Hatred Trumps Hope By Tom Shachtman

The American Prophet Who Predicted Trump

The uncanny insights (and incredible life) of the American longshoreman and political prophet. By Tom Shachtman

Whether or not Donald Trump knows it, he’s running his presidential campaign out of Eric Hoffer’s playbook. That would be The True Believer, published 65 years ago this spring, a book about mass movements. Hoffer’s big insight was that the followers of Nazism and Communism were essentially the same sort of true believers, the most zealous acolytes of religious, nationalist, and other mass movements throughout history.

In 1951, it was stunning to Americans to be told that ultra-right-wing Nazis and ultra-left-wing Communists—their recent enemies of World War II and current enemies in the Cold War—were, according to Hoffer, cut from the same cloth. “All mass movements,” he explained, “irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred, and intolerance.”

Hatred and hope were the most important lures, Hoffer contended, hatred much more than hope: “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.”

Trump’s followers have responded most enthusiastically to the candidate’s diatribes against such devils as Mexicans and other “illegal immigrants,” Muslims of any stripe, unattractive or pushy women, clueless policy-makers, “loser” opposing candidates, and reporters who ask him other than softball questions.

The pollsters tell us that Trump’s followers share a decided affinity for authoritarianism, as well as beliefs that government causes more problems than it solves and that immigrants (and people with darker skins, and women) have stolen their jobs and their futures.

More: Trumpsters have little regard for facts that contradict their stances. Hoffer could have predicted this. “It is the true believer’s ability to ‘shut his eyes and stop his ears’ to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacle nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence.”

Hoffer described in detail who the true believers were: the frustrated, the disaffected, the dissatisfied with the status quo, those who put their faith in a leader promising simple yet radical solutions to their and society’s problems. “We join a mass movement,” Hoffer wrote, “to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the young Nazi, ‘to be free from freedom.’

“Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the loss of faith in ourselves.

“All mass movements deprecate the present,” wrote Hoffer, “and there is no more potent dwarfing of the present than by viewing it as a mere link between a glorious past and a glorious future.” That’s what Trump is doing when he vows to “make America great again”—celebrating what was and will be, while denigrating what is.

Trumpsters are predominantly white, native-born American males who do not have college degrees, and are economically in the lower middle class rather than among the very poorest. Actually, in these ways they are more like Eric Hoffer than many other Americans. In a 1964 article, Hoffer identified himself and his fellow longshoremen as white men from poor backgrounds, with little education and no skills except for their willingness to do backbreaking manual labor, who “do not feel that the world owes us anything, or that we owe anybody—white, black, or yellow—a damn thing.”

Hoffer was the only child of Alsatian immigrants, born in the Bronx around the turn of the 20th century—sometimes he said 1898, at others, 1902—who grew up poor. When he was 5 he and his mother fell down a flight of stairs; she died and he went blind. His blindness prevented him from going to school, and upon regaining his sight at 15 he continued studying on his own until he was 18, when his father died. Using a small death award from his father’s union, Hoffer traveled to Los Angeles and in the 1920s became a day-worker and Skid Row denizen—reading voraciously in libraries between gigs—in the 1930s an itinerant agricultural field hand, and in 1943 a unionized San Francisco dockworker, a position he retained even after becoming a best-selling author, and until he reached mandatory retirement age in 1967.

He initially took that job on the docks to have more stability to write, but retained the wariness of the itinerant, knowing, as he told his first editor, that he must “guard against fear, self-righteousness, and wishful thinking, for these blunt the mind and the senses.” In the same vein, Hoffer chose not to read Freud, Marx, or other influential intellectuals—he hated intellectuals—so that he would not be swayed by their explanations and jargon. During his itinerant years he began jotting down his thoughts in 3-by-5 inch notebooks carried in his pockets and backpacks, which I was able to consult at the Hoover Institution for my 2011 biography, American Iconoclast: The Life and Times of Eric Hoffer.

Unlike Trump’s followers, Hoffer early on understood that “undesirables” were not the enemy. That revelation occurred in 1934, when as a transient fruit-and-vegetable picker he was swept up and placed in the El Centro camp at the edge of the southern California desert near the Mexican border, and for the first time had to co-exist with 200 other men. Prior to that, he considered himself “just a human being, neither good nor bad, and on the whole, harmless,” but after a month at El Centro he realized he belonged to “a certain type of humanity, the undesirables.”

Some were lame, some were foreign-born, some were tramps, some were much darker-skinned than the rest but, he concluded, all were the same as the “undesirables” who for generations had fled from Europe and Asia and became American pioneers, the people who for 300 years had built our farms and roads and cities and institutions.
Throughout the rest of his life, Eric Hoffer continued to venerate and celebrate the “undesirables” as America’s real founding fathers.

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Noise

“For the most sensitive among us, sometimes the noise can just be too much.” – Jim Carrey – upon hearing of the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

The cross city bus clamors out a murderous seasick solo backed by an orchestral scrum of whizzing internal combustion engines in uproarious brawl spewing invisible air and ear pollution death while begging for second gear; both instruments of audio-olfactory destruction, an offense to the ear and nose from landlocked personal space-ships bumper to bumper on the narrow streets of San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood; all, along with the antique streetcars sing out a cacophony of noise so disturbing I had to hold the phone, physically 1,500 miles away from the action, six inches from my ear.

Our story’s hero Jeff is laboring, careening up and down intensely inclined ski sloop streets chasing said bus while he screams into his cell phone at me “Man, the first thing you’d notice if you came back is the noise”. I tell him he’s preaching to the choir. The air in my environs of northern Wisconsin is so calm I can hear the sound of autumn leaves rustling along the well-kept lawns and iridescent blue birds singing their daily arias.

Writers flood into big cities, whether they know it or not, to be uncomfortable; since like the late, great Charles Bukowski opined “no one comfortable ever wrote anything worth a damn”. The city is life on steroids; it’s intensity keeping us all tense. The boulevard is a raging river of humanity and sometimes inhumanity. There is rarely a shortage of stimuli upon which to opine. Here the writers cup runneth over.

Our hero confides he’s been reaching back into his past to make that connection that sooner or later, sooner I think for some of us given recent societal developments, we all eventually make; that DNA linked memory to our roots. Jeff is currently covered by a warm blanket; surrounded by like-minded west coast social justice warriors – yet when looking back over his shoulder in contemplation of revisiting comrades from his mid-western past; he is floored, repulsed and catatonic over the addiction he sees in his childhood pals adherence to the new ersatz fascism; the redneck noise that is Trumpism.

In the same way it’s nearly impossible to escape the noise coming at us all like a Chinese parade, from eight different directions all at once; it’s the same for our natural inclination to decipher the content and arrange it in some assemblage of bite-size order. Is it as it seems? Is the new avalanche of information overwhelming our capacity to upload, sort-out and categorize it’s meaning and importance so we might get a handle on our collective future?

It can’t only be me and our hero who, overwhelmed by the noise, wish solace in heeding the wise voices from our past. Timothy Leary’s advise was “tune-in, turn-on and drop out.” Or the angelic voices of groovy guru of the day who suggest wandering in an open field for mindfulness training. Or the Birkenstocks environmentalist who insist we head back to nature and hug a tree; or the mental spiritualist that whisper meditation is the key. Maybe the best of them are the Tantra yogi’s who claim sexual pleasure is the way in and out; that the answer is a bit more of the old in and out. Being a hedonist myself I tend to flow in this direction.

Yet, with escape valves in place in case of overload and prayers to the universe for guidance, I can’t help myself wanting to sort through the noise and discover, like a pathfinder, which direction to point; for myself and others. The Stoics posited that the philosopher left the cave, examined the outside world and returned to tell the others of the joys and dangers outside the cave.

Now they’re be a noble and heroic cause; to be a fearless scout in the face of unknown dangers; to be a trailblazer for the greater good in a quest to report, interpret and transmit the findings. The conundrum seems to be we can’t translate through the noise to know what’s coming if we disengage from it.

In the end I’m left perplexed. Shall we try to make a path through the noise though we fear not knowing the answers and fear worse not even understanding the questions? Are we all just like our hero; wishing to be heroes; but succumbing to the dictates of surviving the day and reach for the safety and sanity of just catching that bus? #rednecknoise #Stoics #Trumpism #CharlesBukowski

Indian Summer

“The Indian Summer of life should be a little sunny and a little sad, like the season; infinite in wealth and depth of tone, but never hustled”. – Henry Adams

Returning to my comfort station, reclining as calm and safe as a man watching a snow storm from his fireplace, resplendent in my throne as form-fitting as a dentist’s chair; the Technicolor movie that never ends burns outside my writers window; bringing me once again to a level of consciousness and sense of detail rarely met. The weather seer on the magic box tells me this very day brings forth the peak of Fall’s funeral colors.

Autumn leaves empty of promise as a woman past the magic of birth cascade choreographed in a wonderland as quiet as asylum walls, yet hot as the boiler room of the damned; death colored egg yolk yellow and shot through with veins as red as Gods blood rainbow arcs as colorful as a shower of dying clowns.

They flutter, cut loose and fly in somnambulist vertigo exhaustion; oscillating on the almighty hawks reaper winds; looking like pixie magic carpets; organic meteor showers in this curious early evening; creating a musical serenade of tiny organic castanets inside north-lands mystical Peter Pan Neverland forest; then land in quiet triumph. Wood smoke clings to a darkened moonless sky like a quivering mist shaking in its tilt above and across a glass smooth lake.

Another more common death notice arrived across the wire today; my Muse, most dear to me, robed in colors soft pink and regal purple, is feeling the loss of one most dear to her. Though channeling the bereavement, nonplussed, she is comforted in the knowledge that every description of the end was never other than glorious. I will save a leaf or two in memory of this years last interment procession and place in them the memory of their best days, as I hope the amulet I sent her will assuage the injury and immortalize the sad event; elevating both their status to symbolic yet sacred sarcophagus.

The moment speaks an echoing acoustic truth; as above so below. The last chapter of Fall’s story mimics our own, or so we hope; that like natures end-of-days cycle we too, in our last evolution, will rush forth most musical and magnificently colored in our ending hours. Snakes shed their skin and stay; trees release their leaves yet still breathe and we jettison our flesh and blood while our soul essence linger. This Indian summer is the perfect time for the rewards of that esoteric existential wondering.

In this cycle of life, death and rebirth the deeds we leave behind are the steps of the dance we taught our brothers and sisters; they stay as rhythms they will never lose. We celebrate souls that pass to the other side in the same way we celebrate Indian summer;  just another life form bound by the rules of nature.

Desire

“I’m sitting down by the highway; down by this highway town. Everybody’s going somewhere; riding just as fast as they can ride. I guess they’ve got a lot to do; before they can rest assured their lives are justified. Pray to God for me babe; he can let me slide”Jackson Browne – Bright Baby Blues

I think it was that cheery cherub Buddha who said that wanting was the source of all pain, and while I consider that gem true, it’s not to say we shouldn’t want things. On a dissimilar axiom, for me anyway, and I’m as competitive a person as you’re likely to find within those activities I am naturally gifted at, leaving the others alone, I’ve always felt that seeming to want anything to much was just bad form, since, again for me, I can’t be cool and needy at the same time.

It is in our youth that we strive to accomplish and here I’m speaking of the male ego, an attribute I’m often derisively chided about, but when raised to the very highest level,  I believe without which, we wouldn’t have civilization.

Once we wake to discover we’ve become adept at a young age our life is irrevocably changed from just someone to a serious artist of life. There is a spiritual component to serious art but there is also a warrior ethic; the notion of going places where we are not welcome. This does not have to mean world-wide acclaim; only greatness within the arena we find ourselves deployed.

When in the mix I’ve often felt like a punch-drunk boxer who’s been hit by his opponent and knocked down and gets up and gets hit again and falls down and gets up and knocked down again and finally the bell rings to find me exhilarated and giddy because, though I had been humbled, I got through the fight. Something shifted inside me from that first time and I felt that from there on I would be an outlaw. Those who’ve experienced this phenomenon know of what I speak.

I knew from then on I wouldn’t try to please any audience, critics, or reviewers, I would fight the battles in the rings I felt competitive in and write the books I wanted to write for writing is a rebellious act and artists are rebels. There is something transgressive about being a serious writer. To have it said that no one has done this before, or they haven’t done it quite the way you’re doing it and therefore it has to be wrong; makes it for certain you’re on the right path.

So a writer must have certain resilience and that’s where enormous ego comes into play and is very valuable. At the same time one must possess ardor and passion, a spiritual, one might say a visionary, commitment to the work. I feel that in my writing I am trying to bear witness for people who can’t speak for themselves, for one or another reason they don’t possess the literary language or are disenfranchised socially or politically or may not even be alive or more times than not they’ve had experiences that have rendered them mute.

It’s up to the writer and the artist to give voice to these people. There are two impulses in art: one is rebellious and transgressive; you explore regions where you are not wanted, and you will be punished for that. But the other is a way of sympathy; evoking empathy for people who may be different from us whom we don’t know. Art is a way of breaking down the barriers between people and these two seemingly antithetical impulses toward rebellion and toward sympathy come together in art.

If I never eat in another great restaurant or bed another magnificent woman or taste the best of things this life has to offer I’m sure I’ll be fine with it since I feel like all those hedonistic experiences have been satiated and assuaged and I haven’t missed one pleasure or wasted a minute. But I’m not talking about possessions; things we can buy; but experiences; those things that can’t be bought; the things that don’t end up owning us but the things we own that make us who we are.

They say in astrology that after our first Saturn Transit (cycling every 29 years) we will go on to do something we touched in those first 29 years and that seems about right to me. Once everything has been had all that’s left is to revisit to one degree or another one or some of those things. But after a lifetime of purely hedonistic pursuits I find the practice wanting. This is not to say I don’t enjoy a cashmere top coat or a fine glass of whisky or a captivating woman or any of the other myriad of  self-indulgent gratifications; I do, but the desire to achieve those pleasures has faded to insignificance and I tend to view them as what they are; a joyful indulgence.

I regard extravagant delights as amusements and recreation; like a good dose of codeine and a Camel straight; since I like my poisons pure. But the desire for outward enchantments have given way to what’s best described as the greater good.

Nobel’s and Pulitzer s are not awarded to the richest but to those who gave the most to the rest of us. Each of us has a special gift, something we are naturally good or great at and some can take the 10,000 hours of doing it that Malcolm Gladwell posited was required to get good at anything before they get there. But success is like life; not a destination but a journey. To achieve success at anything we only need to take the first step to realize it. The minute we start on the journey we are a success.

The question that equally fascinates and perplexes me tonight is this: If want no longer holds sway and hiking towards what I consider the greater good to be is, and I have bridged the chrysalis and crossed the Rubicon and am truly on the Appian Way; what great visions will appear on the path to Rome. You could say I wish to know but it’s less than want; I’m just curious; and that, tonight anyway, feels just about good enough.