The left is never going to stop the rise of President Trump, the worst imaginable outcome, without acknowledging reality: the US election is not a debate over ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. No amount of emotional appeals to do what is ‘right’ or ‘good’ or ‘fair’ or ‘smart’ is going to convince Trump’s growing legion of supporters that they’re making a horrible mistake voting for this lunatic. We grow up thinking that when we’re arguing with someone, all we have to do is bring them around to our way of thinking and then they’ll agree with us, and we’ll all move on happy that the issue has been solved. But this is not the reality of Clinton versus Trump. The reality is a battle between the new American social order of inclusion, multiculturalism, tolerance, a black man as President, a woman as President, a society where there is no longer a pecking order of privilege where white men rule, versus Trump’s promise to take America back to the old order, to ‘make America great again’, code for ‘put American white men on top again’. There is no argument that will stop these people fighting for this hand-break turn, because, to put it bluntly, they have primal urge they don’t even consciously realise they are craving. But, like a dog chasing a rabbit, these voters are going after their prey with a determination which clouds any resemblance of rationality. Like zombies, the movement is contagious in its urgency and zeal.
George Lakoff explains the cognitive causes of this phenomenon in his description of the two types of thinking, which inform two world views; left wing nurturing views, which Lakoff calls the ‘mothering’ side of ourselves and the right wing authoritarian ideology, which Lakoff calls the ‘strict-father’ side. Lakoff’s explanation might sound simplistic, but he does acknowledge that all of us have the ability to think using both perspectives, it’s just that all people sit somewhere left or right on the continuum, where one type of thinking dominates our thoughts. Lakoff says Trump’s success has come from a connection he has made with the authoritarian side of American thinking, which wants to reinstate the social order, where strict-father is again head of the family. It’s important to note that this viewpoint can belong to both men and women who prefer to see men as the ultimate authority. And here is the crux of Trump’s success: he represents the perfect strict-father because he promises to put white men back at the head of the American family, back where they feel they belong, back where they are again ‘winning’ and in control of ‘their family’, or in other words, ‘their country’.
Progressives automatically celebrate milestones in America’s history such as the success of the civil rights movement, greater tolerance and celebration of gay rights, multiculturalism, increasing participation of women in the workforce and in positions of authority, the election of a black President, and now, the nomination of a female potential-President, as proof of the country’s fortunes. But, the left won’t win this election until they realise that for a huge number of Americans with authoritarian world views, many who feel disenfranchised and resentful due to growing wealth inequality, all these social changes represent an uncomfortable undermining of their perception of their own control over their country.
It’s no coincidence that Trump’s political career grew from his ‘birther’ movement campaign, framing Obama as an ‘illegitimate President’. Julia Gillard faced the same accusations of illegitimacy as Australia’s first female Prime Minister, culminating in misogynistic and sexist abuse by men who could not abide such a shift in the social fabric of their lives, where men were no longer in control. Trump’s constant catch-cry of ‘lock up crooked lying Hillary’ is a metaphorical promise to ‘put that damn woman back in her place!’
Lakoff says the authoritarian viewpoint places the social order in a neat hierarchy of privilege with white men at the top, followed by white women, then black Americans and Latinos, gay people and other cultural, religious and social minorities such as Muslims, cascading down the rungs of power. When authoritarian white men see these groups as gaining more rights, and therefore, in their perspective, undoing the natural social order, it is akin to their delinquent children running the family, and they will do anything to take back control. So we see this play out Trump’s promise to ban Muslim immigration and to make Mexicans build a wall. We see it in literally tens of millions of Americans accepting Trump’s outlandish, nasty, cruel, racist, sexist, defamatory, hypocritical, contradicting and scarily unstable statements, like water off a duck’s back.
It is too simple to just say ‘why are all these Trump supporters so stupid’, or ‘how can they all be so nasty’, or ‘so easily fooled?’ The truth is, it actually doesn’t really matter who Trump is or what he says, or how he says it; all he has to is promise to put white men back on top of the pecking order, and they will fight tooth and nail for him to bring about this outcome. Rational facts, emotive appeals to reason, hope and dignity, are irrelevant.
The left need to realise there isn’t an argument going on where Trump supporters will suddenly feel enlightened by the persuasiveness of a different viewpoint. Until the left understand that Trump supporters want a very different world than the one the Democrats represent, they will never convince them. I don’t have the answers, but it’s clear that the Democrats must start looking at the world through the authoritarian viewpoint in order to understand the end goal of a huge proportion of American voters. This is not to say they should pander to hatred, encourage division, or go down to Trump’s level. But you can’t persuade someone until you understand them, and you’re not going to change someone’s mind until you know what that mind is. The Democrats needs to find a way to frame their policies which works for everyone. The left needs to find a way to show why inclusion is good for everyone, no matter their worldview. And the left needs to get to work, because the problem is getting worse, and the election is only three months away.