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Trump’s Chances Just Skyrocketed, The Myths of Fascism, Plus, Why Democracy’s Losing

Trump’s Chances Just Skyrocketed, The Myths of Fascism, Plus, Why Democracy’s Losing

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Why Trump’s Chances of Re-Election Just Skyrocketed

It was with trepidation that I absorbed the following bit of news. Americans now think the most important problem facing the country isn’t the economy—but immigration.  

Gallup: Immigration Surges to Top of Most Important Problem List

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Significantly more Americans name immigration as the most important problem facing the U.S. (28%) than did a month ago (20%). Immigration has now passed the government as the most often cited problem, after the two issues tied for the top position the past two months. 

How would you interpret that? Here’s my interpretation: Trump’s chances of re-election just skyrocketed. 

It should be pretty obvious to see just why. Biden’s not exactly seen as “strong” on this issue. Immigration is Trump’s strength. It’s the GOP’s arena. For immigration to have skyrocketed to the top of the list of problems facing the country means that the odds of a Trump Presidency are now rising by the day.

But that’s politics 101—punditry, really. Let’s go deeper—way deeper.

Immigration, of course, isn’t a “problem,” really, at all. That’s a loaded way to describe it to begin with. If “immigration” were a “problem,” American wouldn’t exist, and neither would modernity itself. So why is it framed this way? That it is tells us that we have a way of thinking that’s already biased hard, hard to the right.

The Creation of the Mythology of the Other

“Immigration” as a “problem” is the mythos of nationalism. Nationalism: purity of blood and piety of faith good, everyone else bad. Nationalism descends into fascism precisely by way of taking this moral illogic to its limit: even those who are part of the nation-state aren’t really part of the “volk,” and don’t really belong. Why not? In what way? They’re not really humans, it turns out, impure of blood, and untrue of faith. The project of annihilation begins, as we’ve seen repeatedly in modern history. This slippery slope is precisely why nationalism is regarded by many as an odious creed.

But nationalism, of course, doesn’t have to go that far to just be bad. Bad for nations who practice it. Because what we know about the topic of immigration is a truth that nobody much likes to hear: immigrants are good for societies. We know this beyond a shadow of a doubt, really, a result replicated across study after study. Immigrants provide economic dynamism, investment, skills, labour. And when nations close down, isolate themselves, lock themselves away—that’s when they really suffer. The vicious spiral of the 1930s was accelerated when nations went into isolationist postures, prolonging the Great Depression, creating the conditions for World War.

Nationalism, in other words, is a myth. We know of no benefits to it, as an ideology. It’s perfectly fine to be “proud” of your nation or a patriot or whatever—but nationalism proper, as in, immigrants bad, others aren’t people, various flavors of supremacy, etcetera: these are all mythologies. They don’t yield what they promise, which is always along the lines of: greater prosperity for the “real” people, tighter social bonds, better functioning states. Time and again, the precise opposite results, whether we look at classic nationalist movements descending into fascism, like Nazism, or more modern variants of nationalism, like those leaving plenty of nations blinded by them in chaos and ruin.

So how does this myth get constructed? In this case, how is it that Americans believe about immigration the precise opposite of the truth? Truth in this case is an objective construction.

The myth gets constructed because today’s far right is far, far better at “messaging.” It’s managed to put this issue front and center in the national imagination by taking the collective consciousness captive. And it’s done that with spectacles and stunts. From busing migrants to New York City, to flying them across the country. Relentlessly targeting them and scapegoating them, ever pointing the finger at them for all of America’s many woes, economic, social, and cultural.

The center and left, such as it is in America anyways, is absolutely, totally, utterly, completely incompetent at constructing an alternative message. I don’t say that lightly—for a myth and fiction to become Problem Number One in America should make that point self-evident. 

Let’s think about that again. When this question’s asked, who do Americans think of? They’re not exactly objecting to, reacting with suspicion to, a pale-skinned Swede or Frenchman or German. It goes without saying that they’re imagining a certain kind of person: the by-now cliched picture of caravans of “illegals” pouring over the border. In other words, brown-skinned Latinos, South and Central Americans. All of this goes without saying. In other words, it’s the subtext.

A successful message is about constructing a subtext. And sadly, our side isn’t just outrageously incompetent at it—it doesn’t even know how bad at it it really is. That part I say to you as someone who was the Big Brain of one of the world’s largest ad agencies: believe me when I tell you I know exactly what I’m talking about. This is how we do it. We build subtexts, and we can do that for good purposes, and also destructive, awful ones. But what happens when only the bad guys do it, and the good guys don’t even bother?

Then you end up with a national imagination whose collective consciousness has been taken hostage. In which “immigration” is a “problem” because that’s all it can be, since the only subtext around is the one of swarthy skinned unpeople pouring over the border and stealing! Our! Land! Women! And! Children! Please. This is marketing 101, and our side is guillotine-worthy levels of incompetent at it.

How to Create an Alternative Myth

How might we create an alternative myth? Hold on while I summon the Don Draper in me. I don’t talk about it much, and so you guys don’t know it, but I’m one of a handful of people invented modern marketing as you know it. Here’s exactly what I’d do.

I’d start a “campaign,” though that’s a bad word for it—let’s just call it an “approach” or a “paradigm,”—where people would speak into the camera and say: “My grandparents came from…” And they’d tell their story. My grandparents came from Sweden, where they were peasants, and times were tough. They weren’t looking for a quick fortune—they just wanted stability and opportunity. My grandparents fled China, during the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. They came here and opened a cobblers’ shop. My great grandparents fled the famines in Europe. And so on, and so on. 

The point of all this isn’t to convince or persuade. That’s not how modern marketing—have you noticed how in this context our side still says “messaging,” so afraid are they of this even developing this skillset?—works. It’s just to…like we discussed…create an alternative subtext. Not even that’s “picked up on” right away, or “goes viral” or anything like that. Just to create a kind of unconscious subtext, that can enter the collective consciousness. To take away possibility from the other subtext being the only one. 

But until we do that, we’re not even in the game. And our side? It never, ever does anything like that.

Let me give you another example. Another thing I’d do, and I’d do it stat, is to put a camera in front of every single person I could find, who’s actually lived through the horrors of authoritarianism and fascism. And just have them tell their stories. That’s not an “ad campaign,” but it’s how to fight fascism in a very real way. It’s people talking directly to people—on TikTok or what have you, that part’s almost irrelevant—and warning them, reminding them, reaching them, teaching them.

The Breakdown of Civilizational Learning

What is our job, anyways? These days? My job is teach you. Your job is to teach as many as you can. About what? About the basics. The basic stuff. Other people aren’t bad. No, we shouldn’t hate them. Investing in one another is how we all get ahead. Civilization is the task and project of shared values, which, in the real world, are shared investments. All of that is the hard work of loving each other, in difficult and complex ways, which ultimately, unlock higher levels of prosperity, freedom, and development for all.

Our job is just teaching this stuff again, because the world is going backwards. What does it mean when a world goes backwards, though?

Think about what it means that Americans think “immigration” is a “problem,” imagining hordes of cunning, hostile foreigners pouring over the borders—meanwhile, seemingly ignoring the evidence, truth, facts, all the reams of it. Is this…scientific illiteracy? A form of willful ignorance? Just buying into the myth that the far right’s constructed?

All of the above. When a society goes backwards—or a civilization does—it means, fundamentally, that the process of learning has broken down. Regress means ignorance, which is the handmaiden of repeating history’s mistakes, and that way lies the vicious cycle, the doom loop, of stagnation.

All of that’s called folly. But folly means something. It isn’t just trying out something unknown, and it not working. Sticking your neck out and taking a risk. Nope. Folly means that you do something that, by all rights and reason, you should know is pretty stupid. It’s like, I don’t know, diving into an empty pool. Folly is what we call the breakdown of civilizational or social learning, and we see it everywhere around us now.

So much so that if someone like me “defends” immigration, then I’ll become the “controversial” one, though I’m not saying anything that should be remotely controversial. In the eyes of truth, reason, empiricism, history—folly is what should controversial, and it’s everyday practice of willful ignorance. But we’ve normalized all that, sadly. And not just “their side,” but ours too, by allowing the bad guys to take over the collective consciousness, and hold the national imagination hostage, with myths of fearsome monsters who are just…everyday people…meanwhile, our side offers no mythologies of our own, nothing much to aspire to or hope for.

Remember when we did that? We used to dream, openly, of grand and noble things, like world peace, or an end to war and violence, or the end of hunger and want. We don’t do that anymore. We’ve been beaten into line. The spirit’s gone out of us. The bad guys taught us a lesson, and we’re still cowering in the corner, beaten and afraid, to even remember who we ourselves used to be, and what we used to demand and wish for and ache for. When we say things like “we should have a peaceful world without war, hunger, deprivation, or hate,” in that context, “immigration” doesn’t look so much like a problem anymore, does it? That’s because now the mythos has changed, the structure of the story. Now there is a story.

What story is our side telling? Any story at all? I don’t think it is. And I think that’s why we’re losing so, so badly, that democracy’s twilight is before us. And still, we have no words. The words we’re looking for aren’t hard to say. But they do have to be those of truth, beauty, justice, and goodness, to matter, to count, to resonate. Until we stand up for those, as long as our side cowers, afraid, to even present an alternative to the insane, banal, eternal myths the bad guys spread—the monsters are coming, burn the nearest witch!—this is the way the future goes.

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