In amongst all the complexity of an election campaign, there's possibly just one way to stop Trump becoming president.
So a few weeks ago I wrote an essay on how Trump and Brexit could lead to a major war. The essay went viral and I got a lot of feedback. Most of it was supportive, some of it was not. My main point was not that there will be a war, but that apparently quite trivial moments in history can lead to cataclysms, and only the benefit of hindsight allows us to see those links, but by then it's too late.
As I tried to explain, when Archduke Ferdinand was shot in Bosnia, I doubt anybody sat back and said, "Wow, I bet that leads to 17 million people dying in a huge world war." Equally, when Marx and Engel sat down for a beer and decided to knock out some essays, the waiter bringing them their drinks didn't pause to worry that these guys might come up with an ideology that would lead to the death of tens of millions of people. This hadn't happened before, so nobody was looking out for it. These things happen because we can't see them coming. This century should benefit from the lessons of the 20th century, yet at the moment it seems we are collectively blind to all of that.
Of course, the beauty of future history is that it is so infinitely complex it is just a big unknown. If the assassin had missed Archduke Ferdinand, would WW1 have happened anyway? Without WW1, would Hitler have remained a harmless mediocre artist? Would WW2 have happened, and so on. Perhaps without all of this, some other trigger would have caused a similar set of events, who knows.
People like Trump divide societies and create scapegoats -- and that never ends well.
But my point was that Trump bears all the hallmarks of an early Hitler. A narcissistic demagogue who can hold a crowd, create a following and uses exactly the same techniques to manipulate people as all the previous dictators. People like Trump divide societies and create scapegoats, and that never ends well. Once you start a fight like that, it will get out of control.
Now plenty of people will say, "You can't compare Trump to Hitler, don't be stupid!" I agree. Trump has not killed millions of people or started a world war. I am not making that comparison. The comparison is not between Trump of 2016 and Hitler of the 1940s -- the Hitler of history. The comparison is between Trump of 2016 and Hitler of the late 1920s. This basic timeline shows how Hitler wasn't "Hitler" for many years. By the time it was clear he posed a real threat, it was too late to stop him. For plenty of time, he was just a shouty git man who could have disappeared into historical obscurity if he had been stopped.
That's Trump now.
I am comparing Trump now to Hitler as he made speeches in beer halls, as he started sowing the seeds of hatred towards the Jews, and other minorities. Nobody worried that he would lead to a huge war. Even when he started invading European countries our own leaders were still talking about negotiating with him and hoped he'd go away and not cause too much fuss. By the time he was a problem, it was too late.
History does tell us some useful things. It tells us that demagogues and divisive politicians never work out well. Trump is a demagogue. He singles out minorities to focus people's hatred. What he says about Mexicans and Muslims is, in a different historical context, no different to what Hitler said about the Jews in his earlier speeches. That should alarm anyone who thought that WW2 was a bad idea.
And no, I am not fear-mongering. Fear-mongering implies using unfounded fear to unduly influence people's opinions. To the people who said my last essay was, in various words, a pile of idiotic fear-mongering, my point is that the fear I monger is very real, and is proven again and again by history to be dangerous. If you dismiss it as idiotic or drivel, as some of my less contemplative readers did before, you ignore all the lessons we have learned through the deaths of tens of millions of people in the 20th Century and walk blindly into another big mess. Or as I put it before, the health warning on the side of a packet of cigarettes is not fear-mongering, it is based on historical precedent and the collective opinion of experts.
So how do we deal with the people who say this is idiotic fear-mongering? How do we deal with the people who think Trump is anything from harmless through to great?
This article, by neuroscientist Bobby Azarian is brilliant. It explains how a variety of known neurological responses are triggered by Trump in his supporters.
Firstly, Azarian wheels in the Dunning-Kruger effect. The danger of Dunning-Kruger is that because it's so funny it risks falling into the same category as the Darwin Awards, when in fact it's a serious bit of science. Dunning-Kruger, in a nutshell, says that people who are incompetent are too incompetent to realize they are incompetent. As Azarian explains:
And if one is under the illusion that they have sufficient or even superior knowledge, then they have no reason to defer to anyone else's judgment. This helps explain why even nonpartisan experts -- like military generals and Independent former Mayor of New York/billionaire CEO Michael Bloomberg -- as well as some respected Republican politicians, don't seem to be able to say anything that can change the minds of loyal Trump followers.
Azarian also explains Terror Management Theory and hyper sensitivity to threat, and that Trump is a fantastic orator who can hold the attention of his audience, as was Hitler, by the way. These people attract followers who become essentially addicted to them, and as we saw with Germany in the 1930s, we saw with Stalin, we see with North Korea now, and are seeing with America, such followers will eventually believe anything and do anything their leader says. History is full of this happening. It is a human thing.
It is easier to not vote than to vote against your beliefs. But people should learn from the UK's Referendum on leaving the EU.
Azarian finishes with this conclusion:
So what can we do to potentially change the minds of Trump loyalists before voting day in November? As a cognitive neuroscientist, it grieves me to say that there may be nothing we can do. The overwhelming majority of these people may be beyond reach, at least in the short term. The best we can do is to motivate everyone else to get out to the booths and check the box that doesn't belong to a narcissistic nationalist who has the potential to damage the nation beyond repair.
His point, which I agree with, is we're now beyond trying to reason with hardcore Trump supporters. The ones who get ecstatic at his rallies, and don't question even the most outlandish or stupid things he says. This is the Dunning-Kruger crowd. There's no point trying to reason with them.
I would suggest that the focus of people trying to stop Trump from winning should be the rational, reasonable Republicans who are now lost and confused. As we've seen with Meg Whitman's defection to Clinton, there are plenty of reasonable, intelligent Republicans who are horrified by Trump and are beginning to realize that, much as it may cause their blood to curdle, they have to vote for Hillary to avoid Trump ruining their country. They deserve everyone's love and support right now, as they're going through a complicated moment and they are terribly important for everyone else.
I have no strong opinions about Hillary Clinton either way, but realize she's very divisive to some Americans. So it's unfortunate that the only alternative to Trump is someone who people either love or really hate. It is really tough to ask those who hate her to vote for her but that is now the only option if they do not want Trump to win.
Trump will most likely win this election based on how many people don't vote, not on how many vote for him. So this election is all about the anti-Hillary Democrats and, anti-Trump Republicans.
Those who want to stop Trump should not waste their energy arguing with his core voters. Focus your attention on:
1. Bernie Sanders supporters who hate Hillary Clinton
2. Republicans who hate Trump
3. People who hate politicians and think the system is rigged
These people are very likely not to vote at all. It is easier to not vote than to vote against your beliefs.
But people should learn from the UK's Referendum on leaving the EU. Roughly speaking, just over 30 percent of people voted to Leave, just under 30 percent of people voted to Remain, and around 30 percent of people didn't vote. We will never know what they thought. So 60 percent of people did not vote to leave the EU, but we're still leaving the EU.
In the USA, it will be the non-voters who give Trump a victory, not his core voters.
So if you want to stop Trump, focus your attention on engaging with these three groups. They need to realize this election is about more than politics; it's above partisan groupings and above personalities and 24/7 news feeds. It has become a binary turning point between something good or something bad. Forget Hillary; it is really about voting for Trump -- or voting to stop him.
Those who want to stop Trump need to find a Sanders supporter who hates Hillary, or a Republican who hates Trump, and persuade them to vote for Hillary Clinton because that is a vote for the future of America, and a vote against someone who, history warns us, is trouble.
Forget Mexicans and walls, economics -- in fact, forget arguing about any sort of policy, fact, statistic or ideology, as these can all be argued against and are now a distraction. Focus just on the idea that demagogues who divide societies and use scapegoats are bad.
If you are a Hillary-supporting Democrat, your job now is to make friends with the people who will swing this election -- don't argue against them.
American needs a period of calm to sort out whatever social divisions have allowed Trump to come to power. American needs a political term to address the loss of faith in politics, the messed up way elections are funded, and the gulf between rich, poor, involved and disenfranchised. Hillary may not be the best person to oversee this period, but she's the only option now, so people just have to get behind her even if they loathe her.
Some Republicans are showing great courage and dignity in doing so, and are the real American patriots. Applaud and champion them even if you are not a Republican. Bernie Sanders has shown the same restraint and dignity in getting behind Hillary, but many of his supporters are not following his lead. They will be the ones who, ironically, lead to President Trump. They need to be told that if they do not vote, they are supporting Trump.
Focus all your efforts on getting the people who don't vote to get out and vote. Comfort and hug the people who hate Hillary, and help them into the polling stations. Tell them you know it hurts, but assure them that history will applaud them. For a Hillary supporter, it's easy to vote Hillary. But if you are a Hillary-supporting Democrat, your job now is to make friends with the people who will swing this election -- don't argue against them. Talk about the danger of demagogues and the need to stop this one in his tracks.
Tell them that under President Clinton they will enjoy the freedom to disagree with everything you say and think, and will have the opportunity to vote her out in favor of whoever rises from the ashes of the Republican firestorm that will no doubt follow this election. Tell them you welcome the chance for them to vote out the leader you like, because that means democracy came out on top, and America remained true to its dream.
But for that to happen they have to vote, and they have to vote against Trump. Americans who believe in democracy now need to join forces, build bridges, and go together into the polling stations, Republicans, Sanderites, and Clintonites arm in arm on a single mission to stop Trump.
History is full of novels and films about what would have happened if someone had killed Hitler before he became the Hitler of history. You have the chance now to stop Trump before he becomes the Trump that history will write about. If you fail, those books will have chapters on the people who let Trump win by not voting. That is where the battle lies now.
A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.