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Democracy is hoist with its own petard – witness Trump


Marianne Thamm has toiled as a journalist / writer / satirist / editor / columnist / author for over 30 years. She has published widely both locally and internationally. It was journalism that chose her and not the other way around. Marianne would have preferred plumbing or upholstering.

Empty minds, empty promises – ideological grooming abounds in an age of rage, echo chambers and the relentless craving for more money, more power, greater dominance and, yes, revenge.

Grooming is generally understood to be the stealthy sexual priming of vulnerable children, using deceit and reward to gain trust and submission, and it’s usually done in secret.

However, grooming as an odious practice takes place regularly and quite openly all around us, streaming now on a platform near you. Ideological grooming is how it has been identified.

Targets in this instance are vulnerable, voting-age adults who appear to have become unmoored in an apparently chaotic post-Covid world.

This conditioning relies substantially, on the part of the conditioner, on what has been identified by linguist Professor Nuria Lorenzo-Dus of Swansea University as a “toxic openness”.

The master of this has been Donald Trump, and though it might have all been very entertaining when he was a grifting television celebrity, this mode of moving through the world as US president has been devastating for democracies.

It has lowered the tone and given permission for louts and bullies to shout loudest to drown out reason and logic.

Democracy and the rule of law with its checks and balances, flawed as it may be, is the best we have to work with right now. Public money is exactly that.

Those who attack accountability, like Trump and former president Jacob Zuma, powerful men who remain, however, perpetual victims, revel in below-the-belt politics with its street lingo, coupled with real-time violence or the threat thereof.

As Laurie Anderson sang through a vocoder, accompanied by “an infinity choir of robots” on Oh Superman, “Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice. And when justice is gone, there’s always force.”  

Malevolent groomers

Ideological grooming is driven by provocative rhetoric, insult and accusation, and relies on “mythologies, specifically the first-person story”, with which the manipulator leverages their “pain” to settle scores.

This in turn finds traction with similarly wounded citizens who transpose their ideals and dreams as well as their pain and victimhood to this apparent larger-than-life saviour.

The notion of an “ideology” as representing a complex system of contesting ideas and policies is absent from this brand of sudsy brainwashing.

Like evangelical movements that have detached Christianity from its mysticism, it’s all just noise, disguised as divine messaging.

“I am the chosen one,” Trump declared in 2019.

The Donald’s “spiritual adviser”, televangelist Paula Michelle White-Cain, in a severe case of echolalia, blessed Potus 45’s victory, repeating nonsensical chants, which the rest of us were left to interpret in our own inner reaches.

“Amha samba orta rika, fika anda ratasata angels from Africa right now, they are coming here,” she recited as if this were bog-standard comms.

We love us some divinity embodied in a deity even if he has to sell gaudy, cheap gold hi-top sneakers to stay relevant and raise money for his legal bills.

Polarise and rule

Research conducted in 2022 by Lorenzo-Dus and based on data sets from the US, the UK and Australia (in other words, countries that would regard themselves as “Western” in outlook, are monolingual and traditionally democratic in nature) found that “digital grooming relies primarily on argumentative polarisation of social identities”.

Anyone possessed of a remaining functional brain cluster is able to understand that Trump is unsuitable 2024 US presidential material.

If you believe otherwise, because thinking is not really your thing, you have been warned: you have stepped off the good ship Reality.

Trump, a supergrifter among supergrifters, has been ideologically grooming his followers, inside the US and outside it, for years. Here it is all about venality and money, money, money. Darwinian.

Where social media has played a role, it has been in opening up a direct pathway to the malevolent hearts and deranged minds of big men, drawing in the fellow damaged and deranged into echo chambers of woundedness. Gargantuan piles of other people’s cash and the ever-gnawing craving for power, dominance and revenge drive this Mafia-style political leadership.

Wilful blindness

There is always a target of this rage, usually groups, parties or individuals regarded as “other”, as “illegitimate”. It is a technique used by religio-political Islamists, Zionists, Christians and the alt-right, as well as left-wing extremists.

Digital grooming differs from propaganda in that the latter is generally regarded as information, especially of a biased or deceitful nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.

Ideological grooming appeals to deeply atavistic human impulses. It thrives on degradation, humiliation, mockery, bullying and, in extreme cases, murder.

Wilful blindness is a defence the timid deploy and is defined as the deliberate failure to “make a reasonable inquiry of wrongdoing, despite suspicion and an awareness of the high probability of its existence”. That’s according to the Merriam-Webster.

It is the very institutions of democracy that have allowed the men who now threaten it the freedom to compete fairly in the first place.

Go suck on that one. DM

This article first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick newspaper, DM168, which is available countrywide for R29.




Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Martin Smith says:

    And criminals like Ramaphosa and Biden? Suitable?

  • Anthony Kearley says:

    As the USA courts appear to show his colours, what concerns me is how few fellow Republicans have called him out. Surely his fellow party members will have a line they will not cross… where is their line?

  • John Patson says:

    Makes me chuckle a bit about all these commentaries on foreign lands — The Netherlands after their elections and now the US — without reference to one of the most reactionary, nationalist, racist and xenophobic populist governments — that of Zuma.
    So far Trump has not sung “bring me my machine gun” but it will probably only be time.

  • Agf Agf says:

    To compare Trump to Zuma is plain ridiculous. Don’t be silly. And the alternative to Trump? Biden? Bwahaha.
    Oh, I know, how about Bobby Kennedy Jr. ? No? Of course not DM, you along with the rest of left wing woke mainstream media consider him to be a conspiracy theorist although physically mentally intellectually ideologically and all round he is worth ten of the rest of them.

  • Trevor chandler says:

    Interesting that as usual the author says nothing about the role of censorship as a means to control this beastly ideological grooming. Interesting how the real threats to democracy tend to be pushed to one side just in case any of us indulge in the ramblings of the worlds loudest Narcissist

  • Hermann Rabe says:

    While there are fair points made in this article, it contains precisely the kind of elitist mainstream media talk-down to the ‘basket of deplorables’ that is polarising and part of the reason Trump is so strongly supported by his followers. He represents a collective middle finger to the political and media establishment that can’t seem to stomach regular people thinking for themselves, whether they are right or wrong. A bit of humility and self-reflection on the author’s part will go a long way in understanding those tens of millions of ‘brainless’ Americans.

    You don’t have to be in Trump’s camp to acknowledge this.

    • Ben Harper says:


    • Agf Agf says:

      I too agree.

      My comment which I made at 12h25 yesterday still awaits moderation. I wonder why. In it I commented that I thought the views expressed against Trump were a bit over the top and Biden was not exactly a good alternative. I then suggested that RGK Jr. was an eminently suitable candidate for a number of reasons but DM ignores him. I wonder if this comment will be excepted.

      • Dietmar Horn says:

        It seems to happen again and again that posts get stuck in moderation for no apparent reason. I can only explain it by poor technical administration of the comment area. If you’re blocked by moderation, you’re supposed to get a message?

        • Agf Agf says:

          I never have. The comment sits there with the red writing above it. It wasn’t particularly controversial but there was a criticism of DM.

    • District Six says:

      You mean that an uncouth sexual predator, tax-dodging orange conman, is your “two fingers to the establishment”? The guy endorsed publicly by the KKK? The man who adds neo-nazi Bannon to his staff? The nepotist surrounded by offspring? The man who IS the Swamp he keeps promising to drain?
      Pull the other finger!

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    Trump’s popularity is primarily explained by the fact that with his uncouth rhetoric he appeals to all those Americans who see themselves as losers of the system, by portraying himselve as victim of the system and thus achieving a solidarity effect. Unfortunately, the moralizingly arrogant nature of reporting by many media outlets reinforces this tendency.

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