The Predatory Presidency

BY TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 6 Mar 2017

Roy Eidelson – Common Dreams

Recent executive orders reveal the Trump White House as a ruthless predator set to prey upon the most vulnerable among us.

In the Galapagos Islands, the racer snakes get ready to launch. (Photo: BBC)

27 Feb 2017 – The season premiere of BBC America’s Planet Earth II includes remarkable footage from the desolate Galapagos Islands. In one striking scene, baby marine iguanas race across the sand, desperately trying to elude dozens of snakes eager for their next meal. Although such stark life-or-death struggles are difficult to watch, it helps to remember that they reflect nature’s dynamic balance.

Far more disturbing—and unnatural—are the Trump Administration’s similarly ruthless predator-like attacks on whatever groups it chooses as its prey. Adding to their repugnance, several of these assaults over the past month—through a series of executive orders—are inherently racist, seemingly propelled by the ugly 14-word credo of white nationalists everywhere: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

Three White House orders stand out. First, there’s the determined pursuit of a Muslim travel ban, one that will prevent thousands of tempest-tossed and despairing refugees from entering the country. Second, there’s the heartless stalking of undocumented Hispanic immigrants, including the near indiscriminate roundup, detention, and deportation of law-abiding men, women, and children. And third, there’s the early blueprint for a “tough on crime” law enforcement crackdown, an onslaught that will inevitably and predominantly disrupt and besiege Black communities and activists.

These three groups, all non-white, have been selected as the initial targets for aggressive and oppressive government action (there will undoubtedly be others). To be sure, this isn’t entirely new. As Langston Hughes wrote 80 years ago, “America never was America to me.” But along with Trump himself, influential White House strategists Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller of the “alt-right” and new Attorney General Jeff Sessions have especially troubling histories of outright hostility and scornful indifference toward those who don’t share their skin color.

We’ve also seen that predators in the wild aren’t the only ones to use trickery, deception, and stealth as complements to brute force. Disguising the real impetus behind these executive orders, the Trump White House turns to sky-is-falling psychological mind games, warning us that these steps are necessary to protect the public from dire threats. The Islamophobia-nurturing Muslim travel ban is deceitfully presented as an essential counter-terrorism measure. ICE raids are defended with the fiction that millions of Hispanic immigrants are “bad hombres” and the rest are a drain on limited public resources. And repressive steps against African Americans are justified through bogus tales of a nationwide crime wave and “carnage in our inner cities.”

The purpose of these appeals is simple: to short-circuit the public’s critical reasoning; overwhelm us with emotions of fear and dread; and thereby garner either our active support or acquiescence. Once a crisis environment is created, once we begin to catastrophize and imagine the worst possible outcomes, then even the most extreme measures can begin to seem prudent. This is proven snake oil that’s stood the test of time. Recall that Nazi propagandist Herman Goering acknowledged as much when, during the Nuremberg trials after World War II, he explained:

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

But once we recognize these manipulative psychological ploys for what they are, the path forward becomes increasingly clear. First, whenever possible, we must expose and condemn the racist falsehoods of the President and his cronies. Second, we should counter and undermine the constant fearmongering they use to advance their agenda of intolerance. And third, we need to do whatever we can to help protect the individuals, families, and communities most immediately at risk of ambush and assault.

This may sound like a daunting challenge. Fortunately, however, the mass protests and daily acts of civil resistance throughout the country over the past several weeks have already demonstrated our resolve. They’ve also revealed our capacity to expand our “circle of moral concern,” so that it extends well beyond those we hold most dear or consider most similar to us.

In nature, potential prey instinctually use a wide range of strategies to ward off attacks—from camouflage to traveling in groups to alarm signals to communal defense based on strength in numbers—and they rarely succumb without a fight. With the merciless predators from the White House now on the prowl, surely we must be prepared to do the same.

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Roy Eidelson is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and was a member of the American Psychological Association for over 25 years, prior to his resignation. He is a clinical psychologist and the president of Eidelson Consulting, where he studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, associate director of the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at Bryn Mawr College, and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Roy can be reached at reidelson@eidelsonconsulting.com.

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One Response to “The Predatory Presidency”

  1. Greetings,
    What is in this artcile is peacefully said. Thank you.
    (Or most of it, as your vision of nature Roy, is a bit of a pinpoint. Not all my wild-animal friends would agree and eco-systems are made of balance, of peaceful moments also and for all species – and of course of various types of feeding moments, but not only. Even for snakes, who only seldom eat and on very irregular basis, they also have lenghty times ofd absence of feeding, they feed like … once a month or so, or even less).
    This is also very well said regarding the human and humane reactions.
    However, thinking about the long term effects of such policies and counter-policies, how to avoid, and with what shall we replace such (however bad or mild) infamous political misfortunes? Can we avoid such politically legitimate upheveals of dishumanity from happening again ?
    We have seen here some short term reactions, highly needed indeed, but I can’t morally leave the long term question open, so I’ll pinpoint (me too ?), two major possibilities, out of vast array of measures.
    Humanrights were made law in Europe (and to a lesser extent – now growing – in the rest of the world) to make people happy indeed, but partly too to quell, or better, to prevent democracies from going bad. Why ? Because the more people have rights against the mischiefs of their leaders and governements, the less space these have to act against them (and the more space is given – or left – to the people to work at their well-being). And I’d say that in this perspective, it worked pretty well in Europe.
    If I can dare a critic, Human rights are not very effective or even commen knowledge, or high on the agenda in this Nation-State we are here talking about. (Except may be in international politics when it comes to encouraging others to do better than what one does; why not ? They are too few ratifications of international treaties, no independant judicial overseeing to cite only some (mild) exemples of lagging behind on human rights; look for your own systemic or individual breaches of basic rights, dignity or freedoms.
    Secondly, there must be a rethinking (reviving ?) and betterment of -active- democracy. How is this going to happen is still to be seen, but as there is an ongoing trend towards that, worldwide, so in due time and the sooner the better, it will happen. Yet we need to partake in it, nonetheless to have a place to express and share our good human qualities. Here again, reaching far and long term is needed. Long story told short, “how do we witness and awake to the need of, and then envision and enact a worldwide democracy that is always human, provides sustainbable life and happy survival, including participation means, for each and all, for all the members of the human family, on a healthy and lasting planet?” The progress (or sustaining if need be) and proper use of democracy is far from being a local issue. (And I am not dreaming an utopia… The need is there. Ever heard of climate change, or of a project meant for all humanity called the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 ?).
    I’ll conclude by saying that snakes sometimes do have their own tails tied up, sometimes doing it by themselves, not always doing it alone and may be for more than two at a time, (though the knots are usually rather loose, it is very frequent in snake nests). It also happens that sometimes they are blocked in trees or rocks (can you imagine a snake going reverse gear ?), sometimes they do not even notice they are blocked. Meanwhile, while snakes are busy doing snake business, this leaves a lot of space elsewhere to do other and preferably better things (including a World Health Organization worldwide campaign, started in 2015, to prevent snake bites).
    Thanks for the inspiration and for this good occasion to look forward in time, and speak for the future. As all bad experiences still hold a lesson to be learned, may we all learn, improve and therefore dwell in joy, and carry on !
    Yours
    Christophe

    NB: I am not specially found of snakes, but I do know them (some), do care for animals, and for none of them to be portrayed as vile… If you see one, you’ll very rarely be the pray and if you do not panic, most likely it’ll be ok. Snake bites are accidents.