“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” “Through the Looking Glass,” Chapter 6
It’s a wonderful thing to be able to make words mean whatever you want, without depending on pesky facts. It’s even better when you can change their meanings anytime you like. The best is when you can persuade your followers that everything you say is true, even when you contradict yourself over and over.
Donald Trump’s followers hang on his every word. They think it’s courageous when he says vile, vicious things about people. “He’s just telling it like it is!” However, if anyone criticizes him, they must be beaten down. He is the Leader and must not be ridiculed or corrected. Even when he lies repeatedly, his followers lap it up.
Trump is dangerous, not because of his business failures and lawsuits, or because he has cheated thousands of people, although that’s terrible. He’s dangerous because he’s figured out how to make his followers believe whatever he says, no matter how false or contradictory to whatever he said previously. He’s the chameleon candidate, becoming whatever his followers want him to be in their minds. Since he has no actual values except benefitting himself, this works amazingly well.
Trump says he wants to restore American values. Our values are founded on two documents – the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. For Trump, these values are negotiable, changeable to whatever he wants at the moment. For example, he plans to disregard the First Amendment by restricting the press, restricting protests and spying on some American citizens because of their religious beliefs.
He plans to violate the Second Amendment by allowing police to take guns away from people the police “think” shouldn’t have them. He says this to white audiences about black gun owners, and his followers applaud, not realizing if he takes guns away from one group, where will he stop?
He wants to reinstate “stop and frisk”, which violates the Fourth Amendment. He wants to reinstate torture, which violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments as well as Article Six of the Constitution. He says all this clearly, and his followers still believe he will “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Words mean what Trump says they mean.
Trump says he is really rich, but he refuses to release his tax returns which would show his actual income. He says he is self-financing his campaign. What he’s doing is loaning, not giving, money to the campaign. Then, Trump the businessman rents Trump facilities to the Trump campaign, and so far he’s made at least $9 million doing this. Self-financing seems to mean financing which benefits himself. Words mean what Trump says they mean.
Trump says he gives a lot to charity. In reality, he’s given almost nothing to charity since 2008 (another reason he won’t release his tax returns). Instead, he asks others to donate to the Trump Foundation. He then uses some of that money to buy things for himself and to settle legal issues which arise when he gets sued. This is illegal and unethical, but to Trump’s followers, no problem.
For those who think the Clinton Foundation has done anything unethical or illegal, look it up on CharityWatch.org, a non-partisan watchdog site that rates charities. The Clinton Foundation gets an A rating because its money goes to the Foundation’s mission, not into the Clintons’ pockets. The Foundation meets all of CharityWatch’s transparency benchmarks. In contrast, the Trump Foundation isn’t even rated, and Trump is being investigated for his personal use of Foundation money. Maybe he believes charity begins at home. Words mean what Trump says they mean.
In 1978, cult leader Jim Jones convinced his followers in Jonestown, Guyana, to not only murder a sitting member of Congress, but to then commit mass suicide. Over 900 people killed themselves. How did Jones do this? By convincing them the alternative was worse. Blind obedience to a powerful leader.
Trump said he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose a single voter. His supporters seem to accept everything he does, no matter what. We need a president who understands we should work together to solve problems, not one who has no plans except “Trust me.” America shouldn’t become a cult, blindly following a leader who promises paradise but will lead us into disaster. We must be better than that.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.