Nikabrik’s populism: A further thought on the appeal of Donald Trump

In her brilliant short essay “Nikabrik’s Candidate,” to which I linked last week, Gina Dalfonzo identifies the core of Nikabrik’s evil as a corrupted virtue.

There is absolutely no room in Nikabrik’s mind for the idea that a Telmarine could be good.  And at first we can sympathize; his people have suffered greatly under the Telmarines, and he is fiercely loyal to his people—a good quality.  But as Lewis frequently warned us, good qualities can be twisted and used for evil purposes. . . .

When his friend Trufflehunter reminds him that the Witch “was a worse enemy than Miraz and all his race,” Nikabrik’s retort is telling:  “Not to Dwarfs, she wasn’t.”  His own people and their safety are all that matter to him now.  Instead of being an important priority, this has become his only priority—and any attempt to remind him that other considerations exist brings only his contempt and anger.

This is how good people with strong, ingrained values—people who have invested time and money in the sanctity of life, religious liberty, and similarly noble causes—can come to support a man who changes his convictions more often than his shirts.  This is how people concerned about the dignity of the office of President end up flocking to a reality-show star who spends his days on Twitter calling people “dumb” and “loser.”  This is how some who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are lured by a man who openly puts all his faith in power and money, the very things Christ warned us against prizing too highly.  As one wag on Twitter pointed out, “If elected, Donald Trump will be the first US president to own a strip club,” and yet he has the support of Christians who fervently believe that this country needs to clean up its morals.

It’s important to understand this.  Nikabrik is full of hate, but it’s not because he’s “a hater.”  He’s unalterably and bitterly prejudiced against Telmarines, but it’s not because he’s “a bigot.”  Those are shallow characterizations for what are usually shallow attitudes, even if strongly held.  Nikabrik’s moral ill is far more perilous because far deeper, and rooted in legitimate emotional/spiritual needs.  He’s loyal to his own people, and his entire identity is rooted in that loyalty—a familiar reality in our age of identity politics—and the very existence of his own people is under threat.  What’s more, his concept of who his own people are has been fracturing and shrinking; his bitterness against his fellow Old Narnians for (in his view) exploiting and abusing his fellow Black Dwarfs is not much less than his hatred for the Telmarines.  This leaves him with one overriding need:  to protect and defend the Dwarfs (and primarily the Black Dwarfs) by any means necessary.  Viscerally, he feels that to do anything less would be to betray himself.  Emotionally if not physically, this is a matter of self-defense—it’s him versus the world—and he will do whatever it takes, no matter how vile, in that cause.

It wasn’t inevitable that Nikabrik’s fear would drive him to embrace the greatest evil his land had ever known.  Yoda might be right to say, “Anger, fear, aggression.  The Dark Side are they,” but fear alone doesn’t turn you into Darth Vader.  That takes Palpatine’s help.  We aren’t told where Nikabrik got the idea of raising the White Witch, but the fact that he called a hag and a werewolf his friends gives us a pretty good indication.  He’s corrupt, but they are corruption.

This is a critical distinction.  Nikabrik thinks he and his “friends” are on the same side, but they know better.  He’s being played for a fool and a dupe by beings which are preying on his fears—literally, spiritually, feeding on them, drawing energy from them to strengthen themselves.  He believes they will stay on his side; he fails to realize that they have no side but their own.  He thinks that if the White Witch was comparatively good to the Dwarfs before, that means that a resurrected White Witch would be the same.  Loyalty is the last virtue he has left—he has sacrificed all the others on its altar—so he fails to understand that the power-hungry are loyal to no one and nothing but their own appetite.  If the White Witch treated the Dwarfs better than others, that was because it happened to suit her purposes to do so, not because she cared a whit about the Dwarfs one way or the other.  Nikabrik is too committed to his own people to see that.

Such are the dangers of populism; such are the seductions of the demagogue.


Photo © 2013 Gage Skidmore.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

Posted in Culture and society, Politics.

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