes, elections do matter–the courts, a woman's right to choose, civil rights, the environment–they are all on the line.  

    That's why we took back the House in 2018–and we've already seen the massive changes that have occurred–actual oversight is going on now, not bootlicking.

    Just my 2-cents.

  2. Clinton isn't running and there's no bad candidates in her league. I like Warren, hope she gets traction. Joe has a lot of baggage that's going to make it hard – especially Anita Hill. Bernie is great – he's authentic which counts for a lot with voters. Democrats (voters and elected officials) despise Trump. If Russia, China, Iran and N. Korea all team up to split Democrats with FB Twitter and Instagram, I don't think they can defuse the white-hot desire to run that SOB out of office. 

    Trump barely won with the help of Russia, and by projecting a facade that voters could project their hopes on. There's a problem for Trump – he's put on display what kind of racist demagogue he is. While the base is with him, anyone who looks at the record on Trump (and isn't in the cult) won't be fooled. They may not vote for the Democrat – they may just stay home. That's the reverse process of what got Trump elected when a lot of Democrats stayed home.

    One question – will Trump boycott the debates?  There's a lot of issues and recent history Trump won't want to answer for.

      • Of course he's serious…I like Joe Biden, but whenever I look back at what was done to Anita Hill, and I see how Biden handled his role in that episode, I kinda wish I hadn't seen it. He was polite and respectful in his grilling of Anita Hill, but the tone of his inquiry showed that he was never going to give her an honest hearing.

        The fix was in when it came to slamming Anita Hill…and Biden had a hand in it. To this day I haven't heard him express any regret for his conduct in the Thomas confirmation.

         Nothing says my heart has changed like a public acknowledgment that my heads was in the wrong place at the time.

        Aside from that I think it's time for Biden to be put out for pasture. He can't offer America the vision that its youth so desperately need.

    • "One question – will Trump boycott the debates?  There's a lot of issues and recent history Trump won't want to answer for."

      Of course he'll try to.  He barely held up against Hillary for crying out loud.  But because he didn't defecate on the stage the media praised him for…not soiling himself or something.

  3. Cruelty, is tRUMP's and his followers default position.

    It's a "Group-think" thing – almost like the leader and his acolytes in a religion.

    It's like they are Christians in the Crusades, and we are the Muslim army.

    And they dream of tRUMP being The Grand Inquisitor, and we are the heathen's to be tortured and killed.

    Either way, win or lose, 2020 and its aftermath will be beyond horrible.

    Another Civil War is not out of the realm of possibility.

  4. "Us against them" exposes the innate violence of the emperor as he weaves and bellows  in rage and terror, scrambling for a way out.  

    It exposes that the team who is working for him are going for force over law, as well.    Which is worse.

    Mnuchin, Barr, Kavanaugh, Devos, Carson, and worst of all Matt Whitaker, oh no, I forgot the very worst one, Wilbur Moss, mugging for Congress, playing like grade school kids going up and down on an ice cream high, refusing to answer questions, making light of them with horrible little jokes.  This has been one year long announcement from his administration that they are extra-Constitutional.

    We'll see if the crowds love it.

    • re Matt Whitaker – at least everyone knew he was a dope and a suck-up; Bill Barr is far more dangerous in that he's a suck-up who's good at acting like he's even-handedly trying to do his job. Josh Marshall at TPM moans that he's got the establishment press fooled. And so he's a thousand times more dangerous than an outright goof.

      Similar story with now-gone Pruitt, the clown appointed to destroy the EPA. He was run off because of myriad scandals, and replaced with a coal lobbyist, a far more efficient tool who knows how to fly below the radar.

  5. This is the kind of stuff that freaks me out.

     It could just be me, but to my mind I would think that being entrusted as a representative for millions of people it would be a near sacred honor. And at a minimum, some degree of responsibility in upholding that trust and honor would be expected. But when I see someone like Gaetz behaving like a childish buffoon and carrying on with an attitude of pride in his childish just blows my mind.

    It hurts to see things like this. Not because I hold myself out as the ultimate moralizer who looks down on those don't meet my particular standards in decorum, or that I'm somehow above engaging in childish antics myself. It's more to the fact that Gaetz doesn't have the discretion to know how to conduct himself in the office he's been given and appreciate to honor he's been afforded. He's a crude rustic fratboy who has adopted and honed Trumpian tactics in an effort to advance his political fortunes — and I see it as the lowest form of intellectual expression, the ultimate bottom feeder. A minion.

     When I compare the intellectual competence and struggles faced by our founding fathers in crafting the greatest experiment in self governance the world has ever known, and I look upon a buffoon like Gaetz who has been entrusted to uphold and advance that legacy. It make me almost want to cry. What a shame it's come to this, God help us.

    To add to the pain I'm experiencing…Gaetz is a representative for the people of State of Florida. I'm left with the words of Elijah Cummings.."We can do better than this!"

  6. Swami, 

    "Modern" Conservatism has devolved into an army of trolls.

    They have no new ideas, no legislative agenda, no governing philosophy, "know" 'nothin '.


    That's all they got.

    And yet, they could still win…

  7. "But, Democrats: Don’t screw it up this time."

    Right, hopefully we democrats will support and vote for the nominee whomever it is, whether we supported them in the primaries or not. Hopefully one side if the party won't turn against the other this time.

    • One hopes, uncledad.  There is no tolerance for the ridiculous purity games we saw in 2016.  Thankfully, 2017 and 2018 showed a much more unified Democratic party, and despite the idiotic antics of the "Justice Democrats" I do see more emphasis on really uniting behind the nominee in 2020.  The stakes are just too damned high to play purity games again.

      Of course, we also have to make every attempt to hold onto the House and take back the Senate and do our best to win down-ticket elections.

      • What antics?  I thought JDs believed that Democrats should leave the neoliberalism to the wealthy donor orgs and get back to supporting working folks.  The main benefit of uniting behind Hillary would have been Supreme Court picks, but the neoliberalism would have been continued.  And it wasn't cool what happened to Bernie.

      • The real "purity game" is the gag order long imposed on progressives by the Democratic Party establishment. The insiders are to this day trying to punish and smear the progressive wing of the party for daring to propose bold ideas that are not specifically designed to appeal to "centrist" Republicans, whoever those might be. And never mind that, IMO, this self-imposed restriction on the Democratic party has a lot to do with why it has been losing ground in Congress and in the states over the past couple of decades. Let's just keep doing what doesn't work and smear anyone who wants to try something else! 

  8. This is far from the first time the Trumpettes were caught using intellectual property without permission; you’d think they’d learn.


    Conservatives have been doing this for decades. It shows you what they REALLY think about personal property: It's all well and good until someone more powerful wants what you've got.

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