Media Turn From Trump to His Supporters and Find Totalitarianism

July 23, 2021 Updated: August 8, 2021


They just can’t quit him, can they? While the Trump administration is now more than months distant in the rear-view mirror, the Trump-obsessed media is endlessly fascinated by new ways of looking at, analyzing, and denouncing the evils that they attribute to Trumpism.

But distance has at least caused some commentators to turn their attention from former President Donald Trump himself to his supporters—whom the official media have hitherto tended to regard, when they think about them at all, as troglodytes or white-supremacists. Now, perhaps sensing that hatred for his die-hard supporters is less seemly than hatred for the former president himself, some seem willing to take a closer look at the motivations and beliefs of the Trumpists.

Alas, if a piece by Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times is anything to go by, this is only to dismiss them as pathetic failures desperately in search of something to give their empty lives meaning.

Goldberg finds the account of the “front-row Joes” at Trump rallies by Michael C. Bender in his new book, “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost” chiefly interesting because it fits in with—or can be made to fit in with—what she already thinks about the Trump phenomenon, which is that it’s a quasi-fascist movement that appeals to authoritarian personalities.

Except that, for rhetorical purposes, she ups the ante from “authoritarian” to “totalitarian.”

Bender’s book purports to find that these most enthusiastic Trump supporters are terribly lonely people who have nothing but their hero to give their lives meaning.

“Many were recently retired and had time on their hands and little to tie them to home,” she quotes. “A handful never had children. Others were estranged from their families.”

This seemingly impressionistic analysis leads the NY Times columnist to conclude that, by “throwing themselves into Trump’s movement, they found a community and a sense of purpose.”

In other words, the sense of purpose and belonging was more important, at least to the most dedicated Trump supporters, than anything substantive his campaign stood for.

“There are many causes for the overlapping dysfunctions that make contemporary American life feel so dystopian,” writes Goldberg, “but loneliness is a big one. Even before Covid, Americans were becoming more isolated. And as Damon Linker pointed out recently in The Week, citing Hannah Arendt, lonely people are drawn to totalitarian ideologies.”

Do you see what she did there? She set up an implied syllogism by claiming first, with the help of Michael C. Bender that the Trump followers are lonely people and then, with the help of Damon Linker and Hannah Arendt, that “lonely people are drawn to totalitarian ideologies.”

The inescapable but unstated conclusion is clearly meant to be: Trumpism is totalitarianism.

This is what is known in logic as the fallacy of the undistributed middle. Not all Trump supporters are lonely, and nor are all lonely people either Trump supporters or totalitarians, although her implied assumption that Trump supporters are totalitarians is another fallacy, known as begging the question.

Apart from that, the explanatory journalist’s explanation is entirely convincing.

The truth is that “totalitarianism” can’t be demonstrated deductively—that is by syllogistic logic—but only inductively, by the enumeration of discrete empirical features of totalitarian political systems that some contemporary political program shares with them.

As, for instance, the existence of only one legitimate political party and consequent attempts to delegitimize the main opposition party.

And then there’s the governing party’s claimed monopoly of the “truth,” its labeling of contrary opinions as “misinformation” or “lies,” and its curtailing of freedom of speech—even, where possible, freedom of thought.

Another feature of totalitarian systems is the existence of an official media dedicated to government propaganda in which no voice of criticism of or dissension from official government policy or ideological doctrine is permitted.

Or, to take another example at random, there’s the corruption of the legal system to prosecute and punish the regime’s political enemies on trumped-up charges of wrongdoing.

Now do all these things sound to you more descriptive of American life under Trump and the Republicans or Biden and the Democrats?

As has often been noted before, whatever the left is accusing the Trumpites and Republicans of, from lying to corruption to suppressing the vote to stealing elections, is most often what they are doing—or trying to do—themselves. And never has this been more clear than in the totalitarian impulses being shown every day by the Biden administration.

On one point, I have to agree with Goldberg.

“A socially healthy society,” she writes, “would probably never have elected Trump in the first place.”

But that’s because a socially healthy country wouldn’t have needed the shock to the calcified bureaucratic system run by an entrenched ruling class that only Donald Trump among the available choices in 2016 seemed likely to provide.

Too bad that the system, with the official media on its side, seems to have been able to beat back his best attempts at reform.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

James Bowman
James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for The New Criterion.