If you had a glimpse of the coverage of Trump’s “mass rally” in Tampa last week, you might have noticed a packed crowd behind him on stage with a single African-American featured prominently over his left shoulder. Not that I would suggest anyone has a morbid sense of curiosity, but if you have watched video clips of past rallies, you would have noticed two things. First there is always a single African-American always situated behind him so that whenever Trump is on camera, so would that man. Secondly, you would have noticed that the designated black man has changed from a rather animated and odd looking guy to a more conservative-looking and reserved black man. Other than that, the staged events always featured people deliberately crowded into a small area behind him, with no shots of the crowds (which have grown smaller in the past year). This is an effort to make it appear that huge turnouts of diverse people come to his rallies – a propaganda technique developed by German cinematographers in the 1930s.
Although the content of each rally is essentially always the same reiteration of the campaign top hits (e.g. lock her up!), the vitriol has increased to the point where many fear that violence will result – in particular, violence directed against the media covering the rallies. Trump infamously encouraged people at is rallies during the campaign to attack protesters in attendance, promising to pay their legal bills. This thuggish behavior was widely condemned, except among the Trump base. However, that was a different sort of malignancy from the recent rallies. Attacking protesters attempting to disrupt the rally was a reaction, a calculated reaction, but different from encouraging hatred of the media covering the rally. The difference being one where he is attempting to identify a class of people – not just individuals but a class. The transition from having an “enemies list” to having an entire class of people identified as enemies (the “fake media”) is a tactic historically used by dictators under stress in the past to divert attention from their failures. Stalin identified the media as an “enemy of the people” (that is a direct quote), Hitler identified the “Jewish media” as the enemy of the people. Putin was the author of the term “fake news” (contrary to Trump’s lie that he invented the term) and targeted assassinations of the fake news journalist, who happened to author reports critical of his regime.
In another blatant borrowing of a term used regarding another leader, Trump propagandists now speak of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (remember Obama Derangement Syndrome?), to trivialize the legitimate concerns of Americans. Obama Derangement Syndrome referred to provably false accusations about Obama such as he was not a citizen, he was a Moslem, he wanted to create an alliance with ISIL, etc. In contrast, Trump Derangement Syndrome may refer to questions about his behavior that are rooted in evidence, history and his own statements that leave open such questions as to whether he is compromised by Putin, or that he is a pathological liar.
I propose an alternative definition to Trump Derangement Syndrome: the vast majority of his supporters who believe everything he says, even when he blatantly contradicts himself or when his comments are demonstrably detached from reality. People who attend his rallies are true believers and that would be alarming in itself, but they represent only a fraction of Americans who have a more realistic appraisal of his character and revile him, but still support him politically. These are millions of people and that is a real danger.