Kudos to a writer you’ve probably never heard of – G. Michael Hopf – who has recently written an aphorism you are likely to hear much more of. Here it is:
‘Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.’
The ex-US Marine wrote this in an end-of-days sci-fi novel in 2016. It escaped the pages and now flourishes in book titles, as internet memes and graphics, in self-help works and was even last month deconstructed by an historian in the respected Foreign Policy magazine as a ‘child’s view of history’, inaccurate and simplistic.
Well, yes, of course – it’s 21 words, after all. But it has hit the mark in these dystopian times, and whether it is true is almost irrelevant, given how many people obviously feel it to be true. I first heard it a few years ago, and again last week on ex-Trump strategist Steve Bannon’s podcast; it was new to Bannon who liked it instantly. It suits his apocalyptic vision of the battle of our times. Bannon thinks it’s 1938, that we are on the eve of great conflict. To use Hopf’s scale, we are in the hard times created by weak men. (And of course women, we are being generic here). Trump beckons as history’s strong man in this era. If you use the scale of the man’s enemies as a measure, he is a colossus – elites are massed against him, from treacherous Deep State officials to fake news media to globalists, academics, Hollywood ‘slebs’ and even Republicans.
If it is indeed 1938, as Bannon proclaims, then we would be seeing appeasement, which is exactly what happened with the Black Lives Matter protests being allowed to make a mockery of corona virus social distancing laws, from London to Melbourne to Washington, these past weeks. It’s not as bad as Chamberlain ceding land to Hitler in 1938 but it is an enormous loss of moral authority from our leaders. Faced with no resistance to their actions – (just who is arguing in favour of racism and police brutality? No one? Exactly) – the emboldened protesters are exploring shrill new extremes of political expression. There’s the ritual humiliation of white people taking a knee en masse, the ludicrous but widespread push to defund the police. The scale and violence of the disorder convulsing the US point to a cultural showdown of sorts. Or is this just another of the US’s periodic bouts of self-flagellation, as American as apple pie? Excitable left-leaning friends, who always wanted Trump to go, think they have him now. His presidential polling has slumped and rival Joe Biden is ahead in the betting markets.
Americans of all hues have every reason to fear their police. As we saw with the slain Aussie Justine Damond (née Ruszczyk) in Minneapolis, and the 75-year-old white protester in Buffalo pushed to the ground, US policing is rough justice, inflicting pain regardless of race. A former AFP officer who has lived in both Washington and New York City told me that the US had 18,000 different police forces; some of only two or three people; some, like the NYPD, bigger than the Australian Army. And there is no federal standard of training, so training regimes vary widely; forget about any uniform professionalism. Further, while de-escalation was an early and pivotal part of Australian police training, she said it was an optional add-on at the end in many US courses. US cops are also trigger-happy, facing personal threats daily on a level unimaginable in Australia. Add in elected sheriffs, who need funding for campaigns with the opportunities for corruption that that brings, and you get a picture of a system that can be excellent in parts and a stew of wrongness in others, even without allowing for human error and variability.
Much work, of course, has been done to clean up US policing. Race and police researcher Heather MacDonald noted this week that police were 18 times more likely to be killed by black men, than unarmed black men were to be killed by a policeman. But no one seems to care much about dead policemen or their families, or indeed the black-on-black killings that make up the majority of homicides in the black community.
Other factors have played into the recent chaos, including the pent-up energy and frustration of the virus lockdowns, and the social acid of fatherlessness, which fails to imbue young men with respect for authority and society. Some 60 per cent of black children in the US grow up without a biological father in the house. In 2015, I read a young black man’s thoughts about the presidential election campaign. He wasn’t interested in Trump, and saw him saying outlandish things like ban Muslims and build a wall to stop illegal migration. He waited for the backlash to knock Trump out of the race. The backlash was thunderous; Trump didn’t quit but pressed on. The young man started to pay real attention. He said he had grown up in a single-mother family and had never seen a strong man prevail over such intense opposition. He realised that he was drawn to that strength and started to respect Trump. I thought of him this week when 2016’s least-wrong pollster, Rasmussen, put Trump’s support among likely black voters at 41 per cent. For perspective, Trump got a mere 8 per cent of the black vote in the 2016 election. Trump appeals to many whose lives have lacked strong male role models; right-wing firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos, after all, used to call Trump ‘Daddy’.
One of my earliest political lessons came in the early Seventies studying an urban guerrilla group in Uruguay, of all places. The Marxist Tupamaros were non-violent and popular, employing a Robin-Hood strategy of robbing the rich to give to the poor. The government was powerless to hold them to account, the civilian population hiding and covering for their heroic rebels. As time passed, a new guerrilla leader arose who was more violent; police died, civilians died, rebels died. The group’s support evaporated. No longer would the community protect the guerrillas, and that was the end of the Tupamaros. Violence was the turning point.
People won’t cop violence. That’s when they will turn towards the strong man (good), even if he ends up being a strongman (bad). Anything is better than mob rule. If Trump offers law and order as well as jobs, he could cement his position and indeed become Hopf’s strong man creating good times.
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