MOSF 18.12:  Election Season 2024: Deconstructing the Trump/Far-Right Playbook and Propaganda, and Constructing a Positive Response From Our Shared Humanity and Reality

Memoirs of a Superfan, Volume 18.12:  Election Season 2024: Deconstructing the Trump/Far-Right Playbook and Propaganda, and Constructing a Positive Response From Our Shared Humanity and Reality

Ravi Chandra
December 1, 2023

Our political battle is about power. What kind of power should govern us, empower us and be emulated and replicated through our individual and collective psyches? Our political alternatives include hierarchical, centralized, and increasingly abusive power run by a group focused on social dominance, who don’t want to relate or appeal to people they don’t like and even hate, and who want to, in fact, punish them; and an egalitarian form of power, based on empathy, reason, relatedness, love, and compassion – a big tent view of power and empowering the population. The imperfections of the latter have caused great difficulty. The drive of the former – to maintain a wealthy, white, male, conservative elite, aligned with autocratic, arrogant, selfish and self-serving Evangelical Christianity, can only hold destruction for the nation as a whole. Can we form a more perfect union? Or are we fated to dis-union, antagonism and fragmentation? This is a companion to MOSF 18.11: Abusive Power and Megalomania Perpetuate Racial, Cultural, Transhistorical, & Intergenerational Trauma (Part 2). A critique of this article might include the idea that the far-right is simply exercising “free speech.” However, when their “free speech” includes dehumanizing, racist, homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, lies, self-serving propaganda, and disinformation, this marks their input as a dangerous influence, IMHO. For more on disentangling free speech and disinformation, see references.

This is a long article, but hopefully well worth it. 

Part 1 – Preface
Part 2 – Mechanisms of propaganda
Part 3 – Examples from Trump’s Agenda47
Part 4 – Interlude, on Gaza and our divided political psyche
Part 5 – Our divided political psyche, examples from abroad, and potential consequences (including an aside on Žižek)
Part 6 – Analysis of Project 2025, the GOP and Far-Right playbook
Part 7 – Conclusion: the GOP/Far-Right and Trump are dangerous influences that enhance an ecosystem and permission structure for violence; we must counter this with reason, compassion, and love
Part 8 – For further viewing, reading, and references

Adobe image by mast3r, licensed by Ravi Chandra

Part 1 – Preface

“People can argue with each other as much as they want, and as vociferously as they want. The one thing they may not do is use violence and threats of violence to alter the outcome. And one important aspect of this is the American people themselves. The American people must protect each other. (Voice breaks with emotion.) They must ensure that they treat each other with civility and kindness, listen to opposing views, argue as vociferously as they want, but refrain from violence and threats of violence. That’s the only way that this democracy will survive.”
–  Attorney General Merrick Garland, 60 Minutes, October 1, 2023

How far removed is paranoia from reality? The idea that if you disagree with a powerful person or group, they will come and kill you? Erase you? Make an example of you, to silence your dissent, control all conversations, thoughts, and even emotions, and thus assert “victory” and autocratic, fascist, totalitarian dominance?

This is not paranoia for many, and it feels like an encroaching reality in the American experiment. The threat of retaliation does most of the work, enlists its sycophants and grotesque worshippers of brute force, who have, after all, been active throughout the enterprise, and who are perhaps now flummoxed by the idea that the people they’ve excluded and the people who care for those who have been excluded will soon outnumber them. They conclude that majority rule must be abolished, even as it has been observably dysfunctional under our electoral system, awarding the GOP the presidency twice since 2000 though it lost the popular vote (and in 2000, 4 SCOTUS justices would have allowed the Florida recount to continue, possibly giving Al Gore the presidency).

The times are slowly turning against the MAGA wing, and they are showing their true colors in threats, aggressions, and attempts to split us against each other and scapegoat all who disagree with them, their means, and their ends. Their leaders are calling us un-American, cultural Marxists, and even terrorists and “jihadists.”

If you didn’t know what blatant White Supremacy and idiotic, jingoistic red-baiting looked like, please take a gander. We are living a history lesson in spades, and we need to do some quick deconstruction and reconstruction – naming, labeling, calling out, and calling in – to have a shot.

First up on the chopping block for deconstruction and labeling: former President Donald Trump and his Agenda47 campaign videos. Several of these videos have been lampooned quite thoroughly online, but they deserve a look. His takes on campus protests about Gaza, higher education, justice and law enforcement, and trans rights showcase his red-meat talking points and dog whistles to his base. We will be hearing all of this quite loudly should he be the GOP’s nominee. Even if he doesn’t win, they will be the rallying cries for the White “Christian” nationalist state rising as a wet dream in the far right’s eyes (uhh, not sure if those metaphors work together lol). I will be discussing their “Project 2025” in this essay as well.

The far right around the globe has concluded that ethnonationalist statism is the way to preserve their power. Gin up the dominant culture around their “identity,” make them fear and hate the “threats within,” and ride to power on that base’s misplaced rage. India, China, Russia, Argentina, the Netherlands, Hungary, and (perhaps to a lesser extent?) Italy have all gone this route. The most canny among them tie their racism to an economic engine – but here at home, red states have been experiencing a brain drain. (See references.)

Quote from The New Republic article in references re the brain drain in red states

It’s clear that their success will mean the erosion and denial of civil and human rights in the United States and abroad. It would open the door for darker things to come: including more rampant violence, particularly against marginalized and minoritized groups and dissidents; incarceration of political enemies; death squads and militias. It’s important that we clear our heads and remember, as Attorney General Garland said, we are responsible for each other’s safety and well-being.

I have written in previous essays about being a transitional space for emotional transmissions and trauma. It feels like we are receiving a historical transmission of grandiose self-importance and self-esteem, which always covers and tries to erase actual uncertainty and human vulnerability, and substitutes prominence for grounded presence. In other words, we are receiving a cover story for a really low self-worth grasping at straws; a self-esteem tied to winning against designated “foes.” We know that happiness is tied to relatedness and love, not temporal accomplishments. So we are receiving an internal transmission of unhappiness and paranoia about relatedness, which is aimed at making us feel unworthy and subordinated, all in the service of short-term, temporal “wins.” Sadly, some people’s fragile self-esteem depend on beating other people up, and when they can’t do it themselves, ginning up other people to do it for them.

*****

Part 2 – Mechanisms of propaganda

First off, I wanted to say that thinking of people and parties as “opponents” instead of “alternatives” is a form of pugilistic, aggressive psychological splitting. We can and should draw contrasts, but be aware of the psychological processes that undermine the continuity of connections between us. However, we are living in a split, a chasm. As we trace our differences, I hope we can maintain more than a seed of compassion and shared humanity for our right-wing “alternatives.” At the root, I think they’re just really misguided and terrified of change, and this has made them believe that threats and ugly rhetoric is their pathway to “flexing” their strength, and maintaining power.

Donald Trump uses classic tools of propaganda in his speeches and social media posts. Most of the following tools of propaganda were described at Columbia University in 1937, and more can be found through my article in references, which includes the quoted descriptions below, taken from a 2018 de Young Museum exhibition on propaganda. I’m not sure why these techniques have not been named by the MSM, but as media professionals, they should have been trained on them at some point, right?

Adobe image by Marina Zlochin, licensed by Ravi Chandra

  1. Name calling. By branding legitimate political opponents as “Marxists,” “Communists,” “Jihadists,” “terrorists,” and “lunatics” he is able to claim all of his critics are un-American enemies. Most recently, he called his political opponents “vermin,” dehumanizing them, and directly and even unimaginatively copying Hitler and Mussolini. It’s also classic McCarthy era redbaiting and attempted blacklisting.

  2. Card stacking. “One of the most potent propaganda techniques…identified in 1937 is “Card Stacking,” which seeks to manipulate audience perception of an issue by emphasizing one side and repressing another.” Trump stacks cards against our humanity, by dehumanizing dissenters and critics and distorting their observations about and arguments against him. He also stacks the cards against trans people and the families, medical professionals, and compassionate community members who support them, by dehumanizing them and calling trans identities an ideology.

  3. Glittering generalities. “Using virtuous terms like truth, freedom, and the American Way” or “Make America Great Again” is sloganeering and marketing – but they can be entrancing and enchanting to those who don’t kick the tires. Buyers beware.

  4. Transfer. “aligning one’s argument with a prestigious authority such as the church.” This is often the most potent and dangerous. Trump has claimed divine right – and even divinity! And there are those who believe him! Those who claim divine right grant themselves absolute permission to do whatever they want.

  5. Thought-terminating cliché. No one has more respect for women than me.” The coronavirus is “under control. It is what it is.” (Axios interview) The mail-in ballots in 2020 show “it’s a rigged election. It’s just common sense.” These phrases project total simplistic certainty and authority on matters of doubt, in the direction of Mr. Trump’s self-interest. Mr. Trump declares with his assertions, “Stop thinking, and trust me!”

Relatives of propaganda range from the “benign” area of marketing to brainwashing and cult mind control techniques. (See Steve Hassan’s Influence Continuum below.) Trump has been an expert marketer, he slept with a copy of Hitler’s speeches on his bedside, and is a famous acolyte of Norman Vincent Peale, who promoted the “power of positive thinking” and whose philosophy of self-boosterism is easily seen as incapable of managing nuance, complexity, or multiple perspectives. Trump is very clearly marketing himself, castigating detractors, and claiming that he is the true America. He is attempting to control minds, influence perceptions, move the Overton window of acceptable political discourse, and grant a permission structure for a breakdown of democratic norms, political violence, and another potential coup attempt.

Steven Hassan’s Influence Continuum, from Freedomofmind.org

Buyers beware.

Trump, the GOP, and Project 2025 seek to generate cultural fear, phobia and paranoia against their opponents and minority groups, to bind all their supporters’ existing anxieties and frustrations by scapegoating an enemy and creating a moronically simplistic, good/evil, us/them split that enables followers to feel temporarily powerful, as they rally in their bizarre love affair with the Don and participate in dehumanizing others under hierarchical authoritarianism which will result in the killing of enemies in the name of what they call Christ. I say this not to insult Christians, but to highlight the way that the GOP has wrapped itself in the flag and Church as “transfers” to elicit fanatic fealty. These transfers create certainty, closure and crystalline thinking, all in the direction of Mr. Trump’s and the far right’s interests.

He becomes Mrs. Doubtfire to the population. When in doubt (when I can’t tolerate doubt and ambivalence) ­– fire! As opposed to being able to tolerate uncertainty and doubt, being open to different perspectives, and fluid, flexible thinking.

You might say my words regarding the potential ends of the “permission structure” are also paranoid, but they are in response to Mr. Trump’s and the GOP’s self-serving weaponization of paranoia and psychosis in the electorate against their political opponents and the election process itself. They have cast empathy aside regarding their political opponents, and violence becomes possible, permissible, and even mandatory.

Adobe stock image by pandagolik, licensed by Ravi Chandra

Once they’ve created such a split in the minds of their followers, it becomes harder for followers to peel away. We have groupthink and conformity in action, in the party that’s supposedly a vanguard of individualism. Witness the difficulties of Republicans trying to create daylight between themselves and Trump, and imagine the difficulty of a Trump voter with any degree of uncertainty about their Dear Leader. How would he or she break the news to their social group? The cult creates a conformist and ideological pressure that is reinforced by a media and social media echo chamber. Uncertainty – rather than being a sign of cognitive flexibility – is seen as weakness. Maybe at best some will be able to say is “he’s still a great guy, being mistreated, but his troubles will be a distraction in the election.”

The American psyche is traumatized and collectively dissociated. Histories are landing on us. Our relatedness is fraught, tense, and vulnerable. We will have to be creative with this dissociation, to creatively reassociate, in order to continue our individual and collective journeys to healing and wholeness.

I think this is possible. In fact, it may only be possible through this relentless, horrific passage of political and social turmoil which has surfaced problems of racial justice, women’s rights, and LGBTQIA+ rights. A turmoil which has surfaced but not resolved fundamental questions of fitting-in and going-along-with, versus belonging and becoming active participants in creating belonging against the pressures of division, nullification, and even annihilation.

Are we not dissociated by hierarchical power’s built-in paranoia and drive to dominate us, rather than be a part of us?

Adobe stock image by cartoonresource, licensed by Ravi Chandra

*****

Part 3 – Examples from Trump’s Agenda47

Here are four samples from Trump’s Agenda47. These and his whole platform are woeful and willful mis-readings of society, culture, medicine and science. In addition, the GOP has a prominent initiative to further curtail women’s choice. You can see all the above propaganda techniques (especially name-calling), splitting, and black-and-white thinking. Again, I feel all this needs to be named, but the MSM hasn’t wanted to go there.

But is there a “cultural Marxist, woke-ism” problem in the country? I don’t see it that way. I think there are a lot of social media inspired, thin-skinned people running around who think it’s more important to be right rather than related. On the left they’re ultimately pushing for a more inclusive culture. On the right – a more exclusive, repressive culture. All this cultural unrest is on the backdrop of Americans in general being more narcissistic, less empathic, with worse social skills than people in most of the rest of the world. As a result, we have a harder time holding and processing disagreements, which tend to become polarized. Polarization also happens as a matter of course of our gerrymandered districts and electoral system. (See references for my article on the “United States of Amygdalae.”)

I harp on this regularly though: cultural critics, including the dominant practice of psychoanalytic theory as I’ve encountered it, emphasize deconstruction and critique, rather than reconstruction and repair. What happens when one arms people with a critique, well-informed or not, without a strong basis of shared humanity? Look out below. Trump is a horrible “analyst,” a malicious cultural critic with a nonexistent sense of shared humanity and no care for the damage he causes and will cause.

“The idea behind deconstruction is to deconstruct the workings of strong nation-states with powerful immigration policies, to deconstruct the rhetoric of nationalism, the politics of place, the metaphysics of native land and native tongue… The idea is to disarm the bombs… of identity that nation-states build to defend themselves against the stranger, against Jews and Arabs and immigrant…” Jacque Derrida. From YouTube video about Derrida in references

1.     Agenda47: The American Academy

“In recent weeks, Americans have been horrified to see students and faculty at Harvard and other once-respected universities expressing support for the savages and jihadists who attacked Israel. We spend more money on higher education than any other country, and yet they’re turning our students into Communists and terrorists and sympathizers of many, many different dimensions — we can’t let this happen. It’s time to offer something dramatically different.” Aaaand then Trump proposes to essentially resurrect, and no doubt profit from the discredited and fraudulent Trump University, rebranded as “The American Academy.”

https://rumble.com/v3ur3mp-agenda47-the-american-academy.html

2.     Agenda47: Protecting Students from the Radical Left and Marxist Maniacs Infecting Educational Institutions

“The accreditors are supposed to ensure that schools are not ripping off students and taxpayers, but they have failed totally. When I return to the White House, I will fire the radical Left accreditors that have allowed our colleges to become dominated by Marxist Maniacs and lunatics.”

3.     Agenda47: Firing the Radical Marxist Prosecutors Destroying America

“…I will appoint U.S. Attorneys who will be the polar opposite of the Soros District Attorneys and others that are being appointed throughout the United States. Very unfair to our population. Very unfair to our country. They will be the 100 most ferocious legal warriors against crime and Communist corruption that this country has ever seen. As we completely overhaul the federal Department of Justice and FBI, we will also launch sweeping civil rights investigations into Marxist local District Attorneys.”

4.     Agenda47: President Trump’s Plan to Protect Children from Left-Wing Gender Insanity

“The left-wing gender insanity being pushed on our children is an act of child abuse, very simple. Here is my plan to stop the chemical, physical, and emotional mutilation of our youth. On Day One, I will revoke Joe Biden’s cruel policies on so-called “gender affirming care”—ridiculous—a process that includes giving kids puberty blockers, mutating their physical appearance, and ultimately performing surgery on minor children. Can you believe this?… I will declare that any hospital or healthcare provider that participates in the chemical or physical mutilation of minor youth will no longer meet federal health and safety standards for Medicaid and Medicare—and will be terminated from the program immediately… I will ask Congress to pass a bill establishing that the only genders recognized by the United States government are male and female—and they are assigned at birth. No serious country should be telling its children that they were born with the wrong gender—a concept that was never heard of in all of human history—nobody’s ever heard of this, what’s happening today. It was all when the radical left invented it just a few years ago.”

https://rumble.com/v27v5a0-president-trumps-plan-to-protect-children-from-left-wing-gender-insanity.html

*****

Part 4 – Interlude, on Gaza and our divided political psyche

There is a welcoming diversity of people still working out how to relate to one another, still riven by the frustrations of all the ways they’ve been mistreated. We are riven now by the public face of President Biden’s response to humanitarian crisis and crushing, abusive military power used against Gaza and Palestinians, killing over 17,000 infants, children, women and men since October 7th. What Joe and his team have said privately to Israel and Netanyahu have not yet stopped the catastrophe, though it has led to an ongoing humanitarian pause as of the time of this writing, as hostages and prisoners were released, and many happy reunions occurred.. The NewsHour reported that during this pause, the IDF continued to hunt down and kill Palestinians. On November 30th, three people in Jerusalem were killed, and Hamas reportedly took responsibility.

 

Scenes of reunion warm the heart. I hope these scenes can continue, to soothe the cries for war and the continuation of abusive power.

We’ve had severe consequences domestically as well, as melees continue in our public spaces and campuses, and anguish has tipped into cruelty.

Many Jewish Americans feel paranoid, insecure, and persecuted, and many Palestinian Americans, Arab Americans, brown and BIPOC peoples feel marginalized and oppressed. Our agonies reflect each other; they set each other off; they reflect the great chasm created by abusive power, and the tragedy that some think war and abusive power ensure survival, rather than those foggy, quaint, sentimental notions called love and compassion.

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, three Palestinian American college students wearing kaffiyeh and speaking in Arabic were shot by a white man in Burlington, Vermont, in what is being investigated as a potential hate crime. The most seriously injured, Hisham Awartani, is a junior at my alma mater, Brown University. Awartani sent this message to the campus:

“It’s important to recognize that this is part of the larger story. This hideous crime did not happen in a vacuum. As much as I appreciate and love every single one of you here today, I am but one casualty in this much wider conflict…Had I been shot in the West Bank, where I grew up, the medical services that saved my life here would likely have been withheld by the Israeli army…The soldier who shot me would go home and never be convicted. I understand that the pain is so much more real and immediate because many of you know me, but any attack like this is horrific, be it here or in Palestine…This is why when you say your wishes and light your candles today, your mind should not just be focused on me as an individual, but rather as a proud member of a people being oppressed.”

The human condition is musical, poetic, beautiful, and rich; yet we succumb to what ghazal singer Burgali Wali called the “endless percussion of guns and bombs.” (I think I heard him in a movie, but can’t find him now online…)

As far as I know, this comment was not approved by the NYT moderator.

The hellhouse mirror that is the Gaza border has reflected and amplified the worst of human nature back to us, and makes us question the nature and possibility of humanity itself. Whether “humanity” even exists in us. What I know as a psychiatrist is that we are far more nurture than nature. We are our influences, and we are what we do with them. The worst of these are faction-centered ideologies that dehumanize those not in the faction. We are receiving a transmission, and we are as yet an inadequate transitional space for it, so we are left transmitting its toxicity, its unhappiness, without concern for what that makes us.

*****

Part 5 – Our divided political psyche, examples from abroad, and potential consequences (including an aside on Žižek)

For the first time, voters under 30 favor Trump over Biden. 59% voted for Biden in 2020. Recent swing state polls tell a similar story. Whether these voters are in a foul mood, signaling displeasure, or wildly disproportionate and unstrategic in their sympathies – let’s just say they’re not happy campers. Ambivalence and distress about current circumstances easily turns into scapegoating the person “in charge,” because OBVIOUSLY the person “in charge” should be able to fix everything, right, fix everything to OUR satisfaction. It’s not US, it’s THEM. And THEY should be about US. So let’s put the guy who made it all about HIM back in charge of US. That would be thrilling, right? And we really need to be THRILLED!

Makes perfect sense. Sigh.

Everyone seems to have forgotten what happened when this guy who proclaimed “only I can fix it” actually was in charge. He’ll make our US his THEM, and he’s showing us his dark, paranoid vision quite clearly, as I’ve shown above.

Adobe stock image by gguy, licensed by Ravi Chandra

And in classic survival brain delusion, we are Velcro for our dissatisfactions and Teflon for Joe’s accomplishments. A mudslinging campaign season could make it worse. But once Trump and the GOP remind us of their negatives, perhaps it will be the clarifying, unforced error that finally reduces them to unelectability.

Our diverse group faces, quite plainly, tyranny, narcissistic rage, oppression, and violence. Threats to safety are ratcheting up daily. The fact that a major political party does nothing to censure their blatantly authoritarian, anti-democratic front runner is a testimony to the power that abuse holds over a significant part of the electorate and their so-called leadership. This personality-cult-in-all-but-name identifies with their leader’s selfish bellyaching (he’s more of a whiner than a winner, really), resentments, fears of being held accountable, and his use of lies, name calling, gaslighting, vilification, contempt, disgust, scorn, resentment, ridicule, blame, and scapegoating to avoid his personal accountability, and cover up and distract from his own shortcomings. They like him because they think he will help them get out of their own personal and cultural accountability. They both love and fear him because he mimics the abusive father they imagine their god to be, the kind of father who doesn’t cultivate any kind of growth in his children, just obedience, in order to be tools for his wiles. Growth would mean growing beyond the narrowest confines deemed allowable. Growth in the followership of a cult is terrifying to the leader(s), because that would leave them abandoned, vulnerable, escapable, refutable, and falsifiable.

Our diverse group faces, in other words, a delusion. A self-centered delusion designed to torture interdependence and co-existence with people the likes of us. The danger is that we would mirror the deluded abuser and descend into a spiral of mutually assured destruction. This is possible, because we are not free from self-centeredness and antagonism as means of self-definition and self-assertion ourselves. Perhaps we will one day thank our abusers, for highlighting and amplifying the worst, so that we could be our best.

*****

Even if all Mr. Trump’s lies were true, and not motivated by sheer and extreme self-preservation, returning him to power would do nothing to clarify the situation.

If elections are, as he says, fraudulent (and they are not), and yet an election returns him to power, many will be further stymied on the question of democratic elections, and likely in favor of abolishing them for good, as Michael Flynn has opined.

If he is defeated, his supporters are already being readied to retaliate. Steve Bannon invokes “Come Retribution.” These were code words for the Confederate Secret Service’s plot to take hostage and assassinate President Lincoln. Really A-plus Americana and call back, Steve!!! (See article by Jon Karl, in references.)

From Jonathan Karl’s article in The Atlantic. See references.

When they tell you who they are … listen.

Returning former president Trump to power would make persecution a policy.

If he is on the ballot and loses the election, persecution and retaliation will be part of our reality anyway, but at least we’ll have amplified the power of democracy against it.

Our system has all but ensured a rematch between President Biden and former President Trump. It’s not at all an even matchup, on any measure of reality. Trump has been indicted FOUR TIMES with 91 felony charges. How is this man even on the ballot? He stands charged with inciting an insurrection on January 6th. He makes violent threats regularly. He is no semblance of anything remotely appearing presidential. He disgraces himself and American democracy daily, repeatedly. Yet he channels an ugly inner self of America. If he didn’t exist, we’d almost have to invent him to show what America has looked like to many of us for quite some time. The reality that a guy like this could rise to the highest position of executive power and prominence says a lot about the enterprise, doesn’t it?

I’ve actually heard some people say (both white and non-white, all men) that it doesn’t matter who’s in charge. “They’re all the same.” One of them referenced a number of intellectuals, including Žižek, concluding that no change was possible within the system as it stands.

(An aside: Žižek, whose self-proclaimed neurosis is essentially “I speak therefore I am, and if I don’t speak, I might cease to exist” who seems to relish being a gadfly and provocateur in order to best observe society and gain fame and notoriety – perhaps as a means of survival, or perhaps to further philosophical inquiry and understanding, whatever that is; who decries savoring observable qualities of shared humanity so as to allow himself no comfort of kinship, which he presumes is cloying and destructive; who, simultaneously and understandably seems to have a very human and awkward relationship with the concept of love, but also likes to be with people who are amused by him and enjoy being with him; who is amusing and provocative about all the cultural hot topics, headlines, “big pictures,” and buzzwords, but seems not to really get, uhh, people, and is more concerned about how they are constructed, contained, controlled and agonized by ideology, which is a product of … other people. Just like psychoanalysis, he does alright with deconstruction, and not so well with reconstruction and repair, IMHO. So sure, let’s go with Žižek. I don’t mean to be dismissive. I’ve only spent about 5 hours on him via TV, including The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology which has a great and important segment on racism and scapegoating which nicely presents excellent psychoanalytic insights also made by others, and found him in parts perceptive, offensive, and then a willing mis-perceiver (the latter two, on LGBTQIA+ issues or what he calls “political correctness,”) making him also an extremely ungrounded, hyper-intellectualized gasbag who really likes being in his head, finds little comfort in his head, and anyway, finds no escape from his head. It would be hard to escape his head if you were with him too. Talking heads are a gravitational force for those looking for gospel, which I am not. Yet I too fell into that Žižek-hole, but kept my wits about me to emerge with (1) this paragraph, (2) appreciation for his adventure of being human, and (3) a reaffirmation of the principle that you don’t have to be a “know it all,” or worship at the temple of the know-it-alls, to be with the all. The all doesn’t just happen in our heads, natch. I liked it when he said in 2005’s Žižek! (I paraphrase) ‘there is no normal culture – culture has to be interpreted.’ However, I would say culture is always in a process of deconstruction, reconstruction, change, growth, repair, creation, and re-creation – regardless of interpretation. In fact, it’s probably best if the best of it isn’t interpreted at all, but just felt. Too much brain and not enough heart can be a buzzkill. I liked his quote: “The fundamental level of ideology, however, is not of an illusion masking the real state of things but that of an (unconscious) fantasy structuring our social reality itself.” But – this leans towards a paranoid view of the unconscious, rather than allowing for the mystery of love, and the possibility that our essential, good nature has indeed been masked and distorted by circumstances and force. As I wrote in MOSF 17.6, “I’ve found that sometimes love (not The Toad Within™️) is actually in the basement, where it has been hiding from the hell upstairs.” Love is in the mostly unconscious field of our social reality, hiding from the people who try to make sense of it; bury it; or worse, wield it as their own. As poet Ken Chen wrote in Juvenilia “The goal of love is to be unmastered,” and commands us to “deploy your heart past its range.” Preach, brother.)

All that’s left to say is “burn it all down, and put me in charge. Only I can fix it.”

It’s interesting how some people can simultaneously hold positions of idealizing anarchism (the rejection of hierarchical authority) and their own authoritarianism – at the same time. “Fight power with power” I guess?

Or maybe “show me the money.”

The self-described anarcho-capitalist and libertarian Javier Milei was just elected to be the next president of Argentina. He’s quite a character. In his victory speech, he thanked his “children”: the four dogs he had cloned from his deceased pet. He won based on his promises to overhaul the Argentinian economy which has left them with 200% inflation and a 50% poverty rate. Now there’s an unhappy population. Economist Alicia García-Herrero said to DW News “yes, perhaps he’s not the best candidate I could have imagined, but he is providing a change. And in order to clean up such a mess…you need a disrupter.” Trump has also been called a disrupter.

OMG, could somebody please come and talk to us in Silicon Valley about “disrupters”… eg mostly male egotists who think reality should bend, or manifest, to their whims and will. I mean, they disrupt whatever they disrupt, but they also reinforce and exalt the ugliest, most selfish forms of human nature and dispirit and exhaust moral and communal conscience. So what are they really disrupting? Our life-sustaining bonds of affiliation, affection, ethics, restraint, conscience, and mutuality, subsuming them to their megalomanic drives.

What an ‘anarcho-capitalist’ will do for Argentina | DW Business, November 22, 2023

 Argentinians voted for economic disruption … but they have also furthered a permission structure for an “anti-woke” culture war and abuse of women and sexual and gender minorities, in a country which has apparently been a leader, imperfectly, in the Americas, per the UN’s report on women. Milei stated:

“I will not be apologizing for having a penis. I shouldn’t feel ashamed for being a blonde, blue-eyed white man. (Though he has brown hair?) I won’t concede anything to cultural Marxism. With this, you know what will happen to the Ministry of Women… because the only equality that matters is equality before the law.”

Soledad Deza of of the Fundación Mujeres x Mujeres said to The Guardian, “It’s a very bleak picture. This is a government that is promising us greater inequality and – from the first minute – that the autonomy, sovereignty and independence of our bodies is not going to be supported by the state.”

The Guardian goes on to report,

Milei, a volatile, far-right libertarian, has routinely taken a hardline stance on women’s issues; vowing to hold a plebiscite on whether to repeal the country’s 2020 landmark legalisation of abortion, describing social justice as an “aberration” and promising to shutter the country’s ministry of women, gender and diversity…

Members of the LGBTQ+ community said they were also bracing for a rollback of their rights in the wake of the election. “My first feeling was fear, ghosts from the past,” said Mariana Gisela Tissone, 50, a trans woman and activist who said she was able to transition thanks to a law implemented during the administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

“I never thought the far right was going to win here, especially with those messages supporting the dictatorship,” she added. “I’m not sure what Milei will do tomorrow, no one knows, but I’m worried about a setback when it comes to human rights, those we have conquered. I feel the same way I felt 20 years ago.”

“The campaign saw Milei and his La Libertad Avanza party seek to repeatedly marginalise LGBTQ+ people, said the journalist Adriana Carrasco, citing as an example comments made by a Milei spokesperson that likened same-sex marriage to choosing not to bathe, getting lice and later complaining that people don’t like those who have lice.”

Again, it’s interesting how some people can inhabit anarchism and tyrannical, dictatorial, fascist authoritarianism in the same breath. Or maybe it reveals that authoritarianism can wear many disguises to get what it wants: itself in absolute power.

Words by Ravi Chandra, over Adobe stock image by Innovated Captures, licensed by Ravi Chandra

“Everybody wants to rule the world…”

And women, gays, trans, and minoritized people are icky, right?

The self-esteem of tyrants depends on devaluing precisely these groups, because they think that as those groups stand up and acquire their own self-worth, they will be diminished and eclipsed – or, as their paranoid fears suggest, eliminated.

Equality for all somehow translates to the dominant culture’s elimination – because … they don’t really know any of “those” people.

Strangers are icky, right? And sexy strangers??? We just. Can’t. Deal.

Words by Ravi Chandra, over Adobe stock image by dmegias, licensed by Ravi Chandra

“I mean, how would you even meet them? Might as well just get rid of them. They make me uncomfortable.

I’m sure a psychologist or psychiatrist somewhere can cook up a Mary Ainsworth Sexy Stranger Situation Experiment to help us out. (Don’t you just love anxious and ambivalent attachment that turns into splitting? Does wonders for the American Psyche!)

So they play to disrupt us while they can, in the zero-sum, win-lose game as they see it.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ PVV (Party for Freedom) won a plurality of seats, making him the likely next prime minister. He has been described as anti-Islam, anti-Muslim, anti-asylum and anti-migrant, in contrast to the preceding four-term prime minister Mark Rutte. Wilders has yet to form a governing coalition though, and several other parties vowed their opposition to his racism. In any case, he joins other European far-right-to-autocratic leaders such as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Italy’s Premier Georgia Meloni, “whose Brothers of Italy’s roots were steeped in nostalgia for fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.” Supposedly Meloni has mellowed, but isn’t that what they always say before the fall?

It’s the darndest thing. People who like power for power’s sake really find a way to get it. All it takes is for the rest of us to sit back and eat popcorn. People who want to amplify the power of reason, compassion, ethics, relatedness, and love really seem to have to work for it. It’s the darndest thing.

Can we have nice things? Please?

Words by Ravi Chandra

*****

Part 6 – Analysis of Project 2025, the GOP and Far-Right playbook

Trump and the GOP’s playbook is out for all to read. It’s called Project 2025, based on the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Mandate for Leadership, and it’s been reviewed extensively by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, whose leaders came from the Southern Poverty Law Center. My TLDR analysis follows, along with links to the full report and a PDF with highlighted markups in references.

Now, there’s the off chance that Trump will be sidelined or defeated in the next six months, through the will of the people, the will of the courts, or his own decline and misfortunes. If that happens, we might be able to have a “somewhat” reasonable policy discussion? Maybe? Even so, we’ll still be playing get-out-the-base-vote and creating a comfortable-enough tent for independents. And still dealing with those (Self-righteous? Anguished? Self-important? Self-styled visionary? Blinkered and cynical? Super hurt?) voters who refuse to strategize beyond a single issue or grievance. What becomes clear in this speculation is that we’ve asked politicians to take care of us, the president in particular, and we are in an era of being disappointed by daddy.

Oh, Oedipus, what are we to do?

Oedipus replies, after a moment: “well, whatever you do, don’t marry your mama.”

Adobe stock image by matiasdelcarmine, licensed by Ravi Chandra

At least we have other options. Seriously, though, the myth of Oedipus transmits the idea that we are fated to be, at least in part, accomplices to our own suffering. But how we deal with it – that’s our journey.

“We have met the enemy, Pogo. And it is us.”

We can be a transitional space for the transmission we’re receiving, we can further transmit its toxicity, or we can blind ourselves in tragic agony and self-loathing.

*****

Project 2025 is ostensibly a transition plan for a hoped-for Trump 2024 election win. It is far-right Christian nationalist propaganda and a cult-like attempt at mind control through self-righteous, stupefying, reason-defying, relatedness-negating assertion. “No one else matters but us far-right Christian nationalists.”

It is jingoistic, megalomanic, self-serving, antagonistic, abusive, unempathic and ignorant to the point of cruelty and beyond, anti-LGBTQIA+ (who are the “canaries in the coal mine” of authoritarianism, as the GPAHE report puts it), anti-women’s choice, anti-immigrant and migrant, climate-denyingelection-denying, anti-intellectual, anti-relational, and terrified to the point of being paranoid of diversity, particularly anyone with a critique – even a compassionate, inclusive, and reconciliatory critique – of American culture or history (eg racism, sexism, homophobia). These latter are branded anti-American and Marxist, even.

It claims to represent the true blood of American “freedom” but it is as hierarchical, restrictive, fascist, and cruel philosophically as the authoritarian Angka of the Khmer Rouge or the Red Guard of the Cultural Revolution. They are arming themselves ideologically for a totalitarian right-wing takeover, and they are fully, I mean fully, prepared to exterminate, eliminate, humiliate, and destroy anyone who gets in their way.

“Us good, them bad,” it declares.

Instead of E Pluribus Unum, it dictates, Pro Uno, Conformitate. For the one, conformity.

The one, they declare, is Jesus. Their Jesus (who might as well be Angka or Mao) is an absolute monarch wielding dictatorial control and judgment over behaviors, thoughts, emotions and identities, and they purport to know exactly what his judgment is, because it validates and uplifts them and discards everyone else. This is the very definition of a cult, and quite unfortunately, it’s part of what’s proscribed in the mind-numbing, simplistic, hierarchical tradition that exists in Christianity.

It is a monoculture of orthodoxy, the American Taliban in action. And Trump is their strongman leader of choice.

Indeed, evangelical Christians identify with the idea of Christ as king, cop, judge, and executioner, and feel they need someone like Trump to bend the country to their will. They pursue absolute state power to execute what they claim is “Christ’s will.” Evangelical White Male Christian authority and certainty becomes an identity bomb, wiping out all other identity expressions and dissents. Evangelical Christianity’s inherent fear of punishment gets flipped into grandiosity and exaltation of self. Their fear and paranoia about difference turns into a subordination of “others.”  They take the “upper hand” of an authoritarian, self-righteous side of “Christ,” and thus attempt to flee vulnerability and doubt by punishing “others” who dare to think for and be themselves. Humanity punishes and attempts to contain or even erase its own compassionate, expansive, and emotionally deep and complex nature, quite in parallel to what happened to Christ himself. Christ becomes his own anti-Christ.

*****

From the GPAHE report:

There are several elements of the project that spread disinformation about medical issues including COVID, abortion, sexual and reproductive health rights, sex education, and other issues, including DEI programs, climate change, civil rights, and marginalized communities, especially the LGBTQ+ community. The entire project is devoted to aggrandizing executive power by centralizing authority in the presidency, and a key aspect of democratic backsliding is viewing opposition elements as attempting to destroy the “real” community, an essential aspect to quashing dissent. Project 2025 paints progressives and liberals as outside acceptable politics, and not just ideological opponents, but inherently anti-American and “replacing American values.” Targeting vulnerable communities is a core tenet of Project 2025. Certain populations, in particular the LGBTQ+ community, are treated as deviants with ill intent rather than humans and Americans, and do not appear to exist within the far right’s framework of those deserving of fulsome human rights and protection from discrimination. Perhaps even more frightening, the left, the LGBTQ+ population, and the “woke,” are described as subversive elements aimed at destroying the country and its “real values.” The attack on the LGBTQ+ population is particularly ominous as recent research by UCLA’s Williams Institute has found a correlation between democratic backsliding and diminution in the rights of LGBTQ+ communities. LGBTQ+ people are the canaries in the authoritarian coal mine.

Protect Democracy points to two other factors as key to growing authoritarianism: stoking violence and corrupting elections. Trump was notorious for stoking violence against political opponents, those who upheld Biden’s 2020 election win, and election workers. And during his campaign rallies where supporters violently attacked people, he verbally attacked immigrants and other communities, and even suggested he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and get away with it. Trump’s words and his authoritarian ways have made the U.S. a more dangerous place based on an October 2023 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute. Nearly one in four Americans now believe political violence is justified to “save” the U.S., a higher number than just two years ago. The numbers grow even higher among Americans who believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, to nearly one in every two people; among Americans who like Trump, to 41 percent; among Americans who believe in the white supremacist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, to 41 percent; and among Americans who believe the core tenet of white Christian nationalism, that God intended America to be a new promised land for European Christians, to 39 percent. (Emphases mine, RC.)

Adobe stock image by Krakenimages.com, licensed by Ravi Chandra

Part 7 – Conclusion: the GOP/Far-Right and Trump are dangerous influences that enhance an ecosystem and permission structure for violence; we must counter this with reason, compassion, and love

Project 2025 demands purity of ideology and identity under a Christian orthodoxy. As Žižek and everyone who can tell their ass from their elbow can tell you, anything becomes permissible to those who claim divine authority. They have shown, and will show, no restraint, no compromise, no virtue. These are the ones who scapegoat, tar and feather anyone who doesn’t support them.

They will ban and burn our books, they will drive women’s health care across state lines and underground, they will persecute trans people and their families, they will shout down anyone who dares speak about racism, sexism, and homophobia, and they intend to do this from the highest offices in the land. As they shout from their bullshit pulpits, they will embolden similar rhetoric on social media and violence on our streets. David Bynum points out for The Brookings Institution:

“a range of research suggests the incendiary rhetoric of political leaders can make political violence more likely, gives violence direction, complicates the law enforcement response, and increases fear in vulnerable communities.”

He cites the work of Müller and Schwarz in 2018 (“From Hashtag to Hate Crime: Twitter and Anti-Minority Sentiment”), which concluded:

“a one standard deviation increase in Twitter usage is associated with a 32% larger increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes since the 2016 presidential primaries. Further, Trump’s tweets about Islam-related topics predict increases in xenophobic tweets by his followers, cable news attention paid to Muslims, and hate crimes on the following days.”

This is correlation, of course, not causation. The rise in hate crimes and Mr. Trump’s tweets may have all been caused by some other factor. However, a leader’s rhetoric and social media usage can certainly add to the ecosystem for violence, even without a direct call for attacks (which would not be protected speech under the First Amendment). One could imagine other leaders who would dampen violent and antagonistic sentiments. One could imagine peacemakers. Mr. Trump and the GOP leadership are not peacemakers, and they have not led their base towards thoughtful understandings and framings of our differences that emphasize shared humanity.

I am worried that politically motivated violence will ensue regardless of who is on the ballot next year. The genie is out of the bottle. But we can mitigate the chances of harm by taking a good look at who and what we promote in the culture, and not actively or passively growing the permission structure for violence.

A winning strategy for progressives, Democrats, and democracy would be to emphasize our bonds, our positive attributes as Americans, the idea that when we work together, we can do great things – across and with our diversity, which is an asset, not a handicap. Ruth Ben-Ghiat writes of the race for mayor of Istanbul in 2019 in her book Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present:

“Ekram Imamoğlu turned the strongman’s politics of aggression and arrogance on its head. Instead of the mass rallies that stage authoritarian leader-follower dynamics, he walked the streets to “engage people directly, no matter what their ideology,” greeting voters in cafes, mosques, and parks. Instead of menacing repression, he gave hugs. He countered Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) belligerent tone and predictions of apocalypse if they lost with a calming and optimistic campaign slogan: “Everything will be fine.”

“When Imamoğlu pulled off an upset in the March elections (48.77 percent to Yildirim’s 44.61 percent), the Erdoğan-allied electoral board cited irregularities and announced that the election would have to be redone. “They want conflict from us,” Imamoğlu told his angry followers, but “we will insist upon embracing each other.”… When new elections were held in June, Imamoğlu increased his lead to 54.2 percent (versus 45 percent for Yildirim, who lost another eleven districts)…

“For one hundred years, the strongman has made political capital out of such dire thinking, exploiting what Imamoğlu calls the “barriers of distrust and hostility that are created by the politics of fear.” Those are the barriers that the new Turkish mayor explicitly campaigned to remove, in the spirit of resisters past and present. “Polarization is a universal problem,” he says. “All around the world, populism is used to divide and rule. But I believe we can turn this trend upside down.” Imamoğlu’s victory holds out the possibility of a different future for Turkey and sends a message to strongmen everywhere.”

What beats fear and hatred?

In one word: love.

Words by Ravi Chandra. Adobe stock image by Rawpixel.com, licensed by Ravi Chandra

Part 8 – For further viewing, reading, and references

I watched these after writing this essay, drawing attention to the danger and foreshadowing of Trump’s language in historical context:

References and for further reading:

Photo by Bob Hsiang, 2022

Ravi Chandra is a psychiatrist, writer, compassion educator, and civilizational health shaman in San Francisco, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Here’s his linktree. For fourteen years, he was lucky to have his MOSF posts published by the Center for Asian American Media, and is now at work broadening and building a diverse creative community and coalition through reflecting on culture and psychology for East Wind eZine. Sign up for updates here, and see all the posts here. He writes from the metaphorical intersection of The Fillmore and Japantown in San Francisco, where Black and Asian communities have mingled since the end of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. He literally works there, between two Indian restaurants, go figure. His debut documentary was named Best Film (Festival Director’s Award) at the 2021 Cannes Independent Film Festival. The Bandaged Place: From AIDS to COVID and Racial Justice is available on-demand, and with the discount code “Awake” you can get a 20% discount. His nonfiction debut, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks, won the 2017 Nautilus Silver Award for Religion/Spirituality of Eastern Thought. You can find him on Psychology Today, MediumTwitter, @ravichandramd on Threads, Facebook,  Instagram,  YouTube,  SoundCloud, or better yet, in the IRL.

 

1 Comments

  1. Ravi Chandra on December 17, 2023 at 9:52 am

    Ruth Ben-Ghiat calls the MAGA wing’s tactics, including those of Jim Jordan in the showboat “impeachment without evidence” – “garbage politics.” And Trump is a “fake populist” – add that to all the other fakes, like fake successful businessman. It is really alarming that so many are enchanted by this guy, and in love with him. See this post – https://x.com/SaltyHamsterdr1/status/1736075028587065627?s=20

    By speaking in a familiar and casual way as if he’s being intimate with his audience, he implants himself and seduces them. They idealize and adore him, and perform all kinds of mental gymnastics to see him in a positive light. It’s frightening, because he is setting up a permission structure for abuse and violence.



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