Donald Trump, Power Tool of the New Barbarians

With election day in America looming and a previously unthinkable coup threatened by the incumbent, let’s note the significant difference in this latest epic assault on democracy.

Seriously? Donald Trump’s loony agitprop is no less dangerous for its kitsch. It is a means to an end. Photo/Reuters.

Lisa Van Dusen/For The Hill Times

October 8, 2020

During the last two major global clashes between democracy and totalitarianism—unleashed by the rise of fascism that produced the Second World War and of communism that produced the Cold War—ideology was at the core of the battle, at least in theory.

The process of seducing human beings as adherents until the obliteration of democracy makes those same human beings redundant, enslave-able, or dispensable hasn’t really changed much. This time around, there’s more corruption than seduction involved in the wooing of human assets who’ve enabled and expedited outcomes, but the element of sticker shock on the other side of functioning democracy, should it come to that, promises to be just as acute.

The political, geopolitical, and institutional players who’ve been degrading democracy for the past two decades are not interested in ideology beyond the degree to which it can be selectively exploited to rationalize corrupted outcomes. In the current war on democracy, the Trojan Horse of ideology has been stabled except where, depending on the dateline, white supremacy or populism are used as narrative rationales.

The rise of China and Russia as dictatorships deploying 21st-century cyberwarfare to control events within their own borders and disrupt them elsewhere was not about ideology. China’s leveraging of its economic power to produce anti-democracy outcomes in debt-trapped countries is not about communism. The massive migration of covert narrative warfare tools and tactics to politics in democracies is not about ideology. And the agenda of the political players invested in this war who have their own reasons for abhorring democracy has absolutely nothing to do with ideology. The political, geopolitical, and intelligence interests currently using Donald Trump — among other narrative tools — to undermine and discredit democracy care about one thing: power. And because they have no agenda that can be articulated overtly, democracy, as an obstacle to power, is their enemy.

In this war of the worldviews, old school, ends-justify-the-means tactical politics scaled up by technology is the ideology. In this war, the chaos, confusion, corruption, industrialized bullsh*t, misrepresentation, misdirection, previously unthinkable headlines and relentless assaults on normalcy, peace, and authentic reality are the means justified by the end of democracy.

The political, geopolitical, and intelligence interests currently using Donald Trump — among other narrative tools — to undermine and discredit democracy care about one thing: power.

Trump’s presidency has been a deception operation that has weaponized the pre-existing grandiosity, narcissism, unpredictability, and self-styled showmanship of the man to rationalize otherwise imponderable change—the isolation of America, the degradation of multilateralism, the corrosion of public trust, the obfuscation and subjectification of truth—washed down with the ludicrous propaganda trope that Trump is a lone, megalomaniac actor.

That mission is now colliding with the core element of democracy that informs outcomes: electability. You can’t spend every hour of your 35,000-hour presidency acting like a rampaging, vulgar, asinine clown—you can’t preside over the mortal amplification of a pandemic—and believably win re-election unless the entire electorate is more insane than you are. Trump has gone to the totalitarian mattresses and threatened to bulldoze an election because his own anti-democracy scorched-earth presidential performance has made it impossible for him to convincingly rig one over the top.

The good news is that, this time, the interests closing in on democracy are not even pretending to trick out their barbarism as a cause. They’re just hoping that a firehose of rubbish and toxicity will cause such disorientation and disgust that people won’t know what hit them.

“Plunging people into despair closes a perfectly perverse circle,” writes Pope Francis in his latest encyclical, which, whether you’re churchy or not, is well worth the read as a treatise on our current calamity. “Such is the agenda of the invisible dictatorship of hidden interests that have gained mastery over both resources and the possibility of thinking and expressing opinions.”

Not entirely. Not yet.

Lisa Van Dusen is associate editor of Policy Magazine and a columnist for The Hill Times. She was Washington bureau chief for Sun Media, international writer for Peter Jennings at ABC News, and an editor at AP in New York and UPI in Washington.