Donald Trump and the triumph of the stupid


What is happening in the United States is a matter of the gravest portent for the whole civilised world.

Throughout the last hundred years, individual Americans have done more to further civilisation than the individuals of any other country; today, Trump voters embark upon the task of degrading civilisation. At the present day the most distinguished names in the world of learning are still American; the most degraded and brutal government, shortly to obtain access to the levers of presidential power, is also American. Given a few years of Trump rule, the United States will sink to the level of a horde of barbarians.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]We stand at an inflection point of history: the election of Donald Trump, arguably the most ill informed, brutal, corrupt, thin-skinned and narcissistic individual elected to the US presidency.[/pullquote]

These are not my words; they are a paraphrase of the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell writing about Germany at a critical inflection point of history, the rise of Hitler in 1933. His essay was entitled The Triumph of Stupidity.

The essay makes chilling reading at a new inflection point of history: the rise of Donald Trump, arguably, the most ill informed, brutal, corrupt, thin-skinned and narcissistic individual elected to the US presidency.

It has happened in much the same way that Russell described the rise of Hitler:

…What has happened is quite simple. Those elements of the population which are both brutal and stupid (and these two qualities usually go together) have combined against the rest.

Steve Bannon, the pied piper of brutality and stupidity has poisoned his minions with fake news in order to elect a fake president with fake values.

How did the rest of us let it happen? Russell is prescient in his assessment:

The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.

Even those of the intelligent who believe that they have a nostrum are too individualistic to combine with other intelligent men from whom they differ on minor points.

Trump supporters were cocksure and Hillary supporters fretted over minor points: whether she was as liberal as Bernie; whether the fact that her State Department emails were on a private server meant anything; whether the DNC schemed to elect her, and whether Huma Abedin’s marriage to Anthony Weiner should taint her by association. Oh, and the Russians and the Republican director of the FBI conspired against her while obviously violating international law and American precedent respectively.

…It is, I think, undeniable that the best [people] of the present day have a wider and truer outlook … but [they] are impotent spectators. Perhaps we shall have to realise that scepticism and intellectual individualism are luxuries which in our tragic age must be forgone, and if intelligence is to be effective, it will have to be combined with a moral fervour which it usually possessed in the past but now usually lacks.

Russell’s essay ends in a grim irony; Germany may be in the grip of evil people, but America may save the day:

In this gloomy state of affairs, the brightest spot is America. In America democracy still appears well established, and the men in power deal with what is amiss by constructive measures, not by pogroms and wholesale imprisonment.

Tragically, that is about to change. The men soon to be in power (and it is almost exclusively men) do not believe in constructive measures. They believe in intimidation, self-dealing, score-settling and a never ending stream of lies.

Republicans, led by Republican-in-Chief Vladimir Putin, chide the Democrats to accept their loss and get over their disappointment. But Democrats aren’t disappointed; we are terrified. We remember that Hitler came to power because he and his supporters wanted to make Germany great again. The result was that Germany was reduced to a smoking ruin.

That could happen here too.