As the world knows, ISIS leaders and those whom they inspire carry out atrocities with much dedication. They create three distinct mental states: terror, fascination, and dissociation.
Watching news accounts of these events we experience the first two. With reflection we recognize the third mental state: dissociation. In daydreams, drowsy naps, and immersion in movies, our unified consciousness dissolves. During dissociative states we do not act. We sit transfixed by a movie unaware of time passing. The lights come up and we wake with a start. Daydreams produced by boredom and dissociation produced by exciting movies are harmless; dissociation produced by terror is not. If a movie is too intense we leave; if a nightmare is too frightening we wake up. How can we wake up from terror all around us? Who will deliver us from evil?
The answer is a hero who shall revenge the evil done to us and who shall defeat the Evil One. Donald Trump and his rival, Ted Cruz, offer themselves for that role. Regarding ISIS, Cruz recently declared that he, unlike President Obama, would defeat them:
We won't weaken them. We won't degrade them. We will utterly destroy them. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. We will arm the Kurds. We will do everything necessary so that every militant on the face of the earth will know if you go and join ISIS, if you wage jihad and declare war on America, you are signing your death warrant.
How Senator Cruz will do this and using what additional weapons not yet deployed is not spelled out. Cruz adds a modern twist by echoing biblical passages about God's wrath. In the book of Genesis, God, a very angry father, threatens his creatures:
And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. (Genesis 6:7).
Donald Trump, the current front-runner in the Republican contest, seems less keen on biblical passages and more keen on himself. Although Mr. Trump has recently declared that the Bible is the world's greatest book, his book, The Art of the Deal, is second. Pinhead academics might suggest that Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Immanuel Kant wrote pretty good books, too. They don't matter; they're dead, they're not on TV; none was super-rich. They also dealt with ideas.
The Rise of Donald Trump: No Ideas, Please
The rise and continued prominence of Donald Trump is perplexing if one thinks that politics is rational. In the recent past, Mr. Trump has been for Democrats, now against them; for single-payer health care, now against it; for a wealth tax now against it. Neutral observers have assembled lists of his contradictions. It's not surprising that the Republican establishment loathes Mr. Trump: they prefer consistency, rational policies, long-term solutions to long-term problems. He does not.
Mr. Trump has no intrinsic direction, except to win. If the majority of Republican voters wanted a coherent leader they would not adore Donald Trump. We conclude, therefore, that they do not seek coherence. They want what Trump offers: a charismatic, angry father whose disdain for reasoning pleases them. They want to feel Trump's sureness, his supreme self-confidence. In a November 18 speech this year in Worcester, Massachusetts, Trump addressed major problems and offered his solutions:
The threat of ISIS--Win
"We are going to win with ISIS, and boy are we going to win with them and we are [going to] win with them and we are going to do it fast."
The immigration crisis--Build a big, good-looking wall
"It's going to be strong, it's, it's going to be powerful, it's going to look good. As good as a wall can look."
Health care--It will be great
"[We] are going to have great health care. The American dream is dead but we are going to make it bigger, better, better, stronger than ever, ever, ever before."
It is not surprising that those who most fear ISIS and other terrorists groups support Trump. Many commentators view Mr. Trump as someone who verges on fascism. Some pundits call Trump's followers "goose-steppers," evoking image of Nazi 'Brownshirts,' thugs who supported Adolph Hitler in his rise to political power in Germany in the early 1930s.
This seems extreme. Mr. Trump and Senator Cruz do not speak like fascists. They do not disdain American laws; they do not incite violence, they do not (directly) denigrate racial or religious groups. They are not fascists. It will help to consider a man who was.
First Rate Fascism: Benito Mussolini and His Restless Men
The Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) exemplified European fascism between 1922 and 1943. Writing for the Italian Encyclopedia in 1932, Mussolini explained that his National Fascist Party had overcome the need for thoughtful deliberations: "Fascism is action and it is thought." Or, as he put it, Fascists are not violent men, though many do "belong to the restless but meditative class."
When asked by Italian socialists to explain his political program, Mussolini--who saw himself as Hitler's mentor--replied, "The Socialists ask what is our program? Our program is to smash the skulls of the Socialists." True to his word, Mussolini sponsored numerous attacks on numerous people. His restless colleagues carried out these attacks with vigor. Because fascism requires a constant state of war, street scuffles and crimes against individuals evolved quickly into all-out war and crimes against whole nations.
Trump is not a fascist in the mode of Mussolini. He is a charismatic demagogue. Like Mussolini, charismatic demagogues disdain thinking about complex events. Unlike Mussolini, they do not use violence. Instead, they amplify their followers' emotions, their self-importance, especially their anxiety. Having increased his followers' anxiety Trump quenches it. His answer--Join me!--provides a paternal answer. In contrast to mere politicians who offer plans, Trump offers his personal genius. Our anxiety melts in his superiority, by his uncanny ability to embody winning. The charismatic leader provides a child's ideal of father: strong, all wise, powerful, masterful. In exchange for obedience he promises loving protection.
The shameless part of Trump's speeches is his easy slide from a complex issue, like immigration, to horror stories. For example, in his November 18 speech he mulled over the word "illegal immigrant" and then added a story about a violent immigrant:
You had a woman, actually you had a veteran, a 66 year-old woman, raped and sodomized and killed four weeks ago in Los Angeles.
This terrible crime is unforgettable; the fact that illegal immigration is a net gain, for Arizona at least, fades away.
All candidates tell emotional stories and make grand promises. Senator Obama promised "Change" and "Hope" in his 2008 campaign. These terms are vague but the feelings Obama produced in many were positive. When Trump free-associates on the stump he generates anxiety and rage. There is nothing criminal in Mr. Trump's message. Unlike Mussolini, he does not demand violence against citizens. However, his angry-father rhetoric is damaging and it may embolden marginal people to harm others. Stoking fears of "the Muslims" alienates millions of American citizens who deserve respect and whose goodwill and love of this country we need now more than ever.