Being a political scientist is not what many think. We are not politicians drafting legislation. We are not activists trying to make the world a better place, according to our own preferences. And we certainly aren’t trying to get people to believe what we believe. Instead we strive to explain incredibly complicated phenomena by use of empirical data, simulations, and, where those are not possible, qualitative analysis. Because most people don’t understand this, we are often dragged into meaningless conversations about
religion politics. People are always trying to tell us what they believe. And to be honest, I don’t care about your beliefs.
A Short Anecdote
Prior to Trumpism I was able to hold intelligent conversations with my father about political science. He would call, asking about the Russian annexation of Crimea, or some other major event, and I would attempt to explain it using traditional international relations theories. Although my father and I sit at divergent ends of a political spectrum, our conversations always centered on what is, and never what either of us believed ought to be.
Post November election everything has changed. My father, emboldened by (what I can only describe as) a “personal” victory in the electoral college, calls me thrice a day to berate my beliefs, demonize everyone left of him (which, considering how far right he is, is pretty much everyone), and to tell me why Trump
is the Lord and Savior will be the best president since Madison.
A Short List of What My Dad Believes Trump Will Do
This list is frustratingly stupid, according to a political scientist (me).
- He will send troops to Israel, storm the West Bank and Gaza, and kill every Palestinian that doesn’t leave the newly annexed Israeli territories.
- He will label political rivals Islamic terrorists and have them sent to Gitmo, where they will languish without trial.
- He will both (contradictorily) reinforce the Cuban embargo as well as “liberate the Cuban people” by installing American democracy.
- He will declare war on China by nuking major cities.
- He will unilaterally declare war on any UN member state that attempts to prevent any of the above actions.
- He will fire, arrest, and/or execute for treason any judge who stands in the way of the above actions.
What the Hell?
My father not only believes Trump will do these things; he supports Trump doing these things!
- He literally said, “Genocide isn’t a war crime if no one can stop you. And who’s powerful enough to stop the US?”
- He literally said, “I don’t care if Trump has to lie and label democrats Islamic terrorists. If they don’t support Trump, they are just as bad as terrorists.”
- He literally said, “We need to liberate the Cuban people. They need American democracy, and we’re going to override Obama’s dangerous relationship with a dictator.”
- He literally said, after I explained how Chinese mercantilism is not easily combatted, “Trust me, Trump is going to give them one chance to play nice. If they don’t take the hint, we’ll wipe out a few cities, kill a few million of their people, and then they’ll play nice.”
- He literally said, after I explained international law and how diplomacy and multilateralism are viable alternatives to unilateralism and war, “No one in the UN can stop us. If we have to nuke every other country to save our reputation as the big kid on the block, Trump will do it.”
- He literally said, after I explained the separation of powers (elementary stuff), “No judge is going to stop Trump. He’ll just fire any judge [including Supreme Court justices] who won’t let him do what America needs” and “If that means throwing them in jail and executing them for treason, so be it. I won’t lose any sleep over it.”
What the Hell Happened?
My father had Reagan, and he had W. He supported and worked for Oliver North’s senatorial campaign. He has always been a staunch republican, loyal to the party. But with Trump he became a fanatic. He’s disavowed the US constitution, the Geneva Convention (and many, many others), human rights, rule of law (maybe that’s redundant), and the very reality we understand in a multipolar nuclear world (mutual assured destruction). So what happened?
Notice none of the above points mentions ISIS or terrorism (except to label rivals as terrorists). He refuses to accept it, but the answer is he is terrified that Islamic fundamentalists are going to kill him and erase his identity.
Populism is a social response to the threat to either existential or ontological security. Trumpism is the response to both. My father non-sequiturally colors his proscriptive statements, a la Trump, with “ISIS is going to keep killing us” and “Muslims want to create a Muslim theocracy in America.” Back him into a corner, and he’ll bring up either ISIS or Muslims (unable to differentiate between the two). And it’s always about them killing us or erasing our identity as a liberal democracy, which, ironically, is precisely what he wants to do.
My father has never been a religious person, although he views himself as a Southern Baptist. But now he is a devout and pious Trumpist. Somehow he believes in the teachings of Trump with the same fervor religious fanatics believe their books. And, not to let that pesky thing called cognitive dissonance get in the way, he is willing to kill his neighbors and dismantle the American system of governance in exchange for a totalitarian regime—in order to save the lives of his neighbors from people who want to dismantle the American system of governance in exchange for a totalitarian regime.
My greatest fear is sitting through these kinds of conversations when people find out I’m a political scientist. I never thought my father would find religion and try to convert me. And I certainly fear Trumpism will continue to produce such dedicated adherents who want to teach me a thing or two about how the world should work.
I’m sure there are many others out there. My dad can’t be the only one.