If/When Trump Goes Down, What Are the Takeaways For Us All?

If you don’t learn the lessons of history you’re forced to repeat them, but just what are those lessons? Hitler and Stalin were short guys with mustaches. So is the lesson that we should never tolerate short, mustached leaders?


It’s too soon to call Trump history. We may be in for a very long reign. Still, it’s not too soon to start gleaning lessons. Lessons would help the triage we must do now. There are way too many wrongs to fight. We have to prioritize, honing in on core wrongs or else our resistance becomes diffuse and impotent.

So hitch your hope that Trump becomes history to a quest to discover the core wrongs. Imagine that Trump goes down, we all sigh in relief and get right to work learning and teaching the right lessons, so history doesn’t repeat itself. What are they?

First, if Trump goes down, we won’t be in the clear. Though the Koch brother cabal did not officially support Trump’s election, it got a big leg up with his win and has been gaining a foothold ever since. Though Trump could well be a flake and a fluke who flames out, the cabal is anything but. It won’t probably fall into the ash heap of history with him. Pence and Ryan are nestled deep in the Koch cabal’s deep pockets, a reason we need to focus on Kochs now more than Trump.

If, like me, you’ve been mystified by the country’s weird jackknifing toward sociopathology dressed up as libertarianism, the cabal explains it neatly, far better than psychological developments in a disaffected middle America. There’s a deep long con going on. Relative to it, Trump may be a fleeting distraction.

Still, to defend against Trump, the cabal or any other force that would overthrow our democratic republic, psychology matters, and there’s been no better psychology teacher than Trump, a cartoon negative role model who can teach us how not to use our noggins.

Learning the psychological takeaways from Trump wouldn’t be the first time in history that a close call inspired a psychological wakeup call. The Renaissance that birthed the modern era started when Florence sighed in relief as Milan’s attempted siege ended with the black-plague death of Milan’s leader. But Florentines didn’t just celebrate. They sobered up about their weak citizenry. They launched an education campaign to teach all liberated citizens the arts of rhetoric and logic, basically how to spin and unspin arguments. That was the birth of the liberal arts education, an effort to sharpen citizens’ BS detectors.

What makes an argument BS? The key concept is the “fallacy,” basically a fake reason, a reason that feels significant but isn’t, reasons that earn more credibility than they should. I think of fallacies as “undicators” arguments that sound like they indicate one way or another, but in fact indicate nothing. 

Sharpening people’s BS detectors by teaching them how to use fake reasons? “How does that work?” you might ask. Since spin is the opposite of unspin, rhetoric and logic are two sides of the same coin. If you learn how to use rhetoric, you also learn how to spot and reject the rhetoric that others use. 

It is possible to teach rhetoric without teaching logic. And quite a few students of both use them to be better con artists. Our most unreasonable spin doctors are masters of rhetoric and logic. But they use them selectively, using rhetoric to support their campaigns, while acting like logic Nazis to discredit their opponents.

We often think of these spin doctors as black-and-white thinkers. They’re not. They’re black and white about being right but to make their case they’re relentlessly subtle and nuanced with logic in their attempts to prove that we can’t rule out their arguments.

A focus on fake reasons helps us make literal sense of the difference between being reasonable and unreasonable. Being reasonable means supplying real, evidence-based reasons for what you believe. Being unreasonable means giving fake reasons or even no reasons for what you believe. 

The Koch cabal that took over the Republican Party has been experimenting for years with how unreasonable they can be without getting rejected. Trump is the culmination of those experiments played out on noggins pre-softened by educational decline and the Koch’s relentless message massaging.

Learning the lessons of Trump’s history as it unfolds helps us fight him now, and prevent future would-be dictators from succeeding. And there’s a third reason to start gleaning the lessons of present history. We all deal with would-be dictators, know-it-alls in our work and personal lives. These lessons apply to dealing with them too.

Here’s a list of future history takeaways to take to heart. First, it can happen here. Every country has citizens and outsiders who want to become its dictator so they can fleece it for personal gain. Ours is no exception.

All would-be dictators...

...claim to be saving us from other would-be dictators. There are no exceptions to this. So don’t think that because someone claims to be protecting you, they are.

…disguise their plan for dominance with a claim to embrace some popular ideology. The ideology doesn’t matter to them as anything more than cover for their power grab. So don’t assume that the ideology determines whether someone is a dictator. Any popular ideology will do including whatever ideology appeals most to you.

…celebrate their ideology as the cure for dictatorship while using their ideology as an excuse for imposing dictatorship. Fred Koch, the Koch brother’s father and ideological mentor worked with Stalin but hated communist ideology. He supported fascism as the cure for communism. Perhaps out of loyalty to Stalin or just as a product of sloppy thinking, he ignored the fact that communism wasn’t the problem, dictatorship was, and he and his sons went on to promote dictatorship here too. So fight fire with fire but don’t try to counter-radicalize the radicals or you’ll be out of the frying pan into the fire.

…are willing to say anything to gain and maintain their power. So wondering whether they know they’re lying is a waste of time. Whether they’re lying is irrelevant to them.

…act like they believe their lies simply because they’re more convincing when they do. So don’t assume that their convictions mean anything.

…act as though they’re the supreme judges deciding every debate they enter. So don’t buy in. They are not the final authorities on whether they’re right.

…act as though they see reality without illusion and everyone who disagrees with them is deluded. Don’t buy it even if you agree with their version of reality.

…vilify everyone who disagrees with them. They treat both support and opposition as vindicating evidence that they’re right about everything. If you disagree with them, you’re the enemy of truth. So don’t be deterred, and look out for self-winding movements, political movements that like self-winding watches get wound up no matter how you shake them.

…project relentlessly. They accuse others of doing what they’re doing, pretending to be purists who would never even consider doing the things that in fact they’re doing. So even if you are bothered by their opponent’s faults don’t assume that the would-be dictator is purer. The person who shrieks loudest about the faults of others is more likely a hypocrite than a purist.

…use terms like bias, opinion, generalization, judgment, prejudice and “living in a bubble” as though they identify symptoms of rare pathologies, rather than what they really are, inescapable features of everyone’s processes of interpretation. So take such accusations as evidence of hypocrisy, not high standards.

…win over crowds of gullible people by acting immune to all challenges. To the gullible, their ideas, plans and presentation aren’t as important as the fact that no one lands a punch on them because they’re too slippery to defeat in rational exchange.

…caution you to doubt yourself, while spouting supposed certainties. So when you place a bet, don’t be thrown by their cautions against hasty judgment. Doubt, then bet confidently.

A Few Further Takeaways

Think carefully about your principles. Don’t assume that because you have embraced some popular notion of virtue in opposition to some popular notion of vice, you are now on the side of virtue. If you’re certain that you are part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

When someone implies some supposedly absolute rule for behaving virtuously, look for a counter-case in which the virtue becomes a vice. If you can find one, apparently it’s not an absolute rule. Would-be dictators are fond of pulling out of thin air such supposedly universal rules to defend themselves. They don’t live by them. They just use them to bully others.

Honesty about opinions and honesty about reality are two different things. Many people thought Trump was honest because he spoke his mind. By that standard, it’s honest to argue that guns should be banned because every gun is used to kill a kitten.

Don’t treat fair and balanced reporting as equal representation of divergent opinions. Would-be dictators get attention by presenting radical opinions, thereby skewing what counts as fair and balanced.  Fair does not equal 50/50. By that ridiculous standard, the fair solution to Hitler would be killing 3 million Jews, halfway between Hitler’s proposed 6 million and the Jew’s zero Jews killed.

Reality wins all debates, not whomever voices their newsy and noisy opinion loudest and with deepest faith in themselves. Keep your eyes on the prize, working with reality to achieve the best tomorrow.

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