Like so many, when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the White House last year, I rubbed my hands in gleeful anticipation of what I felt certain would be the most wretched train wreck of a campaign in history. I expected a candidate that would make Herman Cain look informed, Sarah Palin look sane and Gary Hart look like a master strategist.
Like so many however, I entirely overlooked something primal and obvious: that it’s easy to lead mean people.
Trump supporters consistently herald their candidate’s outspoken honesty as his most impressive trait and insist it’s all the more rare because no other candidate has dared to say it like it is the way he does. They’re right too, because no other candidate has been first and foremost mean-spirited.
Honesty is a euphemism for ugliness. Bullying. Calling people names, insulting them, and doing it all from behind a Secret Service protected lectern.
But in reality, it’s easy to lead mean people because so many of them are itching to act on their worst instincts as soon as someone gives them the cover to do so. It’s a rationale that has played out again and again in the formation of everything from totalitarian regimes to organised crime families: the megalomaniacs in the middle attract to them anyone who has ever wanted to be a bully or worse and feel that they can at last get away with it with impunity. Stick a guy like Trump behind a lectern, and it’s a license to do and say all the things you’ve been dying to.
The thing that enabled Hitler (look, I’m hardly the first to invoke Godwin’s Law in reference to Trump) to steamroll over the German constitution, reshape societal norms and launch his catastrophic course was not that the Nazis were smart, skilful and convincing; these weren’t on the whole, especially bright guys. What they had on their side was the easy willingness of the worst members of society to jump on a bandwagon that let them act out their darkest fantasies. Not those in uniform, but those who stepped aside and cheered them on as they practiced organised persecution.
All Trump has done is reach out to the section of the population that wants to do the same thing. Anyone could do that in five seconds flat.