“…we’re in a historic transitional moment and the very foundations of society are now open to question.“― David Brooks
Cripes, you know things are getting weird when I start quoting David Brooks. Not sure that’s ever happened before—in fact, to rinse the taste out of my mouth, I’d better follow it up with another:
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
— Hunter S. Thompson
There. I feel better now.
But seriously, the quote from David Brooks comes from his New York Times piece, “The Siege Mentality Problem” of just about a year ago. The term “siege mentality” refers to the “shared feeling of victimization and defensiveness—a term derived from the actual experience of military defenses of real sieges,” per Wikipedia. You should really take in that op-ed, as the scenario that Brooks illustrates has only become more engraved into the various and competing worldviews out there on the eve of the midterm elections.
We really have to hold this concept in our minds as we consider the following quote from the president Thursday concerning the refugee caravan heading towards the U.S. – Mexico border:
“If they want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. We’re going to consider — and I told them, consider it a rifle…Because there is not much difference when you get hit in the face with a rock.” (Of course, AYFKM?!)
At various other times, he said that he “hopes” that the military won’t fire on the caravan, or that the military “won’t have to fire” on unarmed, desperate asylum-seekers. Amazing how he takes such complete ownership of the Office of the President of the United States when he decides he can line the bird cage with constitutional amendments that offend him, yet when it comes to the Commander in Chief thing, he acts like there’s wiggle room in whether or not his wishes are the equivalent of law. This is not stupidity or madness. The term for it is strategic ambiguity.
It’s used all the time in the workplace, with disastrous consequences. Any time a leader seeks a desired result, but doesn’t want to go on record with an actual directive, a fuzzy implication is thrown out for employees (often stressed, overworked employees) to decipher. Some analysts interpret the 2016 Wells Fargo unauthorized accounts scandal to be a product of strategic ambiguity.
Problem is, unauthorized accounts affect credit ratings and incur fines to the financial institution. Ambiguous directions to military personnel at the border—maybe they can shoot rock-throwing asylum seekers, maybe they shouldn’t…it all depends— will end up producing dead women and children. We know this instinctively. American bullets are going to fly. The blood of families fleeing violence and persecution in Central and South America is going to flow.
Trump is a master of strategic ambiguity. I have already written about how his hatred of a free press has translated into violence against reporters by surrogates. We now have ample reason to believe that people interpret his racist rhetoric (either coded or outright), or his refusal to conclusively denounce violence against historically persecuted groups, as a green light for assault and mass murder. Although he’ll describe a synagogue killing as despicable, his suggestion that nobody would have died if only an armed guard (or pistol-packing rabbi—he didn’t specify) had been present completely erases any sincerity people might have naively read into his statements. This murkiness is no accident either. Just as his failure to condemn Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s government for the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi renders feigned U.S. outrage impotent. It’s all reeks of gangster extortion tactics. I’d hate for somethin’ bad to happen to yuz cuz you forgot who’s in charge, ‘ere.
But Trump has a big problem. People are only going to be moved by his fake news rants for so long. And another winter of the effects of rewards to Wall Street at the expense of the working poor and the lower middle class is going to disabuse the president’s base of the notion that he and the GOP are fixing the economy. At some point, the MAGA crowd is going to hold out its open hands and expect a return on the loyalty investment. Trump can’t afford to turn out his pockets and admit that he never planned to make good on making great.
And this is where the border comes in. Up until now, Trump could blame the suffering of his followers on the condescending, contemptuous liberal elite. His people were being persecuted by those who had somehow figured out how to make the economy work for them. The standard of living for working slobs had fallen off a cliff, and yet these educated snobs could still afford their half-caff double soy lattes every day. Trump’s people were being victimized by the creative class in mysterious, unfair ways. But if the president is so powerful, such a master of the deal, why, then, hasn’t he dealt in his peeps?
Because there’s an emergency at the border, that’s why! Damn liberals blocked his border wall, and just look at what’s happened! It sent a clear message to those “animals,” those “bad hombres,” that America was ripe for an invasion. The smooth, warm, maiden sands at her nether gateway are about to be penetrated by an army, an invading horde of dark-skinned criminals—rapists, drug dealers, and yes, maybe even ISIS terrorists masquerading as half-starved South American refugees.
“These are tough people, in many cases. A lot of young men, strong men. And a lot of men that maybe we don’t want in our country,” said the 72 year old, though cosmetically ageless, president.
America isn’t just under attack, it’s under siege. Setting aside, for the time being, precisely how official U.S. policy and unofficial mischief continue to produce the conditions in South and Central America that guarantee a predictable flow of asylum seekers, let’s just say that this caravan is the biggest early Christmas present that Trump didn’t even think to wish for. An external, easily vilified enemy that threatens the safety and livelihood of red-blooded Americans (and the chastity of their daughters) is gold. The consistency problems associated with other targets of MAGA hostility disappear when the resentment and rage are directed at the barbarians at the gates.
And while Trump, the administration, (and its corporate allies) would be perfectly well-served by a hazy but persistent threat from Third World marauders, I suspect that Trump, the man, needs something a bit more visceral, something with some meat on its bones. Ever the fanboy of strongmen the world over (and across time), it must really stick in his craw that cut-rate dictators get to casually order the deaths of hundreds, even thousands, of irritating migrants, students, protesters, and citizens of neighboring countries. Heck, even beleaguered Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu gets to kill unarmed Palestinians across a fence within their own territory. Medical personnel, journalists, etc. Doesn’t matter. And when soldiers kill a rock throwing child, they aren’t punished for the act, but for boasting about it on social media.
And this is where the rocks come in. Trump doesn’t need emaciated, exodus-weary humans asking for help, ruining his human big game hunt. He needs angry, filthy, violent faces pressed up against a chain link fence, shouting obscenities about American imperialism. And he needs them, even just one of them, to pick up a stone and hurl it at an American soldier, drawing blood. Then, in his own mind, he can justify whatever comes next — a single shot from one of our snipers in a tower, or countless rounds of ammunition sprayed into the crowd across the border indiscriminately.
Which will force the departure of the United States from the U.N. Which will turn the entire world against America. Which will create the absolute, perfect justification for a siege mentality to take root and grow, not just in the MAGA crowds, but also in the hearts and minds of “moderates.” After all, when the world is against you, who are you going to root for? The rest of the world, or the tyrant in your own house who promises to protect you against all enemies—the enemies outside the walls and those within…
I could go on ad nauseum about how this very same technique has been employed over and over again to whip a country’s population up into a froth of hatred against The Other. But you’ve heard it all before. The question is now, are you going to listen? Actually, that’s exactly what I’d like to you do: listen. Not to a Greylock Glasspodcast, but to this week’s episode of Intercepted, with Jeremy Scahill. “The Doctrine of American Mythology.” He explores the question of whether the United States is sliding into fascism —or whether we’re already there — with New York University’s Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Yale’s Jason Stanley. They discuss Trump’s brand of authoritarianism and dissect the similarities and differences between Trump and fascist leaders Mussolini and Hitler.
You will not feel particularly uplifted by that conversation, I’m sorry to say, but it is required listening to any one who has ever recited the Pledge of Allegiance. On the plus side, the episode also includes a marvelous reading of Langston Hughes’s poem “Let America Be America Again,” by Ty Jones, actor and producing artistic director at the Classical Theatre of Harlem.
A (Temporary) Reprieve from the Despair
And lastly, I promised you that I had an antidote to the abyss you’re now staring into due to the implications of how the siege mentality helps to fuel fascism. A defender of good spirits and champion against the collective mania that siege mentality fosters, Baron Munchausen will rescue us all (at least for 126 minutes) from the gloom. In 1989, a Cold War–weary world was treated to the film, “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” —92% Freshness Rating at rottentomatoes.com! The epic adventure-fantasy, written and directed by Terry Gilliam, and starring John Neville, Eric Idle, Sarah Polley, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, Jonathan Pryce, and Robin Williams, recounts the slightly embellished tales of the real-life 18th-century German nobleman Hieronymus Karl Friedrich Freiherr von Münchhausen.
And while I am rapidly souring on Amazon.com, it’s still one of the only places you can find certain movies available for streaming, which I recommend you do with “Baron Munchausen” anytime you feel that YOUR psyche is under siege.
Stay safe, be good to each other, and go easy on yourselves,
Editor, The Greylock Glass
Jason Velázquez has worked in journalism and publishing for the better part of 20 years now, even though he knows it’s a filthy habit. He writes the shows, sets up and records the interviews, edits the audio, and publishes the episodes. He also handles the web page maintenance, marketing, sales, finance, and administration. He would welcome an e-mail from you. If, however, you have confidential or sensitive information to pass along, please visit our Contact Page to learn about more secure options.