President Trump and past and present cognitive dissonance

Courtenay Barnett Aug 31, 2017

How does a man whose close and immediate family are designated by neo-Nazis as filth and the dregs of humanity then fail to condemn, without equivocation or excuses, such racism? Trump is either ignorant of history, or is so enarmoured by the idea of White supremacy, that he fails to comprehend that the ideas enacted under Hitler being regurgitated in the US in 2017 by persons who see him as President and being equivalently praiseworthy as Hitler is an affront and not a compliment.

Personal recollections

As a student in London, I occasionally marched and protested against that which I thought was unjust or simply wrong. Racism in general and Apartheid in particular in South Africa provided cause to venture into the streets of London. On one occasion in the East End of London, there was a National Front (NF) march (the equivalent in the 1970s of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the US today). The NF was permitted to march along the street. The anti-racist protesters stood behind barriers and there was the usual chanting and howling of slogans and counter-slogans for or against the cause. That occasion comes back to mind because a police officer on the street-side of the barrier, with obvious bitterness and contempt, without any disturbance or civil disobedience on my part, just looked me straight in the face and yelled “Black Bastard”. Guess he found himself on the right side of the fence on that occasion. Standing in Trafalgar Square or opposite South Africa House was itself a just and righteous cause being advocated for, I thought then, and think so all the more now.

With a background such as mine, it then comes as no great surprise that I have more than a casual interest in the recent events of neo-Nazi, KKK and White supremacist marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, as shown at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1Uao75uM2k

To hear “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” chanted these several years later after the Allied forces defeated the Nazis in World War II, brings a different sort of recollection to mind, such as images of Auschwitz and “sieg heil” chants before and after Crystal night ( Kristallnacht).

A neo-Nazi driving into a group of anti-racist protesters brings back the recollection of the racist police officer in London shouting as he did; but the conduct of the Nazi attacker in Virginia was at a lethally different level compared to the mild racist outburst I had experienced.  See   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jGgYM2_Zdk

Historical context
Long before the Allied forces joined to defeat fascism, there had been struggles for equality in America. Most notably there was the American Civil War. The Northern states did not thrive on nor did they need chattel slavery as a means of enriching themselves. The South did. Robert E. Lee was the leader of a Southern insurrection to separate from the broader America to preserve the chattel slavery system. So, the statue symbolises that ‘culture’, those attitudes and values and the racism which slavery was* (see: Postscript).

The forces that defeated Adolph Hitler and his Nazi cohorts had prevented additional egregious wrongs from being inflicted as horrors unto other human beings visited upon humanity by the Third Reich. The Jews in particular paid a heavy price. Hitler was literally trying to exterminate all of European Jews. The newsreels and the barbarous deeds are there for those serious enough, relative to that history, to take an interest, and might then understand what the implications and logical outgrowth of these modern day Nazi ideas imply: see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43ZtfL3xqSU

The response of President Trump to Nazi supporters

When you listen to all this-- (Trump Delivers Infrastructure Statement in NYC | NBC News)

President Trump delivers a statement from Trump Tower after signing an executive order on the environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure. You can be left in no uncertain terms that Donald Trump is:  An apologist for racists; and

1.When one argues that some ‘very fine people’ were at the rallies led by the neo-Nazis and the KKK then the question has to be asked:- Was it by mere coincidence that these ‘very fine people’ simply arrived and were in the company of neo-Nazis and the KKK without themselves either being neo-Nazis and KKK members or at the very least sympathisers of same?

1. The illogicality of supporting these racist groups arises in this way for Donald Trump:- When your former wife is a Jew(ess) and your son-in-law is a Jew then there are some serious contradictions arising here with your apologetic embrace of these groups – isn’t there? If one were to trace being a Jew on the matrilineal or the patrilineal lineage Trump faces a logical conundrum for resolution. The neo-Nazis and the KKK are avowed haters of Jews. Therefore, without knowing them as people, there would be automatic hatred and potentially violence directed at Trump’s former wife and his son-in-law for no other reason than that of those persons’ ethnicity/religious identity. Further, Trump’s family, be that former wife, son-in-law, son, and by blood extension his grandchildren are all the subjects of derision and hatred from the groups Trump finds himself shamelessly defending. Thus, he purports to be embracing the ‘very fine people’ who simply turned up in the company of neo-Nazis and KKK and White Nationalists – but are not themselves to be deemed the disseminators or sympathisers of hatred directed to certain ‘lesser breeds’. Really now?

Attempts at rationalization
The purpose of comparisons is to equate. Such equation can be used as a means of illustrating or amplifying a point which a person is seeking to make. I am being generous here, because I want to lead into Donald Trump’s rationalisations on the basis of both the historical references and the contemporary implications of support for White supremacist ideas.

Trump has expressed his concern that the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee may logically lead to the rejection of persons such as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, on the basis that they were slave owners and thus their memory might, by comparison with Lee, be deemed unworthy of national recognition. Trump’s point is, by parity of reasoning, that there is something worthy in Lee’s main conduct and contributions. Therefore, like George Washington or Jefferson, both flawed men, there is a real and imminent danger of damaging the national heritage of America (see: postscript).

It seems to me that there is a marked contrast between founding a nation built on high ideals and an innovative and promising form of governance, versus the raw defence in a war for the prolonging of chattel slavery. But, President Trump might not appreciate nor concede the false equivalence that he constructed and posited to bolster his argument in support of the neo-Nazis, the KKK and the White supremacists.

Historical memory, itself, should call for more than a cautionary pause when shouts of “sieg heil” being accompanied by “hail Trump” and an embrace from the former leader of the KKK, David Duke, become the root and substance of – acceptance by the supremacists – versus – an unequivocal rejection from the President. While President Trump has opted for an acceptance of those shouts, he is being distanced by all the heads of the military and leaders in industry. A sad indictment against an even sadder, pathetic and pitiful President who finds it impossible to distance and condemn the equation of himself to Adolph Hitler – so – heil Trump: see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVrb4CvOLmk

Cognitive dissonance
How does a man whose close and immediate family are designated by neo-Nazis as filth and the dregs of humanity then fail to condemn, without equivocation or excuses, such racism?

Trump is either ignorant of history, or is so enarmoured by the idea of White supremacy, that he fails to comprehend that the ideas enacted under Adolph Hitler being regurgitated in the US in 2017 by persons who see him as President of the United States of America and being equivalently praiseworthy as Adolph Hitler is an affront and not a compliment. So –again – then, “Heil Trump!”

Putting the history on the European continent to the side for a moment, then considering the experiences in America of Native Americans and the involuntarily imported population placed to labour on plantations, within a more narrow and specifically American historical context, is an actual march from domination, enslavement, ostracism, and slowly, inexorably – an advancement to full citizenship (however reluctantly so conferred). That version of American history which states that the indigenous populations before the Mayflower and the slaves and the Mexicans and in fact all the non-Whites do have quite distinct histories that fit within the patchwork that ultimately makes the fabric of American society is an honest point of historical view. It is a historical point of view which acknowledges and accommodates and embraces a more expansive appreciation (understanding if you like) of the menagerie which ultimately became America.

But, President Trump seems wholly unable to either appreciate or understand that in a diverse society the humanity of all, and not just the humanity of a privileged few, will need to be accepted if that society is to function and flourish. It is this point which the Generals in unison stated to America when they had collectively confirmed a rejection of racism. This, if President Trump cared to notice, mirrored the same somber realisation by the top CEOs that this was the time to split from that which was bereft, coming from Trump, and ultimately was deemed bad for business in America or the wider world. The Generals and the CEOs got that point. They understood that Trump had descended into absurdity in his defending the Nazis – or – even the neo-Nazis, if any fine distinction is to be drawn. For that was what Trump was doing and sensible leaders had no desire to descend to or be associated with the ridiculous place Trump had positioned himself at. They understood incongruity well before rebuffs and rejections descended upon the institutions or businesses that they were leaders of.

Stated as succinctly as one can – Trump’s conduct, expressions and positions on race-relations are all dissonant. Cognitively dissonant.

Conclusion
In being an apologist for Nazism, President Trump, like the KKK members, is displaying a fundamental historical misunderstanding about the genealogy of America.

In mentioning Thomas Jefferson to support a line of political reasoning for sustenance of a status quo of discriminatory privilege, Trump has not taken time to think and question the social forces which serve to retard or advance people within the American nation. He could have started instead with knowing and acknowledging a very human fact of Jefferson having a long-standing intimate relationship with and children by his Black Mistress, Sally Hemmings. It is telling that after DNA analysis served to confirm the paternity of Hemmings’ children then in January 2000, the conclusion was accepted by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation that such historical reality might not invite alternative Presidential positionings than with Nazism. Donald Trump, if only he read a bit, might arrive finally at a point of understanding as to the demographics of America and the historical realities which led to that demographic reality.

President Trump, if he cared to, might read the book entitled, ‘Slaves in the family’ by Edward Ball. It tells the true story of a White American born in Savannah, Georgia, tracing his lineage. He commences with Elias Ball, who in 1698 migrated from England and became a very large plantation owner, acquiring some twenty plantations. Elias, like Jefferson, had offspring with slaves. Over three hundred years slaves and slave masters lived side by side in America. The Ball slave descendants along a blood-line was what Elias’ descendant was documenting. A history previously ignored but very much a part of American historical reality. The figure the book arrived at of ‘Black Ball descendants’ ( so to speak) was in the region of 75,000 to 100,000 in 1998 at the time of the book’s first publication. The interactions between the Cherokee nation and Europeans tells of similar genealogical inheritances. Quite frankly, such stories within America run all the way up from Key West in the South to Alaska in the North. That realisation, that reality, that America which does exist is the one President Trump might be better focused on governing with justice and inclusion, than either apologizing for or embracing (implicitly or expressly) the Aryan myth within Nazism.

President Trump’s style of governance and his incessant ill-advised tweeting has projected him into national and international consciousness as the ‘divider in chief’ rather than the unifier that the American Presidential office invites him to be.

President Trump, I honestly believe, has not read, he has not researched, he has not attempted to understand. He does not understand at all the miscegenations within America; he does not understand the diversity of America; he does not understand a multiplicity of different social policy and foreign policy issues which at the core of his role in office as President he is required to. He does not care about detail and in being so disposed he avoids fundamental facts, which if he were cognizant of, might not lead him to the incongruous positions he places himself in. Racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance and bigotry are the hallmarks of Trumpism, for that is the base he has chosen to pander to.

Will such an approach help to heal and unite a diverse nation? Well – being a handmaiden ( master if you prefer) of division, alienation of great parts of American society and distancing from the world which Trump gives cause for resentments – then leads where? To a place in Trump’s mind which is well on the way to making America ‘great again’ with his special brand of leadership. A leadership which is increasingly dissonant and disconnected. When Trump’s expressions, his mind’s delivery of his oftentimes unedited thoughts, are examined then therein one finds the cognitive deficit accompanied by consequential dissonance.

Postscript: The national heritage of America is Native-American, Euro-American, African-American, Mexican-American and that of many other Americans who have a history and heritage within the United States of America. With that in mind, quite seriously, I propose a rejection of Nazism and an embrace of the higher ideals which the American nation, at its best, represents. The formula is simple.

Robert E. Lee represents an embrace of the ‘culture’ of slavery, discrimination and domination.

Frederick Douglass as an outstanding orator and abolitionist represents the ‘culture’ of human dignity in the face of adversity, the embrace of freedom, the struggle for justice, in marked contrast to what Robert E. Lee stood for.

Thus, since Robert E. Lee’s statue is down and the high ideals upon which America should stand have yet fully to be replaced, then, a suggested understanding as to the depth of economic, cultural and historical contributions to the American nation which the African-Americans over several generations have made, might now begin in earnest to be acknowledged. So, America thus can leave Robert E. Lee’s page of the American history book, without forgetting what was written on it, and turn to a new and auspicious day in American history. That day will be ushered in when the statue of Frederick Douglass replaces the one of Robert E. Lee, removed but not forgotten. History thus shall not be forgotten, but symbols can replace to march on to a more hopeful and propitious day in America.

* COURTENAY BARNETT is a graduate of London University. His areas of study were economics, political science and international law. He has been a practising lawyer for over thirty years, has been arrested for defending his views, has been  subjected to death threats, and has argued public interest and human rights cases.