The Trump narrative is a familiar ‘loser wins’ confidence trick
The United States presidential election has degenerated into an unprecedented assault against the bedrock institutions of American democracy. Donald Trump is no longer running against Hillary Clinton. He is now campaigning against the entire American system through hysterical and paranoid rhetoric about an evil plot by corrupt global elites.
In a 2005 video, Mr Trump boasted about routinely sexually assaulting women. During the second debate he insisted he would never do anything like that and it was just “locker room talk”. But in recent days at least 11 women offered accounts, spanning several decades, that indicate Mr Trump was telling the truth on the video and lying during the debate.
It has become clear to everyone that he cannot win. His reaction has been that of a wounded animal, enraged and bleeding, wildly lashing out in all directions.
Proclaiming his “shackles” removed, he declared war on his own “disloyal” party, particularly Paul Ryan, the house speaker. He seems to be not only willing but eager to pull the entire American political edifice down with him.
When his fortunes waned in late summer, Mr Trump began darkly warning about the election “being rigged”. He mothballed such rhetoric during the autumn as his prospects improved somewhat. Now, with virtually no chance of winning, he is emphasising the “rigged election” theme, calling it “one big ugly lie”.
Mr Trump is indoctrinating his followers with a paranoid narrative that is virtually cut and pasted from the alt-right Breitbart.com website and ripped from the pages of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, giving it a distinctly anti-Semitic subtext.
There is no American democracy, Mr Trump insists, only “a small handful of global special interests rigging the system”. Mrs Clinton meets secretly with the “international banks” that control the “Clinton machine” which lies at the conspiracy’s centre. The media are just another “political special interest”, as the sexual assault coverage demonstrates. His accusers are unattractive, he adds, weirdly implying that he might have assaulted prettier women.
American elections are rigged, and polls fabricated (unless they show him winning). The courts, with “Mexican” judges from Indiana, are also hopelessly biased.
This conspiracy involves such strange bedfellows as Republican party leaders, government agencies, Mexico, China and “Islamic terrorists”.
Alone against this near-universal cabal of evil, which is on the brink of triumph, stands Mr Trump. Only he can save civilisation. His (entirely self-inflicted) political meltdown is cast as a Christ-like martyrdom. “I take all of these slings and arrows gladly for you – gladly,” Mr Trump tells his enraptured acolytes.
By systematically discrediting all other governance and civic institutions, Mr Trump leaves only an all-powerful president.
Both major political parties, the courts, media, financial institutions and so on, have all betrayed the American people and are working together to destroy the country. No wonder many Trump supporters, including Paul LePage, the governor of Maine, openly yearn for an “authoritarian” Trump presidency.
The Trump narrative is a familiar “loser wins” confidence trick. If he wins it will be despite the election and the system being “rigged”, though he does not explain how that could happen. If he loses, that will just prove they are indeed “rigged”.
If his followers really believe that the Trump campaign is “a struggle for the survival of our nation”, and the election was “our last chance to save it” but was “rigged”, why would – and how could – they calmly and peacefully accept Mrs Clinton’s victory?
In August Mr Trump darkly implied that only “Second Amendment people” (ie, gun owners) could “do something” about a Clinton presidency. And he has frequently incited violence against protesters at his rallies.
By insisting the system is rigged, the future of civilisation is at stake, and violence is a legitimate political tool, Mr Trump is inviting an outburst of violence after the election. Media reports are replete with Trump supporters warning of revolution, a coup, or at least bloodshed if he loses.
Violence could begin as early as election day, with Mr Trump recklessly urging his supporters to “monitor” polling places, especially in minority districts to “make sure that this election is not stolen from us”.
Following the Republican convention, I wrote that Mr Trump demonstrated “what American authoritarianism looks like”. Since then he has intensified his extremism and demagoguery, seeking to explain his impending defeat through a “stabbed in the back” fairy tale.
Authoritarianism is no longer an adequate term. It’s far too mild. This is American fascism.
Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington
On Twitter: @ibishblog
Updated: October 16, 2016 04:00 AM