Donald Trump has a game plan, a specific, targeted strategy designed with one clear purpose: to discredit you in your own eyes. Trump isn’t consistent on much, but you can depend on this: He’s relentless about convincing you not to trust your senses, to discount the evidence that’s right there in front of you face and to believe him instead.
This is the most disturbing thing about Donald Trump, straight out of an Orwellian world where “war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.”
He’s doing this because it’s not enough that you believe in him, you have to stop believing in yourself. Then he has you. He can control you. You cease to be a freethinking individual and become dependent upon him.
Trump knows he can’t win our trust through consistency. He knows this because he’s seen other politicians try and fail. They’re endlessly scrutinized by a public eager to catch them in one little slip, salivating over the prospect of seeing them break a promise or violate their principles. Seeing a politician fail bolsters our own egos, because we like to think of ourselves as “better than that.” Surely, we wouldn’t be that stupid. Or dishonest.
Because Trump understands this, he’s flipped the script. He doesn’t try to live up to principles; apart from a dedication to protectionist trade policies, he doesn’t appear to have any. Instead, he relies on hollow personal attributes such as name recognition, branding and a swagger calculated to persuade people that his imprimatur defines what’s right and wrong. This is where his business background comes in: He knows you’ll buy a product because you trust the name, even if the quality is questionable. Does anyone think a McDonald’s hamburger is the healthiest, tastiest alternative out there? Of course not. We buy it because it’s familiar.
The bigger the lie, the better
Trump took this principle and applied it to himself. Then, he upped the ante: Once he had established his name, his brand, as a “gold standard,” he began making claims that were not just false, but outrageous: blatant, outright lies. I believe he did so intentionally, to force us to choose between the familiarity of his brand and what our own senses were telling us.
This isn’t just random, unfiltered bravado. It’s a concerted effort to feed us falsehoods backed by such supreme confidence that we’re likely to start questioning our own judgment or even our sanity. He’s drummed this formula into us for years – falsehood laden with bravado – and a significant portion of society has swallowed it.
If someone tries to call him on an outrageous act or statement, he invokes his famous refusal to apologize for anything. In doing so, he puts the ball back into our court, implicitly calling into question our ethics, our judgment and any objective standard apart from himself. In his own mind, he is the ultimate arbiter of what’s good and evil, what’s right and wrong, so of course he never has to apologize. He can change his mind as often as he likes and still be right.
Bill Clinton used the same tactic when he looked directly into the camera and declared, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Trump does the same thing so often it almost seems like force of habit.
He feeds his own cult of personality by casting himself in messianic terms: “I alone can fix it,” he proclaimed at the Republican National Convention. The implication is that we can’t. We need him, because we don’t know what we’re doing, and he does. We stop trusting ourselves and trust him instead – and over time, come to depend on him.
The Apprentice served as the perfect opening act for Trump’s run at the presidency by casting him in the role of judge, jury and executioner: He could fire anyone at will, just because he felt like it. He didn’t need those contestants; they needed him. Now he’s selling the American people the same bill of goods.
None of this has happened overnight. He’s worn us down over time, anesthetizing us by very frequency and audacity of his lies, hammering them home mercilessly and unapologetically until we first accept them and ultimately believe them. Why didn’t he run for president earlier? Like a virus, he had to break down our immunity by repeated attacks on our senses and our reason.
Consider his claims: Barack Obama wasn’t a U.S. citizen, even though he had a birth certificate that said so. Global warming was a “con,” despite plenty of scientific evidence to the contrary. Trump has been a “successful businessman” despite a series of bankruptcies. News he doesn’t like is “fake news.” Polls he doesn’t like are “rigged.”
His inaugural crowd was declared to be the largest in history, despite photographic evidence and numbers that indicate otherwise. When caught in such brazen B.S., he doesn’t turn red-faced with embarrassment or issue a mea culpa. Instead, he trots out surrogates who claim the right to use “alternative facts” when the real ones don’t suit his purpose.
Some have been holding out hope that Trump will change now that he’s president. But why should he? He’s attained the highest office in the land through a calculated strategy of brainwashing that has broken down a nation’s self-confidence and convinced roughly half its voters that they need him to “make America great again.” He’s persuaded self-described Christians to accept an admitted philanderer who prides himself on gaming the system, demonstrates little knowledge of the Bible and has spent more time in nightclubs than in any church. He’s convinced us he’s a “successful businessman” when the vast majority of his businesses have failed.
Trump isn’t just P.T. Barnum, he’s Big Brother in waiting, and he knows that brainwashing doesn’t work if you let up on the gas. It must be inexorable, unrelenting. There must never be any doubt that the master propagandist is right, despite all evidence to the contrary.
How many lights do you see?
Donald J. Trump wants us to take the blue pill from The Matrix so we can believe what we want to believe, and block out all evidence to the contrary. But here’s the catch: We don’t get to take that pill until our beliefs conform to his.
In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Chain of Command, based on Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four), Jean-Luc Picard is tortured by a captor who deprives him of sleep, water, food and comfort but offers him relief if only he’ll state that he sees five lights in front of him. Trump, likewise, promises relief from what he portrays as a nation without hope – a virtual wasteland of communities under siege from “crime, terrorism and lawlessness” with “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape.”
To escape what he sees as the Dystopian States of America, Trump says, we must say there are five lights when we only see four – and not just say it, really believe it. To believe there’s more to him than there really is.
That’s what scares me about Mr. Trump. More than his treatment of women. More than his ignorance on foreign policy. More than his insults toward veterans, Mexican nationals or Muslims.
I’m not suggesting Trump will destroy America. What I am suggesting is that we need to see him as the person who he is: a cunning, devious manipulator who wants us to question our reality and even our sanity so we can trust him to decide what’s good for us.
For me, at least, he doesn’t get to do that.
I’ll take the red pill. There. Are. Four. Lights.