Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Years ago, I read an interesting article in the LA Times. It observed that while the Communist Party was beginning to show signs of turning away from communist doctrine, Chairman Mao was still an adored and even idolized figure throughout the country. Dictatorships always seem to have at their core a cult of personality. The idea that the great leader is a miraculous superhero (what the Greeks would have simply called a hero) is used by these countries the way high schools use sports teams to encourage "school spirit".
However, once the repressive government falls, there is often a concerted effort to degrade the former great leader into a despised monster. Khrushchev's deStalinization is an example of this effect. It isn't always entirely successful. It is not unusual in Russia today to see some individuals during street disturbances raising signs expressing their wish for a return of Stalin. This may say a great deal about the popularity of Vladimir Putin.
In contrast, Chairman Mao remained popular in China. While even to this day it is difficult to get an accurate or open response from the Chinese people, outsiders can tell the difference between genuine affection and a terrorized pretense. We only need to look at North Korea's spontaneous expressions of love for Kim Jong Un to see how obvious it is that the people are turning out in response to terror rather than adoration.
The Times article, remember this was several years ago, made an attempt to discover why the Chinese people seemed to acquiesce to their government's insistence on the continued adulation of Mao. The response seem to be the same almost whoever was asked. It came down to the belief that Mao had certainly done terrible things and the people being asked the question had often lost family members to his purges and excesses, but Mao was seen to have done something which could not be denied and which was a such supreme importance that it made him a hero, a great man, in spite of his obvious failures and flaws.
What he had done was to make China great again.
The Chinese people were well aware that their country had once been one of the greatest civilizations in history. They were also well aware that the country has been reduced to state of desperate poverty and Third World status. Whatever atrocities and sufferings he had created, Mao made China great again. The whole world once again respected Chinese power.
Not all of Donald Trump's followers are racists or fascists. Many of them genuinely believe that America has ceased to be as powerful and respected as she once was. The fact that, unlike China's position, this is a fantasy is irrelevant. They believe it. They act accordingly. They vote accordingly.
Decades of Republican propaganda, of right wing media's disinformation and agitprop, of changing demographics, and failed economic polices have had their effect. There are those whom Donald Trump insults, and who intensely dislike many of his policies and behaviors, who nevertheless support him. His flaws seem minor compared to the promise of America becoming great again.