So, Sam and Frodo are on their way to Mordor...
(For the non-Lord of the Rings fans out there DON’T CLICK OFF THIS YET! I have a non-nerd political point, which I will get to in just a moment. Really - I’m just using this as a nerdy set up. Trust me...)
Their quest to destroy the One Ring, flinging it into the volcanic Cracks of Doom, into the fires that forged it - and the only fires hot enough to melt and destroy it and thereby the mighty and terrible Sauron himself - that quest sits crushingly upon their little hobbit shoulders. Alone. They doubt their ability, they doubt their skill, they doubt their courage to carry out their mission.
So they check Facebook.
And that’s where one of their “friends” suggests that they cannot possibly defeat Lord Sauron, but you know who can? Saruman! Yeah, he’s pretty evil too, but he’s the only one who can beat Sauron in the upcoming general election! (See? See what I’m doing here?) Besides he, like, apologized for his policy of having orcs stop-and-frisk every hobbit they saw. (Told ya. Boom!)
And, the “friend” asks - if it comes to a final showdown they will, of course, support Saruman, right?
What to do?
One of the things that has come up, as it always does in these desperate times, is the question “But will you support the eventual candidate whoever that may be?”
This question is asked constantly by supporters of each candidate in a way I don’t recall in elections before 2016. Yes, there was always a reasoned plea for Party unity before each general election, but now it is more of a indignant demand, a not-so-subtle gauntlet thrown down to impugn one’s commitment. It is a loyalty test.
But I think it is also something else. There is a saying - “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.” The idea is that when all the unreasonable arguments, all the histrionic jingoism, every fear and prejudice has been trotted out and defeated the unscrupulous will fall back, in the end, to patriotism - with the implication that to disagree is somehow treason. In these dangerous times, the scoundrel argues, only a traitor would fail to support a true patriot like themselves, and by extension back the beloved, besieged Nation.
To make this argument the scoundrel always has to point to an Existential Threat. This threat has to be fundamental, and failure to defend against it means not a defeat but the complete destruction of “our way of life,” or our children, or our faith - it depends on the crowd. The point is to shut down reason and dissent, and to position the speaker as the sole possible savior.
Throughout history this psychological strategy has worked for demagogues around the world. From small cults to whole countries scoundrels have used a form of “with us or against us” to manipulate the masses. And more often than not their surrogates will take this argument as their own when interacting with whoever is not a follower of their particular political savior. Regardless of how terrible, how repressive, how downright evil their leader is they will insist that the alternative is unimaginably worse.
So now we, at this point in American history, we have a oligarchical White House Occupant so corrupt and destructive to our Constitutional government that it has opened the door for the slightly less corrupt, slightly less of a corrosion to what we say is important to us oligarch who has presented himself as the only reasonable alternative. A candidate who orders law-abiding citizens to be searched in the street by a famously racist police force for no reason other than the color of their skin is seen as much more acceptable than one who orders the children of immigrants to be separated from their parents and held in cages. They are both violent expressions of a police state harming tens of thousands of innocent people, but only one is deemed unacceptable. One brutally puts down protests against the corrupt corporate elite who support him, the other twist the legal system to benefit his cronies and the oligarchs who support him. One thinks of women as meat for him to consume, and the other one grabs pussies because he can. One is a self-centered billionaire who has manipulated the system to accrue power which he used to crush opponents and further enrich himself, and the other is, well, can we really tell the difference on that point?
“But come the general, if he’s the candidate, you will of course support him, right?”
This is the trick, the way horrible people get the support of good people - with the threat of something worse. The road to Hell is paved with the good intentions of the people who supported those who became despots as the lesser of two evils - to supporting this despicable oligarch in order to defeat that despicable oligarch.
But the choice between oligarchs is false - at least at this point in American history - and anyone who insists it is THE question is exactly the sort of defeatist real change, equality, and freedom do not need as their “champion.” This person has simply been frightened into a false dichotomy created during a struggle between rulers and wannabe rulers, kings and wannabe kings, between oligarchs and oligarchs. Changing masters is not the solution for the enslaved, changing abusers is not the salvation of the abused, changing oppressors is not the solution for the oppressed.
Now I understand if there simply is no choice it is better to be beaten once a by the cops than twice, better to have some free speech than none, better for some to have civil rights than none - but those who most stridently insisting that those are our only choices have been convinced of it by the person who would most benefit from that defeatist attitude. Another billionaire businessman who promises that, despite all of his horrendous acts, that he is not like that anymore, and besides - He’s our only hope.
Answering the question validates it.
But ya know what? Saruman is just Sauron without the power of the One Ring. Just as bad, just as evil, whatever color cloak he’s wearing. He just hasn’t had enough power to reveal it yet.
(I decided to bring it back to LotR, as I could not just leave Sam and Frodo hanging. They’ve come too far. So have we all.)
(And I’m a LotR nerd.)
So Sam and Frodo ignore their “friend,” and continue on their quest to destroy the Ring. They succeed, and both the Sauron and Saruman are destroyed.
We can do this.