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Glenn Tucker: Donald Trump and the religion of fear

Published:Sunday | December 13, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Glenn Tucker
Protesters picket outside a hotel where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addressed a regional police union meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Thursday, December 10.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally coinciding with Pearl Harbour Day on December 7. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced Trump’s recent statements about a prospective ban on Muslims entering the US were he to be elected US president.
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"Extremism in the pursuit of the presidency is an unpardonable vice."

- Lyndon Baines Johnson, speech in New York in reply to Barry Goldwater, October 31, 1964.

The Americans are in a tizzy. And it should come as no surprise that the person behind this is presidential candidate Donald Trump. Since announcing his candidacy several months ago, he has defied every rule of logic to attain and maintain the top position among his Republican

candidates.

In that crowded field, he is the least qualified to run the country. The few policy positions he has taken are as outrageous as they are unworkable. Like building a wall thousands of miles long to keep out Mexicans, then sending the bill to the Mexican government. Or shipping the 11 million undocumented immigrants back from whence they came.

In the meantime, he has managed to insult, denigrate, humiliate or just spread falsehoods about anyone who does not genuflect in his presence. Watch him in an interview for five minutes and, after observing his body language and policy positions ("... nobody can fix the economy ... defeat ISIS ... create jobs, etc., but ME. I don't have the details, just trust me, I'm rich and successful"), one detects some serious and worrying character flaws that could only be observed in the most dreadful dictators in history. He is a mean-spirited, thin-skinned megalomaniac, madly in love with himself.

Best choice for president

Trump's most recent proposal is the ".... total and complete ban on Muslims from entering the US ...". Before he finished reading the statement, I identified breaches of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 15th Amendments. This has sparked the greatest response yet from his own party leaders and even foreign leaders. Even this does not seem to change the minds of his supporters. In fact, it seems to increase his support.

Truth be told, the history of the US is replete with racial exclusion. But religious

exclusion?

So why, in the face of several unworkable and potentially dangerous positions taken by this man, does a growing number of Americans seem to think he is the best choice for president? I have one word for it: FEAR.

We hear, after every tragedy, some leader claim that Americans will bounce back because "... we are strong". BS! The events of 9/11 have altered the psyche of the Americans. They have become fearful. There is more anger in public discourse. Jingoism and its first cousin, patriotism, have increased.

Torture received a name change to enhanced interrogation and was frequently implemented. Congress did what was previously unheard of by giving extensive power to the executive branch. Two hundred new security agencies were formed. And what motivated all these extraordinary happenings? FEAR. And along comes a man who is willing to exploit this for his own advantage. Of course, there is nothing new in Trump's move.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, ending WW1. Germany was humiliated and had to pay reparations and even lost territory. It was in this time of national despair that Adolph Hitler used anti-Semitic sentiment, hatred and fear to gain support. Through hate-filled rhetoric and promises of world domination, Hitler was swept to power by a country desperate to regain some of its former glory.

Just under a thousand miles from Germany, Mussolini was able to gain and retain power in Italy, because of the fear and despair the people were experiencing. They did not feel fairly treated by the terms of the treaty after the Great War and they feared communism. Mussolini sensed this and capitalised on it.

Propaganda and fear

Animal Farm is a political allegory written by George Orwell in 1945. Hinting at the Russian Revolution of 1917 and other totalitarian governments, it shows the critical role that propaganda and fear play in attaining power and controlling people. The story is set on a farm. The despised owner, Mr Jones, disappears mysteriously and the pigs, headed by one called Napoleon, assume power.

Chapter 5 makes the first reference to fear when "... nine enormous dogs wearing brass-studded collars came bounding into the barn ..." The dogs created fear in all the animals and made it easy for Napoleon to ascend to the position of leader of the farm. Fear, propaganda techniques and pinpointing an enemy helped Napoleon to attain and retain power.

Mr Trump's latest proposal is an embarrassment to the entire United States. But support in this fear-filled nation is only growing. This proposal ignores the fact that this is exactly what ISIS wants. For instead of spending so many resources recruiting, this act would make the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world the enemy of the US and available to ISIS. Trump does not have the foreign policy savvy to understand this.

Again, analysts and experts are predicting his demise. But I doubt it. As far as dealing with ISIS is concerned, only he has the solution. And what is that? "... I would bomb the hell out of them, take away their oil, and give some of the money to our veterans ...". But how do you bomb an idea?

Before one dismisses this, however, one has to understand the present mindset of Americans. In a 2014 poll, 78 per cent listed a terrorist attack as their greatest fear. They are scared. What they need is a thinking president like Obama to devise smart policy. But what they want is a noisy, aggressive, bragging bully. Somehow that is what emits an aura of strength. And strength is what fearful people need. More than food!

When he runs out of ideas - which is most of the time, he just resorts to formal syllogystic fallacies - like affirmative conclusions from a negative premise, faulty generalisations - like claiming that after 9/11, thousands of Muslims were celebrating in New Jersey or claiming that Paris and London have 'no-go zones' because they fear Muslims. In response to that, conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson states, "That is complete and utter nonsense." The red herring fallacies are reserved for when reporters stump him in front of a camera.

Terrorist attacks

Interestingly, what is overlooked in all of this is that this fear of terrorist attacks from Muslims is far fewer than

people like Trump suggests. In Europe, for example, only two per cent of such attacks were attributable to Muslims in 2013. The rest were carried out by separatist groups. In the US, the percentage is not much higher.

An FBI study looking at terrorism committed in the US between 1980 and 2005 found that 94 per cent of these attacks were committed by non-Muslims. A 2014 UNC study found that since the 9/11 attacks, Muslim-linked terrorism has claimed the lives of 37 Americans, but 190,000 Americans were murdered during the same period. In fact, 54 planned terrorist attacks in the US were foiled because of tips to the FBI by Muslims.

And if one wants to function at the intellectual level of Mr Trump, one can state, truthfully, that in 2013, it was more likely for an American to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist. In that year, three Americans were killed in the Boston Marathon bombings, while five persons were killed by toddlers - accidentally shooting guns.

Donald Trump has demonstrated, repeatedly, that he is highly unsuitable to lead the most powerful country in the world. But he has demonstrated brilliance and effectiveness in diverting human behaviour through the threat of impending danger. He presents a risk, presents the vulnerability to the risk, then describes a suggested form of protective action which only he can deliver. This works! Ask Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler and others of their ilk. I am worried. Because I would not write him off.

- Glenn Tucker is an educator and sociologist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and glenntucker2011@gmail.com.