Hegemony, Trump, and The Riddle of Steel


As you have surely heard, charges were filed against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former aid Rick Gates, including “conspiracy against the United States” and eleven others. The language of the conspiracy charge reads:

“knowingly and intentionally [conspiring] to defraud the United States by impeding, impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of a government agency, namely the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury, and to commit offensives against the United States.”

and the US Law reads as such:

“If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

“If, however, the offense, the commission of which is the object of the conspiracy, is a misdemeanor only, the punishment for such conspiracy shall not exceed the maximum punishment provided for such misdemeanor.”

While much is being made of the slew of charges filed against the two former Trump aids, it’s hard to know what to make of them at this point. What is more telling is the plea deal George Papadopoulos, former Trump foreign policy advisor, accepted for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. Papadopoulos attempted to solicit hacked emails from Russian operatives.

CNN’s timeline:

1. “The Professor” only expressed interest in Papadopoulos after it became clear that he would play a role in the Trump campaign as a foreign policy advisor.
2. Papadopoulos lied about the timing of his interactions with “The Professor.” Those lies were aimed at suggesting the interactions came beforePapadopoulos was an adviser to the Trump campaign. But, in fact, those interactions were because Papadopoulos worked for Trump, not in spite of them
3. Papadopoulos’ interactions with “The Professor” were driven by the promise of “dirt” on Clinton in the from of “thousands of emails” regarding Clinton.
4. Papadopoulos seems to have been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation since July.
This is the context for a larger social analysis of the aftermath of this news. If you have visited Facebook (or other social media outline) you have undoubtedly run in to the discourse on this subject. On one hand you have the Trump apologists that defend him, stating that “Trump had nothing to do with it”, calling into question the character of those involved, treating this as a witchhunt, or relying on the now famous adage that it’s “fake news.” On the other hand, are the people calling for these people’s prosecutions and an impeachment of Trump. It’s not had to imagine that I fall more on the latter side than the former, although with a little more nuance (which I won’t go in to).
The question that emerges from all of this is how, despite the overwhelming evidence of collusion and undermining US democracy, do people adamantly defend Trump? This is even more troubling knowing that many of these people defending Trump are the ones calling for H. Clinton’s head for her issues surrounding the private email server. It seems fairly clear that these two offenses aren’t equal.
So why do they defend him? I think some of it has to do with loyalty or not wanting to seem wrong. But a key concept that may shine light on this is ‘hegemony’. Hegemony refers to ways that the ruling class propagates its own values so that they appear to be the “common sense” values of all– in short, it’s how the ruling class maintains power. Hegemony serves as an explanatory model for understanding why Trump supporters will staunchly and unabashedly defend him in light of these damning accusations and corresponding evidence.
Trump supports are identifying the values of the Trump White House with their own– immigration, protection of religious beliefs, and ideology supporting a White-dominated nation all play in to their own narrative of good and have been effectively disseminated by the President as good for Americans. News is fake insofar as it conflicts with the narrative presented to them by the Hegemon; its validity or accuracy need not be a consideration. If people believe that Trump is doing what’s best for the country then whatever he does is best.
It is common to think that people control power but the converse is true– power controls people. This control is exercised through hegemony and power utilizes people to serve the interests of those in power. The Riddle of Steel from the film Conan the Barbarian, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is an effective example.  James Earl Jones’ character Doom, after capturing Conan asks him about the Riddle of Steel.
“Steel isn’t strong, boy. Flesh is stronger. Look around you.” Thulsa motions to some of the thousands of followers surrounding his mountain who worship him as the mouthpiece of God. He points up to the top of a cliff where people are standing. “There, on the rocks, that beautiful girl.” He motions to a woman. “Come to me, my child.” She steps off the cliff and falls to her death. “That is strength, boy. That is power: the strength and power of flesh.
Ideas are powerful and can push people to do irrational and harmful things– things that go against their own interests and do harm to them and the people they care about. People can support power with the potential to do great harm. That’s the power of hegemony.

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