There's a brilliant film called “The Wave”, which is both one of the best and most unsettling films I’ve ever watched. And, unfortunately, I think it can explain how someone with beliefs as abhorrent as Trump was able to become the president.
“The Wave” is based on a true story about an experiment that took place in a high school in California. Tasked with teaching about autocracy, but faced with resistance from his students, the teacher started an experiment to demonstrate how dictatorships come about and the conditions needed for them to exist. Nationalism was one of the first factors discussed. Since they were a classroom of students there was no nation for them to defend therefore a common enemy was set up instead which did the same job as it untied them all in a common belief against something.
The experiment quickly spiraled out of control.
We all fundamentally as human beings want to feel part of a tribe. That's why it causes so much heartache and pain if we’re shunned socially or by our peer group. We feel a need to belong, which is hardly surprising given that in more primitive days safety would have been found in numbers. We would have done much better protecting ourselves against a wild animal that came to attack, for example, if we were part of a clan than if we were on our own.
A shared enemy satisfies that primitive desire in us; it creates a sense of belonging. The strongest and easiest way to bind people together from one country is therefore nationalism. It provides a shared belief to bond over and implicit in it is an “us against them” mentality. Nationalism isn't just about being proud of your country, it's about thinking your country, and by default you, are better than others.
That's what the whole of Trump’s campaign was about. The line “Make America Great Again” is all about nationalism and pitting Americans against anyone from outside. All of his campaigning was along the lines of ‘Our country has gone down the toilet but we’re the best so it couldn't possibly have been us that caused it. Let’s blame “the other”.’ It doesn't really matter who “the other” is to be honest as long as there's one to blame.
Trump’s campaign was full of hate speech using terms like "these people", calling the media "the world’s most dishonest people" so anything negative about him wouldn't be believed and generally running his rallies like pantomimes. His speeches were purposefully inflammatory in the ways they were worded causing reactions of boos and jeers when discussing “the enemy”. Not to mention the speeches where he'd literally just rally the crowd by shouting ‘USA, USA, USA’. He might as well have just gone all “Team America” on us and shouted ‘AMERICA F*#K YEAH.’
He wasn't saying anything in those chants, nor imparting any knowledge or information about his plans. All he was doing was forming solidarity. Solidarity of the most toxic kind, nationalism.
I’ve read a lot of disturbing conversations recently; most notably I’ve seen large numbers of people claiming you should think your country is the best in the world.
No you shouldn't.
Be proud of you country if you want. Be proud that it is a lot less oppressive of woman's rights than many other countries (although let's see how long that lasts now) but thinking you're the best is a corrosive view point since implicit in that is the assumption and belief than others are inferior to you and your country. That’s how Trump was able to win the election and why we shouldn’t be surprised that he did. He used the same techniques that dictators have been using for years to create allegiance to them. It didn’t matter what most of his policies were because ‘USA, USA, USA’.
Now the most powerful country in the world has a sexist racist megalomaniac for a leader. And we will all be affected by it. Not just America but the world.
I thought it was bad enough when the UK decided to breed and encourage nationalism with Brexit but now it's happened to American too.
And I'm terrified. The results of that one-week experiment in “The Wave” were not good. I dread to think what the results of this worldwide experiment that we now seem to be playing will be.
In the words of Trump himself:
“One of they key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace. Good people don’t go into government.”