Donald Trump is not the president of all Americans. He only cares about himself, his voters and other sycophants. Public service is anathema to him. Patriotism is inconceivable to him as well. Democracy and the common good are antithetical to his personal values, morals and beliefs. In total, Donald Trump believes he is above the rule of law and, like a king or queen, is the literal embodiment of the state.
Donald Trump does not represent a political party so much as a social and cultural movement which seeks to destroy America’s multiracial democracy and fully reinstate American apartheid.
Given his politics it is no coincidence then that Donald Trump refers to his “movement” rather than the Republican Party when speaking to his supporters: this emphasis on “movement” above party was used by the Nazis and the Third Reich to mobilize their base and its destructive energies.
Like other right-wing populist movements Trumpism has a uniform and a slogan. This is the red and white MAGA hat, the tan khaki pants worn by the white supremacist hooligans in Charlottesville and elsewhere, and the words “Make America Great Again.” Trump’s movement also has membership cards, which function both as a loyalty oath and marker of belonging.
The “Trump Make America Great Again Committee” sent this fundraising email on Wednesday:
Let me be clear. Since the day I took my famous escalator ride in 2015 to announce my presidential campaign, the Democrat harassment, fake news attacks, and blatant lies have never been about me…
Their target has always been you.
The liberal swamp hates the idea of people like YOU being in charge of America, and there is no line they won’t cross to prevent that from happening. Just look at the Phony Witch Hunt — NO COLLUSION.
In 2016, I was simply your voice, but YOU were the one that took our country back and made the liberal swamp and political insiders FURIOUS.
Now headed into 2020, we have to remind them that this is your country, not theirs.
Since you’ve been such an important part of our movement, I wanted to give you this exclusive opportunity to become an Official 2019 Trump Executive Member and receive your PERSONALIZED membership card. Please contribute to activate your Official 2019 Trump Executive Membership by 11:59 PM TONIGHT and we’ll send you this beautiful PERSONALIZED card.
The one thing that keeps our movement alive is our members. I need you on my side to fight back against the lies and attacks.
This fundraising email is a distillation of the core themes and strategies Donald Trump is using to mobilize and control his followers.
There are the blatant and obvious lies about “fake news attacks,” “Democratic harassment” and a “Phony Witch Hunt,” along with Trump’s personal favorite, “No Collusion.”
Trump’s political cult is nurtured and reinforced by creating a sense of personal identification and intimate connection between leader and followers, as with “YOU were the one that took our country back and made the liberal swamp and political insiders FURIOUS.”
Scripted violence and stochastic terrorism are encouraged by Trump with “their target has always been you. The liberal swamp hates the idea of people like YOU being in charge of America, and there is no line they won’t cross to prevent that from happening.”
A literal type of white nationalism is channeled by Donald Trump and his racial authoritarianism here: “Now headed into 2020, we have to remind them that this is your country, not theirs.” This parallels the messaging of “Make America Great Again” where Trump and his regime’s policies and goals really mean “Make America White Again.”
When viewed in isolation Trump’s messaging is dangerous enough: these are clear threats to America’s democratic norms, an encouragement to political violence against liberals, nonwhites, LGBT people and other “enemies,” and reinforcing a cult of personality led by a man who has contempt for American democracy and the Constitution, is clearly a pathological liar and is likely a malignant narcissist who is unmoored from reality.
When viewed in total, however, this fundraising email is something far worse. Trump is promising an authoritarian “national renewal” to his white supporters through a fake populism that nurtures feelings of grievance and victimhood — feelings that can only be remedied through loyalty to the Great Leader and Dear Father. Political violence will be necessary — and is already taking place across the country — because TrumpWorld and its members believe that they are in an existential battle for survival.
Trump’s “executive membership card” is actually a loyalty card meant to confer a feeling of emotional superiority over those outside of the movement. Like the MAGA hats and other Trump regalia the executive membership card is a form of permission to commit violence and other disreputable acts.
Some would object to such conclusions and claim that these membership cards are just another example of Trump’s naked greed and how he is taking advantage of the rubes once again. That is correct. But it is also true and more important that authoritarian leaders — especially in failing or failed democracies — use the state as a way of enriching themselves and their inner circle at the expense of the public. In that way Donald Trump is part of a much larger global right-wing authoritarian kleptocracy.
In the near future, children and grandchildren will find their parents and grandparents’ MAGA hats, T-shirts, and other paraphernalia. Such a moment of discovery will be akin to finding Nazi dinner plates or Ku Klux Klan robes hidden away in the closet. The moment of discovery will be shocking and embarrassing for many families. Now Donald Trump’s “executive membership cards” will also be added to that cardboard box of shame.