Yes, they’re dog whistling for racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and antisocialism but those are just overtones. We shouldn’t be distracted by them. The dog whistle’s fundamental tune is simply "Join us. We’re Gods. No deed too dirty for us deities.”
The US has recently discovered its Achille’s heel and it’s in the same spot as it has been in every civilization, a weakness for tyrants, people who play God, pretending they’re masters of reality instead of having to adapt to it.
The weakness is in each of us. Who wouldn’t want to be master of reality? Life is uncertain. There’s way too much world, especially now. It’s a relief to think you’ve finally found your infallible focus, a crusade in which you’re the solution.
Most of us know to exercise our appetite for self-deification in fantasy, for example, identifying with superheroes in fiction. But some don’t. They pretend in real life and soon end up with a following among those who can’t, won’t or think they needn’t distinguish fiction from reality.
We make a grave mistake in thinking the self-deifying have a mission. They’re convinced by the sound of their own stridency that they care about making things better. The evidence is that they don’t. Their crusades are just an excuse for playing god.
It’s the same mistake we make over and over. It’s a mistake to think Stalin or Mao were Communists, Hitler was a nationalist, Robespierre was a liberal or Trump is a conservative. Tyrants are just self-deifying. Though some come for the mission they stay for the self-deification. They're gloataholics, addicted to self-aggrandizement.
Self-deification is a drug. Its delivery system is righteous indignation; righteousness that makes them feel like authorities on what warrants indignation, indignation that enables them to forget their fallibility. Self-deification is like granting oneself a wild card and a trump card.
Wild-card: Because I’m the solution, I can do anything I want. It’s all for “the cause”.
Trump card: What I do will always be smarter and better than anything. If I win I’m a genius saint. If I lose, I’m a genius saint martyr.
Playing god is so simple any idiot can do it: Never apologize, always out-scold anyone who questions you. The shy will shy away, the conscientious will get confused, the gullible will join you.
Self-deification is the cheap easy alternative to conscientiousness. Just pretend you’re at war, fighting for the ultimate good. If you're fighting for the ultimate good, you're free to do whatever's necessary. Freer still, the self-deifying pretend they’re fighting for the ultimate good and do whatever they want.
MAGA is actually GAWA: Get Away With Anything. That’s Trump’s draw. His supporters don’t realize it but they’re just in it for the self-deification. They don’t just support Trump; they want to be him.
They think they care about making America great again. They’re really just addicted to righteous indignation. It’s obvious from the way they abandon supposed missions as soon as they’re unable to milk them for the gloataholic buzz.
They promise no promised land. You hear no vision for future American greatness. Getting there is the gloataholic’s fun, the idiot’s delight of wild card trumping.
Once hooked on self-deification, there’s no alternative to sticking with it. The crimes mount; the enemies gather. They can’t show weakness or their whole house of wild card/trump cards tumbles. The US is now being held hostage to leaders who know that if they ever let down their posturing they’d spend the rest of their lives in jail. They’re just hoping to run out the clock.
We make a mistake taking their bait as though they care about their causes. We’ve got to stop projecting our concern about the future on them. For them, it’s a shortsighted addiction to declaring themselves victors. That’s what has us led by the nose into the weeds. To give their concerns the benefit of the doubt is as dangerous as taking a psychopath at his word.
We should focus instead on their dog whistles’ fundamental note. Expose their self-deification. Their only response would be more self-deification, proving our point.
The lesson to take from our country’s flirtation with tyranny is simple. We must guard against self-deification dressed up in any mission – left, right, spiritual, religious, atheistic, philosophical, whatever. That way we could get on with our adaptive lives and continue to play god in fantasy without causing social cancers – righteously indignant wild card, trump card cults of whatever flavor pretending they deserve to rule reality instead of having to adapt to it.
Jeremy Sherman, Ph.D. researches and writes about adaptation from life’s cradle at the origin of life to our current grave situation. He has written 1,000 blog articles for Psychology Today and Alternet, and is the author of “Neither Ghost Nor Machine: The emergence and nature of selves (2017, Columbia University Press).