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The Cognitive Dissonance of Trumpian Logic


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“We will make America great again,” the stirring words of Donald Trump as he announced his candidacy for the 2016 U.S. presidential election in June. As Republican debate gains steam, sketchy details of a Trumpian utopia have emerged; largely expressed in terms of the U.S. reasserting its economic and foreign policy might—it seems, purely for the aura of being ‘the best’. The rhetoric and supposed national goal adopted by Trump’s campaign are reflective of hypocritical and damaging attitudes that are perpetuating the status quo of today’s world order.

Two days following Trump’s statement, the U.N. refugee agency released figures showing that there are more displaced people now, than at any other time since World War II. One in every 122 humans is, today, either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. War, conflict, and persecution are driving new human movements—and are increasingly bringing once distant nationalities, cultures, and religions closer together.

Countries of the developed world face the influx of peoples from where development has ‘failed‘ or been shrouded by conflict. Such global dynamics have subsequently influenced national politics. As the border fence rises in Hungary, ‘migrants’ swell in Calais, and Republicans stew over agendas on Mexican immigration—nationalist voices and right-wing politics are on the ascendency. And, driven by humanity’s innate aversion of ‘the other,’ fear mongering has become a political strategy befitting the times.

By painting people from different abodes and religions with the same brush, right-leaning ideologues are achieving such fear. They fear the importing of ill behaviors as individuals from these stigmatized backgrounds arrive at their shores. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” proclaimed Trump of Mexicans coming to the U.S., adding that such issues are “probably [coming] from the Middle East [too].” There, the ISIS limelight has also burdened the Islamic world. U.S. television host and political commentator, Bill Maher, proclaimed in September 2014 that; “the Muslim world has too much in common with ISIS.”. These incendiary broad-brush decrees derive from a lack of perspective, where poverty, conflict, and illicit activities of certain peoples are used to color entire associated groups.

Prejudicial views are not only unjust, but holding oneself to a higher moral worth on the basis of origin is also fundamentally hypocritical. In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes, a 17th century political philosopher, described the natural state of humanity, devoid of a social contract or political ordering, as “solitary, nasty, brutish, and short.” As ‘rational’ beings—animal spirits, driven by self-interest, prevail. In the developed world, where the iterative processes of development have played out over a longer time span, the laws, rules and regulations that tame our very innate behaviors have been reinforced. In the developing world, stunted by a colonial past, conflict and poor governance—crime and illicit activities find room to thrive. The restraining forces of the rule of law are yet to be effectively established, implemented, and enforced. Civility arises from development, not the other way round.

The developed world is thus not necessarily more civilized; it is rather better restrained from reverting to a Hobbesian ‘natural state’. When fissures open in its own ‘social contract,’ it too is not immune to the behaviors condemned in the developing world: As riots erupted across London in 2011, Libya and Iran ironically imposed U.K. travel warnings for its citizens, as opportunistic bandwagon rioters took advantage of temporary lawlessness to blindly loot due to…“taxes.”. And, across the developed world, the financial crisis was evidence of a failure of regulation in containing our avariciousness. Humans are, at the core, essentially one—regardless of origin, religion, and race.

Exercising caution through screening, documenting, and monitoring is important when opening doors to unknown persons—a point often overlooked by today’s petitioners and refugee activists who claim ‘more needs to be done.’ Yet, to seek political gain from stoking fear is to hold double standards between people of the developed and developing world. Advocates of such views suffer from a somewhat cognitive dissonance—preferring to see the absolute distinction of culture, religion, and nationality in the international ills of terrorism, refugee crises, and illicit trade ahead of the very common humanness of these issues or the role of interlinked global systems. Such a mindset subordinates the crucial importance of supporting development around the world.

In reality, the international ills facing the developed world today are largely the result of failed state building elsewhere. In a globalized system a gap in the laws that bind state, market, and civil society at the national level, sow the seeds for international maladies.

This is an unalterable paradigm where fearful, futile, and narrow-minded views of the developing world dominate, and where Trump-esque machismo foreign policy, that champions dominance for profiteering and ‘greatness,’ percolates in a world that yearns for peace, development, and inclusion.


Tej Parikh is a freelance international affairs journalist and recent Yale University Master’s graduate, with a focus on state building, conflict, ethnic politics and peace.

Written by Tej Parikh and published on 29-September-2015




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