Totalitarianism and Don Lemon

Ok, so a lot of folks are upset (even liberals) because Lemon laughed at a joke about the stereotypical “deplorable” that many imagine to be the backbone of the Trump phenomenon. To be clear: there are in fact people just like the ones described in the joke that made Lemon go complete ROFL. So while all the snowflakes are complaining about Lemon’s free speech (right to laugh?) or others are defending Lemon for supposedly just reacting to the truth, both sides are missing the point. It isn’t about whether Trump’s base is partially, mostly, or all so-called deplorables. I personally don’t think they are any more than I think most Chicanos want to take back the Southwestern U.S. and restore Aztl├ín–but yes, there are a precious few who believe just that.

No, the phenomenon is about the fact that our society is so broken that people don’t have the desire or time (maybe neither) to work out what is really happening in the world. So many of us are wrapped up in being cogs in a machine–working for a living or trying to find work, dealing with health-challenges, or trying to just keep the lights on; that the activity of politics–the practice of reading, researching, verifying, challenging, dialoguing, and taking action–isn’t a major part of our life. Most people don’t even have the energy to hate immigrants or to truly fight for the cause of white supremacy. And most aren’t stupid either. But their vague feelings of despair or sense that the something is not quite right with the world leads them to a place where anyone offering some meaning–a chance to be part of something bigger–can pull them into a demagogic hypnosis.

Trump is in fact the demagogue of our time–there are some parallel ones in other countries, but none with the platform that the U.S. provides. I guarantee you that a majority of Trump supporters would be great people to grab a beer with. But like the rest of us, they are being swept up by the energy of the moment. They have a structure now, slogans, red hats. Many supporters don’t like some of the things Trump says or does, but they think that he is doing something different, adding meaning to this broken world. They becoming willing to look the other way.

I don’t want to glamorize them or defend the actual deplorables in the movement, but regardless of the scale of hatred, from some with possibly no hatred to some being completely evil, we are at the beginning of the road toward totalitarianism. Good or average people, time and time again, have done dastardly deeds in the name of an ideology or a cause at the command of a leader or a social machine.

Hannah Arendt warned us about the banality of evil: it isn’t usually some cartoon villain planning to ruin the world that commits atrocities such as genocide. It’s more often someone who fell into the wrong group or was just following orders–not an evil genius or even a deplorable person overall. We ignore Trump’s appeal to regular people when we smugly imagine they are a bunch of backward, racist, evil people. The reality is much more insidious.

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