“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, and prejudices— to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own—for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling (1960)
My favorite TV series was the Twilight Zone, and my favorite episode was, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”
I watched a rerun recently and it scared me more than ever. This episode is about how friends and neighbors can be easily turned against each other. A pleasant summer night of neighborly camaraderie on a quiet suburban street quickly morphs into a hostile, violent scene after some unexplained electrical malfunctions. Soon, no one trusts anyone else and everyone is looking for someone to blame.
My first thought was of the 2016 Russian internet interference in our democratic electoral process and the utter lack of preparedness for the next election.
Then I thought of Trump’s political rallies and the “Send Her Home” chant. His deranged and racist Tweets have become so divisive that he is fracturing our country for his own political benefit. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between his political strategy and “Monsters.” Donald Trump’s election wounded me and most of my friends. How could a quirky candidate with ambiguous policies become President of the United States? But what truly scares me is that despite continuous damning comments and Tweets and innumerable credible accusations of legal and moral crimes, 40% of Americans support him.
The chanting crowds at Trump rallies brought back memories of the newsreels of Nazi rallies in the late 1930s shown in my high school history class. As someone of German heritage on my father’s side, I used to wonder how on Earth a civilized culture could produce that level of hateful frenzy. Now I know. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to turn neighbor against neighbor. First, the “leader” must create fear among his base. Next, he finds a scapegoat to blame.
At the end of the Twilight Zone episode, the camera pans from the riot scene to the Maple Street sign, then into the distance:
“We see the metal side of a spacecraft that sits shrouded in darkness. An open door throws out a beam of light from the illuminated interior. Two figures appear, silhouetted against the bright lights. We get only a vague feeling of form.
Figure One. Understand the procedure now? Just stop a few of their machines and radios and telephones and lawn mowers. . . . Throw them into darkness for a few hours, and then just sit back and watch the pattern.
Figure Two. And this pattern is always the same?
Figure One. With few variations. They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find . . . and it’s themselves. And all we need do is sit back . . . and watch.”
Next time you watch this episode, you look at Figure One closely and see if he bears an eerie resemblance to Vladimir Putin.
These are the opinions of Bob Dreizler and not necessarily those of Cambridge or any other organization, are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed or acted upon as individualized investment advice.