The movie They Live provides another example of how life imitates art
In John Carpenter’s classic sci-fi movie They Live (1988), a race of evil aliens has secretly taken over the planet. They maintain control by broadcasting stealth radio frequencies that not only makes them look like human members of the ruling class, but encodes subliminal messages into various advertising media to manipulate the populace, commanding them to obey, consume, and reproduce. Only by donning specially crafted lenses can their wearer remove the subliminal filters to see what lies beneath.
Subliminal messaging has a well-documented history in advertising. In politics, it is referred to as “dog whistling”, the use of code words and phrases to arouse and manipulate specific emotions like fear and prejudice in the subconscious of their target audience. The target audience of the traditional GOP establishment (i.e., rich Wall Street Yale grad types) has shifted over the decades, necessitated by the need for securing a greater number of votes from the peasant class. Getting people to vote against their own interests while maintaining the tax breaks, corporate welfare, and other privileges of the Ruling Class is as much an art as it is a science. That’s why master propagandists like Roger Ailes get paid the big bucks.
In the 1960s, their target audience was the so-called Yellow Dog Democrats, who felt betrayed by President Lyndon Johnson after he signed the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. Imagine the blow to white Southerners’ self-esteem when they were forced to share things like restaurants, public drinking fountains, the education system, and the voting booth wit dem damn darkies. This is turn gave rise to a sense of victim-hood, fomented and exploited by politicians, authors, and media personalities to further their own interests: getting elected to public office, selling books, and increasing their Q ratings. In the succeeding decades, other voting demographics have been targeted: fundamentalist Christians and Evangelicals (who had traditionally avoided politics); and anti-government Tea Party types who, much to the chagrin of the Ruling Class, have become powerful enough to dominate the primary process.
Enter billionaire real estate mogul and reality television show star Donald “Your Fired!” Trump, whose primary business interest these last few years has been the building and selling his personal brand (as has his fellow GOP presidential contenders, “outsiders” Ben ‘The Knife” Carson and Carly “Corporate Wrecking Ball” Fiorina). What many pundits had initially dismissed as a clever, inexpensive, marketing scam has morphed into a situation where Trump, who has expanded his lead over the rest of the GOP field in most state and national polls, is suddenly a serious possibility for becoming the GOP nominee. (Much to his own surprise, I’d wager.)
Conspiracy theories abound. One casts Trump, a long-time friend of the Clintons and a donor to their foundation, as their Trojan Horse, a clever device to divide the Republican Party. Last week there were rumors that GOP insiders are frantically plotting their first brokered convention since 1976, a possibility that had Ben Carson saying he would bolt the party along with Trump and run as Independents if the democratic delegate election process was aborted by the Powers That Be. (Romney to the rescue?)
Donald Trump for Honorary Caliph!
But perhaps the most exotic conspiracy theory portrays The Donald as Secret ISIS Agent Trump, whose pogrom against Muslims will have the effect of driving recruitment for Daesh/ISIL/ISIS to unprecedented levels. Of course, this doesn’t have to be a conscious betrayal, just the inevitable karmic repercussion of The Law of Unintended Consequences of Infinite Dickitude.
Beyond the immediate political repercussions of The Donald’s call for preventing all Muslims from entering the country, there are sociological, geopolitical, and financial knock-on effects as well. Consider just the sociological ramifications of his call to, among other things: register Muslims in a centralized government database; put their mosques under surveillance; and flag their drivers’ license with their religious affiliation. (He hasn’t yet suggested they wear yellow (or green) crescents sewed on the outside of their clothing, but following the inexorable laws of political pornography, there’s still plenty of time for that.) I mean, what could go wrong? Why shouldn’t that inspire America’s 3 million Muslims to identify potential terrorists in their own neighborhoods, despite being suspected of being potential terrorists themselves?
Since the Paris and San Bernardino atrocities, attacks against Muslims and their mosques have increased dramatically. (One baseline being a 2014 FBI report of 154 hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims). These include the throwing of a pig’s head at the doors of a Philadelphia mosque; the arson attack on a mosque just 90 miles from the site of the San Bernardino mass murders by Daesh linked extremists; and the vandalizing of two other California mosques.
Then there are the geopolitical consequences. For example, Juan Cole reports:
After criticism from both the left and the right, Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that he will delay his visit to Israel and Jerusalem. The wealthy business tycoon and apparent presidential candidate had previously stated that he planned to visit the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and then force his way into the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
As for the financial repercussions, consider just the ones that effect Trump alone.
Prominent UAE-based businessman Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor has ruled out any chance of working with US presidential candidate Donald Trump, saying he doesn’t trust him anymore. Branding billionaire Trump “the biggest enemy of Islam” over his call to ban Muslims from entering the US, Al Habtoor said he was no longer supporting his bid for power.
In August, Al Habtoor wrote an opinion piece criticising US president Barack Obama for the rise of ISIL and saying Trump would be a welcome breath of fresh air and was “someone prepared to put their money where their mouth is”.
But in a video interview with CNN, Al Habtoor said: “I view him as the biggest enemy of Islam. He is a man supporting ISIS… he is encouraging them, this is what they want to hear.”
Earlier in the year Trump called Mexicans “drug traffickers and rapists,” demanding that all 11 million of them be deported. This helped secure the support of David Duke’s KKK,; as well as the Hitler Party, as announced by the neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer. The wannabe Storm Troopers doubled down last week with the headline:
“Heil Donald Trump—the Ultimate Savior.”
The good news is that Trump is throwing away the stock-in-trade Republican dog whistle, used traditionally to evoke the entrenched racism and religious bigotry of the knuckle dragging portion of its base. No need now for subtext, nuance, magical sunglasses, or intricate subliminal messaging to reveal what lies beneath. Instead, The Trumpster is telling his target audience exactly what they want to hear: Muslims are out to kill us, and only he can make us safe.
The bad news that in the process he is letting slip the dogs of war. This of course plays right into the hands of the ISIL and their ilk, whose apocalyptic fantasies are woven around the instigation of a religious war with the Christian West, a Clash of Civilizations, to use the classic neocon formulation.
As the great existential philosopher Pogo put it: We have met the enemy, and he is us.