The Predator President

Published on Monday, February 27, 2017, by Common Dreams

The Predatory Presidency

Recent executive orders reveal the Trump White House as a ruthless predator set to prey upon the most vulnerable among us.

In the Galapagos Islands, the racer snakes get ready to launch. (Photo: BBC)

The season premiere of BBC America’s Planet Earth II includes remarkable footage from the desolate Galapagos Islands. In one striking scene, baby marine iguanas race across the sand, desperately trying to elude dozens of snakes eager for their next meal. Although such stark life-or-death struggles are difficult to watch, it helps to remember that they reflect nature’s dynamic balance.

Far more disturbing—and unnatural—are the Trump Administration’s similarly ruthless predator-like attacks on whatever groups it chooses as its prey. Adding to their repugnance, several of these assaults over the past month—through a series of executive orders—are inherently racist, seemingly propelled by the ugly 14-word credo of white nationalists everywhere: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

Three White House orders stand out. First, there’s the determined pursuit of a Muslim travel ban, one that will prevent thousands of tempest-tossed and despairing refugees from entering the country. Second, there’s the heartless stalking of undocumented Hispanic immigrants, including the near indiscriminate roundup, detention, and deportation of law-abiding men, women, and children. And third, there’s the early blueprint for a “tough on crime” law enforcement crackdown, an onslaught that will inevitably and predominantly disrupt and besiege Black communities and activists.

These three groups, all non-white, have been selected as the initial targets for aggressive and oppressive government action (there will undoubtedly be others). To be sure, this isn’t entirely new. As Langston Hughes wrote 80 years ago, “America never was America to me.” But along with Trump himself, influential White House strategists Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller of the “alt-right” and new Attorney General Jeff Sessions have especially troubling histories of outright hostility and scornful indifference toward those who don’t share their skin color.

We’ve also seen that predators in the wild aren’t the only ones to use trickery, deception, and stealth as complements to brute force. Disguising the real impetus behind these executive orders, the Trump White House turns to sky-is-falling psychological mind games, warning us that these steps are necessary to protect the public from dire threats. The Islamophobia-nurturing Muslim travel ban is deceitfully presented as an essential counter-terrorism measure. ICE raids are defended with the fiction that millions of Hispanic immigrants are “bad hombres” and the rest are a drain on limited public resources. And repressive steps against African Americans are justified through bogus tales of a nationwide crime wave and “carnage in our inner cities.”


The purpose of these appeals is simple: to short-circuit the public’s critical reasoning; overwhelm us with emotions of fear and dread; and thereby garner either our active support or acquiescence. Once a crisis environment is created, once we begin to catastrophize and imagine the worst possible outcomes, then even the most extreme measures can begin to seem prudent. This is proven snake oil that’s stood the test of time. Recall that Nazi propagandist Herman Goering acknowledged as much when, during the Nuremberg trials after World War II, he explained:

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

But once we recognize these manipulative psychological ploys for what they are, the path forward becomes increasingly clear. First, whenever possible, we must expose and condemn the racist falsehoods of the President and his cronies. Second, we should counter and undermine the constant fearmongering they use to advance their agenda of intolerance. And third, we need to do whatever we can to help protect the individuals, families, and communities most immediately at risk of ambush and assault.

This may sound like a daunting challenge. Fortunately, however, the mass protests and daily acts of civil resistance throughout the country over the past several weeks have already demonstrated our resolve. They’ve also revealed our capacity to expand our “circle of moral concern,” so that it extends well beyond those we hold most dear or consider most similar to us.

In nature, potential prey instinctually use a wide range of strategies to ward off attacks—from camouflage to traveling in groups to alarm signals to communal defense based on strength in numbers—and they rarely succumb without a fight. With the merciless predators from the White House now on the prowl, surely we must be prepared to do the same.

Roy Eidelson

Roy Eidelson is a psychologist and an associate director of the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at Bryn Mawr College. He is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. He can be contacted at reidelson [ at] eidelsonconsulting [dot] com.

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6 Responses to The Predator President

  1. LB says:

    I’m glad Dr. Eidelson is able to acknowledge that the predatory behavior he describes is nothing new for our country and government.

    It’s what allowed our nation’s forefathers to own slaves, exploit, oppress, dehumanize, murder and exterminate other human beings and to destroy nature and our shared environment, all for profit and empire, yet still speak of freedom and justice.

    It’s why, after more than 40 presidents and hundreds of years, we spend trillions of dollars on war, weapons of war and technology, but not on universal healthcare, infrastructure, public transportation and education, sustainable ways of honoring our connection to planet, life, community.

    It’s why private, multi-national corporations like Nestle continue to buy up water rights (they’re the largest producer of bottled water), while citizens in Flint Michigan are now forced to pay for the poison water they’ve lived with for *YEARS*.

    Empires by their very nature are predatory, as are most forms of capitalism and war. Trump is only the latest symptom of this disease of spirit, one which has infected us all, blinded us to our participation. Our system of empire is on display, our latest president making obvious what can no longer be denied, though many seem surprised, still cling to the illusion.

  2. Dot Walsh says:

    LB, the article written by Dr. Roy Eidelson, and first published by Common Dreams, describes what we are facing with “45” and even if it is not new as far as government is concerned, it is much more in our faces.
    So, LB, what do you see as some initiatives that will make a change? I like what Roy says about widening our circles of moral concern, helping others to see that we are all part of the problem and thus part of the solution.

    • LB says:

      I agree, Dot. Our greatest hope lies in “widening our circles of moral concern, helping others to see that we are all part of the problem and thus part of the solution.”

      But first we need to correctly identify and understand the problem. Paradoxically, most of us think too small, not small enough.

  3. LB says:

    In conversations with various people (understandably upset over the unjust policies described in Dr. Eidelson’s article), I’ve found many are uninformed or unaware of our government’s treatment of Muslims and other brown and black-skinned immigrants and refugees *prior* to Trump’s presidency ~ something Dr. Eidelson alluded to but didn’t elaborate on. For instance:

    “. . . the Obama administration deported 2.5 million immigrants, more than the total number deported by all previous presidents combined. His administration also determined that immigrant children as young as three had no right to a lawyer and must appear by themselves in court.”

    Also, very few seem to understand the critical role the US ~under both Republican and Democratic leadership and supported by both parties, including many of the same folks now protesting Trump’s policies ~ has played in creating the dangerous and unlivable conditions which make it necessary for brown and black skinned people to leave their homes and seek safety in other nations. Some examples:

    “Hillary Clinton – while serving as Obama’s secretary of state – orchestrated the anti-Libyan propaganda campaign and the subsequent aerial bombardment of Libya by U.S.-led air forces which enabled the terrorists on the ground, mis-labeled as fighting for human rights, to overturn the Libyan government. She also supported the use of drones for international assassinations of Moslems based on labeling particular individuals as ‘terrorists’ without trials or any proper legal steps.

    Charles Schumer, democratic party leader in the U.S. Senate, was widely shown a few days ago in corporate media with crocodile tears for Moslem refugees and immigrants. But along with Barack Obama, Joseph Biden, and Hillary Clinton, he previously voted for Bush’s ‘secure fence act’ of 2006 and supported the Iraq war and the other wars which have devastated predominantly Moslem countries.”

    To focus too narrowly on Trump, to the exclusion of the larger system in which he operates, is to miss the bigger picture. In order to avoid being politically manipulated by identity politics set against a too-narrow framework of conservative versus liberal, a fuller understanding of the roots and pervasiveness of the problem facing us is necessary and holds the key to greater insight and healing.

    To some extent most of us (me, you, Trump, Obama, Clinton, etc.) have been conditioned to believe in and support an unsustainable, dehumanizing and cruel system. And when it fails ~which all empires inevitably do~ we *ALL* will suffer. If we want to come out from under the oppression and break free of its spell, we need to recognize and name it.

  4. T. Paine says:

    Roy. I am so glad you mentioned Nazism in your post on Donald Trump. In a front page article in the Monday, March 20, N. Y. Times, on “Spying claims,” Scott Shane describes Mr. Trump’s war on the government’s intelligence services, noting that Trump compared those agencies to Nazi Germany. Specifically, in a tweet on January 11, 2017, referring to claims regarding Russian interference in the election that brought him into office, Trump said: ” “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” When one thinks of Mr Trump’s politics, it is impossible not to ask the same question of him.

    • Barbara says:

      I loved this post for its honesty and for “telling it like it is,” and, oh, how I loved that last sentence in T. Paine’s comment – a zinger for the man not elected popularly, the man whose attack on Obamacare just collapsed.

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