Belief is a powerful force, one that drives human beings to extraordinary achievement or to spectacular failures, to great deeds or to vile harms. And beliefs often form without needing to be grounded in facts and logic, since our minds grasp narratives easily, while arguments require work.
Religions have been the prime example of this throughout the existence of the species, but as nationalism took hold during the period that Europe emerged from the Middle Ages, the modern expression of politics became a contender for the possession of our minds, as Eric Hoffer discusses in his book, True Believer.
One example of today’s faithful is found in the supporters of Trump. Their chant is #MAGA, make America great again, shouted in response to any doubts, criticisms, or even questions raised about the Dear Leader. They might as well assert that Brawndo is what plants crave for all the sense that they’re making.
But perhaps it’s worth asking them what, exactly, they mean here. Trump made many promises — during the campaign and during his life as a whole. How much has he fulfilled, though?
The border wall remains a fantasy, one that he apparently is willing to hold the federal budget hostage to in an effort to maintain the illusion. ISIS still exists. Instead of withdrawing from Afghanistan, we are sending more of our military personnel. Obamacare is still the law. Gun-free zones still exist. The country is a cause of mockery and dismay around the world, and here at home, the administration is in chaos, unable to move Trump’s agenda, whatever that might be, in Congress or even to form a coherent message.
Trump’s supporters point to the economy as a case of things getting better, though coasting on the hard work done by the previous administration isn’t convincing to those of us who pay attention. Appointments to the courts is another example, most famously Neil Gorsuch’s joining of the Supreme Court — while many Cabinet posts go unfilled — and this certainly will be one of Trump’s lasting marks on the country, but do the armies of #MAGA really believe that their lives will be made better by a judge who sided with a corporation against a truck driver who was freezing to death?
So what does #MAGA mean? A successful con artist keeps talking, using a flood of words to prevent thought. But such a person also knows when to shut up and run, and this will be yet another of Trump’s failures. He’s backed himself into a position that doesn’t offer him the possibility of bankruptcy as an escape. He can’t step out of the public eye. And while many of his true believers will cling to him, regardless of the evidence, some will turn on him, and the Republicans who were at most willing to put up with him for the sake of whatever goals they might be able to get done will abandon him as the lack of any new greatness, real or imagined, becomes undeniable.
There is, however, one way that he can survive and even win a second term, and that is if the Democratic Party insists on once again shooting themselves in the foot.
With that possibility before me, it’s all too likely that fools will be shouting #MAGA until 2025 — or until nuclear war silences them.
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