In the wake of the astonishing Helsinki summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, a meeting at which Vlad impaled Donald in front of the entire world, the range of responses here in the United States has been only slightly less mind-boggling. To a few, this was outright treason, or at least a debasement of America by our president, calling for immediate impeachment; to many Republicans in Congress, it was merely a “missed opportunity,” or an embarrassing mistake; to others, it was proof that Putin holds some compromising secret over Trump, whether of a financial or personal nature (also look closely for Putin’s bite marks on his throat). And to many of those lumped together by political analysts and the media as Trump’s Base, the summit was actually a success. They consider it only the visible tip of a giant, submerged iceberg of grand strategy and geopolitical philosophy. The Base agrees that Russia is guilty of something, but Trump, like a canny chess player, must be striking a mega-deal somewhere. He must have a hidden plan, a trump card, up his sleeve. Not only will the Base never abandon our Chaos President, it seems they will cling ever harder to his agenda. Aren’t these mad loyalists suffering from cognitive dissonance, we ask? Aren’t they what Hillary Clinton mistakenly dismissed as the “deplorables?” In my opinion, for Democrats to continue viewing Trump’s Base in this light would create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Trump’s agenda may be racist, misogynist, unethical, hypocritical, dangerous to worldwide stability, pro-dictator, anti-immigrant, pro-wealthy, anti-alliance, pro-global warming, anti-science and environment, and so on. But individuals within the Base are unlikely to hold these values and beliefs, all at the same time. A racist may not be a misogynist, and a coal producer may believe in free trade. However, if continually encouraged to see itself as a homogeneous, faceless mass, the Base will stretch in that direction; individuals will adopt attitudes initially foreign to them. The tolerant will become more racist, the devout will shrug at sin, the scientist will deny evidence. It’s almost as though such behavior is expected of them, and so they comply.
Those who took Psych 101 in college will probably remember the Prisoner/Guard experiment: subjects were randomly divided into two groups, to play the roles of prisoners or prison guards. When their names and individuality were removed– when they were assigned numbers instead, and made to wear uniforms– and then placed on either side of prison barriers, the “guards” became increasingly harsh, sadistic and tolerant of brutality over time, whereas the “prisoners” became submissive and frightened, willing to turn on one another. In anonymity, individuals lost their bearing, giving up their innate compassion, empathy, ethics, principles and willingness to stand up for what they had previously believed.
By thinking of Trump’s Base as some sort of anonymous mob, are we assigning them numbers and uniforms? Many of them are probably spouting opinions about tax reform, immigrants, gays, minorities and victims of sexual harassment that they don’t truly believe (or so I would hope). Cases in point: those embracing economic policies which ultimately hurt them financially, or want to destroy the Affordable Care Act, when the ACA provides their only access to healthcare. Women for Trump. Mexican- and African-Americans for Trump! The poor in rural areas, cheering tax cuts which benefit the top 1%, while waving baseball caps saying Make America Great Again!
In a dystopian fantasy, the faceless Base– repeatedly labeled as such, their resentment cynically fueled by a President who values his own “winning” over the good of the nation, and pushed into a corner by an equally intolerant political left– takes up arms: the perfect setting for Trump to declare martial law and unfurl his true agenda.
In my dystopian novel Child of the Fourth World, nearing completion (and with it, the Fourth World trilogy), the rebel leader Sun Wu Kong contemplates the effect he has had on his followers in the China District. Here’s an excerpt:
His staff had designed the shiny outfit to reinforce his role as an avatar of the Monkey King of legend. Of course, Sun knew perfectly well that the entire concept was nothing more than mystical hogwash, but the rank-and-file had embraced and— judging by their incredible surge of energy— been swept into a frenzy by it. Based on his previous work in the Ministry of Cultural Genetics, Sun suspected that the Han Chinese genome— in particular, the so-called Faith Gene, which 97% of his followers possessed— was in play, predisposing them to believe in the power of religious figures. The Monkey King had revived the troops’ flagging courage, and they had fought like crazed zealots in his name, resulting in a series of near-impossible victories against the PWE. His strategists and field commanders were baffled by their own success: the troops battled as fiercely as wild animals finding themselves trapped in a corner, one officer had suggested. Sheer desperation leading to mass hysteria? That seemed a plausible motivator, others agreed— but perhaps augmented by wishful fantasy.
As a former PWE bureaucrat, Sun understood that post-war modernization of the China District and the alignment of literature and the arts with political thought under the PWE had not altered certain indelible traits lying at the heart of the 22nd-century Chinese mindset. One such trait was the perception that China had always, in one form or another, been under attack by foreign forces: not just the ancient Middle Kingdom or any subsequent form of government, but the people themselves were the target— and these ordinary people were China, even though the country itself no longer existed. The attack on the traditional concept of China, the oppression of its people, came in various forms: military might, economic exploitation, moral and cultural corruption. Against that assault, according to the popular fantasy, there would always come a hero, an underdog who would rise up from defeat and lead the masses to glorious victory.
Why not a divine Monkey King?