The ascent from madman to tyrant to dictator is unfortunately not a novel story. Tragically history reveals that all too often men who come from shockingly unremarkable origins, not particularly talented or intelligent become the most dangerous, murderous demagogues. Now more than ever we must understand the mechanisms these men use to propel themselves into positions of power and maintain that power while committing the most shocking atrocities the world has ever seen.
The events at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 were shocking despite having been predicted many, many times over the last 4 years. Although Trump's supporters continued to dismiss these concerns as the hyperbolic rambling of the leftist press, always out to demonize Trump and depict him as a madman, the fact that so much of the country shared a serious concern over Trump's potential for staging a coup, one needs to ask why there was so much concern.
The possibility of what happened on January 6 was widely reported by the media. A simple Google search for "Donald Trump refuses to leave after the election" reveals scores of articles. These articles and reports were not based on some theoretical psychological model of Trump but on reports from people close to Trump who were leaking warnings out to the press. When questioned in September and October Trump refused to say whether he would accept the results of the election, diverting often to his question of the validity of the electoral process, reminding people he and complained "many times about the ballots".
As his rhetoric grew through October he set the stage for his refusal to leave and many sensed this was the beginning of the end for a hopefully peaceful transfer if he lost. There was talk of using the military to protect him as he refused to leave after a Biden win. This of course would not be viable because on Jan 20 after a Biden win Biden would be commander in chief. His only option was to enrage and mobilize his base, delegitimize the election through Stop the Steal, and send his own army to the Congress to prevent the certification. Immediately after his loss he launched into full scale into "Operation Alternate Reality" where he took his rage filled devoted army into a two month tour of duty in fantasy land. Trump and his sycophants on the right were the generals in his misinformation war. They threw every allegation of election fraud like spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick.
The conspiracy over ballots started before the election. The Republicans who rely heavily on voter suppression to win, looked at mail in ballots as a nuclear threat. Accessibility to the ballot terrifies them. When they lost court cases attempting to restrict the mail in ballot, videos by right wing provocateurs showing "discarded Trump ballots" and "ballot harvesting" most easily debunked served to ramp up the base ahead of the election. Trump also encouraged his followers to go to polling stations and "monitor" the elections. This was clearly an attempt to intimidate in person Democratic voters and ultimately were used to intimidate election officials.
As court cases failed one after another, Trump's base was taken on a roller coaster ride of emotion - they were elated with every report of Guiliani and Sydney Powell's "new evidence" blasted over the airwaves of Fox News night after night. "PROOF!!" they promised knowing these court cases would fail. Every time the court cases failed the message was the same "They are all against us. These Democrat judges" Even though Republicans also said the cases had no evidence. But facts were irrelevant to the devoted who merely dismissed any complicit Republican as a member of the "deep state".
The fatal flaw in their attack on ballots was that recounts and verification would reveal that Biden actually did win. Having painted themselves into a corner with this conspiracy theory they launched "Operation Dominion" accusing the voting machine of switching votes from Biden to Trump. This solved the problem that the ballots actually showed a Biden win. Of course they did because when people voted for Trump, as the theory goes, the Dominion machines, with Smartec software flipped the vote and printed a paper receipt saying that vote was for Biden.
But time was not on their side. This was a whole new conspiracy and although Trumps faithful lapped it up without any question, to prove anything would take time. This led to the attempt to delay the certification. All of these self created hurdles never had any other purpose but to cause this emotionally erratic up and down, this pendulum swinging from elation to rage further destabilized the mental state of his base. He was winding them up for the siege of January 6. Behind the scenes his operatives Mike Flynn, "Q", Ali Alexander were organizing a show of force event by Trump's "army".
Even Forbes wrote an article as early as September 21, 2020 questioning the repeated use of militaristic language on Trump's reelection page. Forbes asked if this call to "enlist" in the "The Trump Army" were truly a call to arms. Now we know, that's exactly what they were.
But the larger question is how does a demagogue-- anot particularly intelligent or well spoken one-- create an entire segment of the populace who are so impervious to facts that they live in a reality bubble where Trump is elevated to an almost god-like status. The only modern day equivalent I know of is Kim Jong Un of North Korea. We often hear about Kim's brutal regime but in a fascinating look inside the country, journalist Lisa Ling spoke to North Koreans who appeared to be so emotionally devoted to Kim, who, in spite of his cruelty, is deified. They weep when speaking of their love for him, not unlike some did for Mao. But unlike these two demagogues, Trump does not exist in a repressive environment where any and all information is suppressed. So how do his devotees continue their disillusionment?
Much has been written about the psychological profile of the Trump voter, their emotions of being "forgotten" and all the things that made their minds open to the violation of what Trump brought on them. True that information silos are a big part of it and emotional attachment to a narrative maintains the bubble. But this leads to the question I want to address in more detail.
As Trump delved deeper and deeper into fantasy land, any news organization or official who wanted to maintain the smallest bit of credibility started to ask for receipts from Guiliani and Powell and other politicians who were clearly advocating for things that they had failed to provide proof of. Even those at Fox News wavered on certain points, shifting their narrative more exclusively to fear mongering of the left and victimization of Trump rather than be called out on baseless reporting. Lou Dobbs the last remaining hold out on the Dominion/Smartec conspiracy was threatened with litigation and did a half hearted retraction that one journalist described as "having all the sincerity of a hostage video"
Trump had already signaled to his base that Fox was on thin ice for their less than fanatical devotion to him and at this point many had already drifted to more extreme networks, Newsmax and One America News Network. Trump supporters bragged online that they were marching away from anyone who didn't toe the Trump line. The same happened on social media. As Facebook and Twitter began to add tags to debunked claims, those seeking to reinforce their echo chamber fled to Parler.
This is an important dynamic because it shows a shift in power from those being led to now doing the leading. Victims of propaganda are usually seen as people who are disadvantaged emotionally and psychologically and who are misled by the lies they are told. But no one seems to be talking about how these people INSISTED on the continual flow of bad information.
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