To see how Trump’s success can be explained by how he is leveraging the Spiral, we need to look at some of the dominant memes in American political culture: Red, Blue, Orange, and Green.
The Red meme is egocentric. Historically, it emerged during hunter-gatherer times, when tribes came into conflict or needed to bind together in order to survive and were united by strong, powerful leaders who instilled fear, garnered respect, and got people to do their bidding. Red seeks control through the exercise of power, often through force or intimidation. It is what comes out when we get into a fight with our partner and say things we later regret or “didn’t mean”; it is the raw expression of anger, frustration at “not getting my way.” In disputes, Red seeks not just to win–to be on top–but to conquer–to put others down. When wronged, it seeks not justice, but revenge. In fact, Red does not think there is any justice in the world; people are inherently self interested, and social order is maintained only through the fear of punishment. Red sees the world as dog eat dog, “red in tooth and claw”; the only way to get ahead in life is through force and fraud. Only suckers play by the rules.
Key values are control, strength, power.
Examples: the terrible twos, the schoolyard bully, Achilles, prima donna athletes, Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature, horrible bosses, the Joker, most of the characters on Game of Thrones, and of course, Donald Trump.
The world is divided into the strong and the weak.
Blue is ethnocentric. It sees the social world as a hierarchy of clearly prescribed roles governed by rigid rules. Here, the individual’s identity is determined by his or her social role and membership in the community. This is a corrective to Red: the dangerous desires of the individual must be checked and harnessed for social good; a classic example is the medieval knight of courtly romance, whose destructive potential must be sublimated in the service of society. For Blue, the cosmos is regarded as the ordered plan of a personal God who determines good and evil. Blues tend to see the world in black and white, us vs. them, absolutistic terms. Blue is the platform for patriotism and nationalism; “protecting the homeland” is Blue language, and it is no accident it became prevalent after 9-11, when Red Islamic Terrorism struck at the heart of the country.
Key values are loyalty, humility, sacrifice, and a strong emphasis on law and order.
Examples: the military, the police, social conservatives, the Catholic church.
The world is divided into saints and sinners.
Orange is world-centric and holds a cosmopolitan outlook. People find their identity as free and equal human beings, first and foremost, regardless of religion, ethnicity, sex, ability or nationality. Orange tends to see the world as a free market of individuals using their talents and labor to compete and engage in exchange for mutual benefit to attain the most optimal distribution of resources. When Margaret Thatcher said “There is no such thing as society, there are only individuals,” she was speaking Orange. Where Blue is aristocratic–social rank is determined by birth, tradition, and rules of inheritance–Orange is meritocratic. Orange tends to prefer limited government: the sole job of the government is to protect individuals rights, particularly their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as defined by the individual–not the State, the Church, or any other external authority. Orange tends to be materialistic rather than moralistic: it does not place as much emphasis on character formation as Blue; what matters is that one shouldn’t physically harm others. Orange is thus the father of classical liberalism, the political DNA of modern societies. Likewise, Orange is the home of empiricism and the scientific method, basing knowledge on experience, not tradition; it is thus skeptical of religious authorities. It cares about what works. It prioritizes progress, particularly scientific and technological progress. Orange “thinks for itself.”
Key values are freedom, independence, adaptability, innovation, experimentation, conscientiousness.
Examples: businessmen, scientists, Ayn Rand, Francis Bacon, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and of course, Donald Trump.
The world is divided into winners and losers.
The Green sensibility came on the scene in the countercultural revolutions of the 1960s and 70s. Green has a deep distrust of any kind of centralized authority, institutional hierarchy, or mainstream establishment. It tends to see these as power structures created to oppress people, e.g., “the Man” Mindful that history is often written by the winners, Green rejects “Master Narratives” in favor of “Slave Narratives”; one example is Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which overturns the Founding Fathers-as-demigods story and points out how the country was built on the slaughter of native Americas. In general, Greens tend to be highly critical of the United States, particularly the military and big business. It seeks community as a reaction to the alienation brought on by Orange individualism, and has a deep yearning for existential meaning as a reaction to Orange materialism. The phrase “identity politics” is a Green phenomenon: it means that individuals see themselves first as members of a particular group–women, gays, Christians–rather than as individual citizens. Green sees modernity as an artificial environment that has removed us from–and despoiled–Mother Nature. It wants to go back to the land and live organically: When Joni Mitchell sings, “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot,” that is a Green lyric. Green prioritizes cultural sensitivity and the inclusion of marginalized groups: gays, racial minorities, Muslims, etc. It also goes beyond Orange in extending the circle of moral concern to nonhuman animals and the environment. It thinks from a global and ecological perspective, tending to focus on what is wrong with the world, and prefers international over national solutions to global problems. “Think globally, act locally” is a Green slogan.
Key values are tolerance, inclusivity, equality, sensitivity.
Examples: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Henry David Thoreau, hippies, environmentalists, New Agers, Occupy Wall Street.
The world is divided into oppressors and oppressed.
So how do these memes help us understand the culture wars, presidential politics and, ultimately, Trump’s success?