Two tools for defeating Trump
While progressives and even most moderates seem to have no trouble accepting that being gay or transgender is not a matter of personal choice, they seem to be unable to accept the fact that most authoritarians have the same kind of innate response to demagogues. I use the term “authoritarian” in the psychological sense, specifically those who score high in Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) as defined by psychologist Bob Altemeyer. As he states in his (free) book The Authoritarians (https://theauthoritarians.org/Downloads/TheAuthoritarians.pdf) there is no point in arguing about how public policy decisions should be made with an authoritarian follower: They will always chose a strong leader over any sort of democratic process. You’re about as likely to change the way they look at leaders as gay conversion therapy is to “pray the gay away” or that putting a dress on your little boy will make him transgender. They will find a demagogue like Donald Trump as attractive as a pedophile finds a child in a bathing suit, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent that. It’s a fundamental expression of their authoritarian nature.
What we can do, however, is impose consequences on their acting on these impulses when these antisocial acts harm society as a whole, just as we do with pedophiles, pyromaniacs, and others with predilections that result in them committing acts that we have collectively defined as being antisocial. And it is perfectly clear to most of us that Trump’s behavior *is* antisocial and therefore should not be tolerated, nor should we tolerate those who attempt to normalize this kind of behavior. Oh they might claim that Trump doesn’t lie (a lie in itself) or that all politicians lie and so Trump is no different, but most non-authoritarians can easily see the distinction here: Donald Trump’s lies are not like those told by other presidents: “If you like your health insurance you can keep your health insurance” (Obama) and “We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq.” (GW Bush) could at least charitably classified as “aspirational”. Trump’s lies are bald-faced, the kind of obvious or trivially disprovable statements that would get a 5-year-old sent to their room.
But even more problematic is Trump’s transparent contempt for the rule of law. The way he dispenses pardons is not based wrongful conviction, mitigating circumstances, or evidence of rehabilitation, the justifications used by other governors or presidents, but are purely political ploys, designed to reward the kind of antisocial behavior that his authoritarian followers are likely to approve of. His firing of Inspectors General are are acts clearly designed to circumvent the rule of law rather than correct any flaw in how those individuals were performing their duties. And his inclination toward obstruction of justice is now without parallel in modern history because he is unfettered by any oversight from the attorney general or even the Republican-controlled senate.
As a result, and since no one else apparently will, we moderates must now act as the “adults in the room” and impose consequences so that these antisocial acts don’t become normalized, to the detriment, or possibly even destruction, of our government or even our entire civilization. Unfortunately, because this is not a “house on fire” situation, it is a practical impossibility to gather enough citizens to make the usual (weak) tools like protests or boycotts effective. And if history is any guide this will remain the case until it is already too late.
In planning our action it is worth noting that corrective actions for antisocial behavior are particularly effective when directly relevant to the specific act: When a child plays video games instead of doing their homework, the game gets taken away. When they don’t come home when they’re supposed to, they get grounded. And as it happens there is a safe, legal, and yet effective way to apply this principle to Trump supporters: We can use the power of juries to deny them of the protection of the very rule of law their behavior is threatening.
This action is safe for the participants, especially when compared with protests, because not only are the identities of jury members protected, in the vast majority of cases this act will be merely symbolic because so few of us are actually chosen to be on juries. It is legal because it is an extension of the concept of jury nullification, although in this case we’re not refusing to enforce a law that we consider to be immoral, only that some specific legal protections do not accrue to those who are actively working to subvert the rule of law in general. And it will be easy to achieve critical mass because it can be implemented with a minimal investment. For example, a simple social media post endorsing the hashtag #TeamDROL (Deny Rule Of Law) by a relatively small number of individuals should be sufficient. If only 9% (1 out of 12 jurors) of the population commits to this, Trump supporters will no longer be able to count on the protections of our legal system because the odds of them prevailing in court will have turned against them.
Once this is achieved, Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs would effectively lose the ability to sue for libel or slander even when someone spreads lies about them. Larry Ellison would lose control of what happens on Lanai, the Hawaiian island he owns. Kanye’s music would all effectively revert to the Public Domain. Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell’s campaigns would become unmanageable because there would be no effective protection from theft of assets or information. And your local, less famous, Trump supporters would be in the same boat: If you’re on a jury and it becomes known to you that the victim in a criminal trial or the plaintiff in a civil trial is a Trump supporter, by joining #TeamDROL you’re taking on the obligation to vote against the law protecting them. And while I don’t think we want to go so far as to encourage anyone to start shooting Trump supporters on 5th Avenue, if you are asked to render a decision on such an event you might consider a reduced sentence, given the mitigating circumstances.
Just don’t expect that #TeamDROL will stop these authoritarians from voting for Trump: Again, they can’t help it. Instead this movement is primarily designed to prevent the normalization of antisocial behaviors by suppressing overt expressions of support for Trump and his behavior. Authoritarians will be much less likely to attend rallies or fundraisers or to pass along Trump propaganda in their social media posts for fear of suffering the consequences we plan to impose on them if they publicly engage in these antisocial behaviors. Not having to wade through their infuriating posts will be a bonus side effect.
Note that I would not advocate this approach as a response to political differences or to remove a president who is merely incompetent. But Trump’s behavior is qualitatively different from even other authoritarian (and yet, perhaps not coincidentally, also incompetent) leaders like Bush and Nixon. He and his followers revel in violating norms and the promotion of antisocial behavior. This is no “difference of opinion”, it is a fundamental attack on our form of government and indeed our civilization. We are not engaging in an ideological war, merely taking advantage of a “teachable moment”.
The urgency of the matter should not be underestimated: While it is almost a cliché now to compare Trump’s behavior to that of Hitler or other authoritarian leaders, those who don’t see the parallels are simply displaying a profound ignorance of the way authoritarian rule works and spreads: Whether it’s specifying a minority to scapegoat, attacking the press, fearmongering, or even their expansionist predilections (Greenland standing in for Poland in Trump’s imagination), the authoritarian agenda is filled with stereotypical behavior patterns. We now even have a modern equivalent of the “brown shirts” Hitler used to acquire and wield power: The “very good people” who are participating in various “boogaloo” organizations (right wing militias). The studies in this area also show a disturbing vicious-cycle effect: As authoritarian mismanagement causes resource shortages, borderline authoritarian individuals become more susceptible to the influence of demagogues (technically, they become “activated”). The path toward totalitarianism gets steeper as we go down it, and removing the authoritarian leader becomes ever more difficult.
Now some might say that this implementing #TeamDROL would threaten civilization itself, that it’s the “nuclear option”. But I think of it as being more like chemotherapy: While it unfortunately might harm the body politic in the short term, it is a necessary treatment to stop the growth of the cancer that will kill it if we don’t take decisive action. It’s an option you can be sure the moderates in 1930’s Germany would wish they had at least considered before it was too late.
But if after careful consideration you conclude that you’re not the right person to take on a scenario where you’d be required to vote your convictions despite 11 other people pressuring you to go along, there is an alternative that requires more work but less intestinal fortitude: Join #TeamVote which will signal your commitment to finding at least one person who didn’t vote in the last election and ensure that they vote this time around. You’ll have to make sure they’re registered to vote, and that if they’re kind of person that sometimes can’t find the time to vote on election day, make sure they’ve applied for an absentee ballot and have a stamp to return it.
#TeamVote will be effective because another thing the science shows us is that, although they are a minority, authoritarians and other conservatives vote at significantly higher rates than moderates or even progressives. It’s why I call our form of government “misrepresentative democracy”: It systematically ensures that the people making and enforcing the laws have political ideologies that are significantly to the right of the population as a whole. The easiest way to reduce this bias is simply to turn more non-voters into voters. More voters also means less likelihood that extremists on either end of the political spectrum will end up being elected.
Longer term, we all need to work on accepting the fact that we need to upgrade our public policy decisionmaking system so that situations like this won’t arise in the future. Implementing this upgrade this would also reduce the large number of other major discrepancies between the Will of the People and the actions our current government takes. The idea that a bunch of (admittedly very bright) amateur social engineers working centuries ago created the best decisionmaking technology for us to use is as ludicrous as the claim that they had created the best transportation or communication technology. Like the two proposals described here, developing and implementing a new system will require more commitment from you than the slacktivism that is characteristic of social media to date, but isn’t protecting and improving our future worth a little effort?