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Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here” describes a future where a fascist “Buzz” Windrip is elected President Of The United States.
Buzz Windrip is a racist who trumps up the anger of America’s white working class, as does Donald Trump. And like Trump, he loves wild, passionate, huge rallies. And again, like Donald Trump, he focuses on the “lies of the mainstream press.”
Windrip’s supporters, full of hatred, lash out against the “highbrow intellectuality” of editors, professors, and elites. Sound familiar? This prescient commentary on American society, in 2016, is once again very popular and made the best-seller list on Amazon.
I want to focus on Trump’s attack on the press as to “why it can happen here.”
John McCain recently said that they echo the language of dictators. “Attacks on the press is how dictators get started,” said the Senator.
On February 17, Trump Tweeted:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
He has continued the message to date:
Don’t let the FAKE NEWS tell you that there is big infighting in the Trump Admin. We are getting along great, and getting major things done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2017
“Enemies of the people” gained its most notorious associations in the 20th century during the purges ordered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin that killed tens of millions of people.
China’s dictator Mao Zedong also denounced as “enemies of the people” those who criticized the Maoist policies and commands that led to the Great Famine and the death of tens of millions of Chinese.
Vladimir Putin established his virtual dictatorship by first discrediting the media and then taking over Russian TV. He also talked of it being “the enemies of the people.”
In attacking the press as the “enemy of the people,” Trump has a useful target with which to stoke up the hate and loathing of his base. With Hillary Clinton gone, Trump needs another foe to get his supporters to focus their rage and loathing on. Among other objectives, he uses this focused hatred as a force to unify his supporters by identifying a common enemy—the press.
According to a new Gallup poll, trust of mass media in the United States is lower than it has ever been since the organization started asking that question in 1972. Only 32 percent are saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.
Obviously, this reality makes Trump’s attacks on the media have more credibility. Trump can offer alternative realities and facts to a more receptive public.
Reality itself is a cloudy, blurred affair in America today. Trump is “gaslighting us.”
The term comes from the 1930s play “Gas Light,” and the 1940s Hollywood movie version (Gaslight) in which a manipulative husband tries to unmoor his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman, by tampering with her perception of reality. He dims the gaslights and then pretends it’s only she who thinks they are flickering, as the rooms grow darker.
That’s only the beginning. He uses a variety of truth-blurring techniques. His goal is to exert power and control by creating doubts about what is real and what isn’t, distracting her as he attempts to steal precious jewels. ~ Frida Ghitis, CNN
Trump tries to undercut our understanding of his actions and policies by inviting us to live in a post fact world. His chief spokesperson, Kellyanne Conway, suggests that there are “alternative facts” to a situation.
Everything suddenly seems upside down in our government. The White House Press Secretary declared that this was the largest inauguration crowd ever: “Period.” Pictures show the contrary.
Trump sees thousands of Muslims dancing in the street on 9/11 when no one else does. A terrorist attack against Sweden “occurred last night” when nothing of the kind happened.
And the lies continue:
122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2017
Some psychologists say that when we hear lies over and over we become numb, and we don’t care about the truth. We become confused:
Did he win the election with a historically narrow victory, or did he score in a “landside.”
Did Trump mock a disabled reporter, or did your eyes, and the Hollywood elite make you think he did?
It doesn’t matter that Russia hacked into the election and tried to influence its outcome because you can’t prove it. Trump’s behavior becomes normalized simply by becoming inured to constant repletion of the same bad behavior.
Gaslighting techniques include saying and doing things and then denying it, blaming others for misunderstanding, disparaging their concerns as oversensitivity, claiming outrageous statements were jokes or misunderstandings, and other forms of twilighting the truth. Like Ingrid Bergman’s character we can doubt what is real and unreal. ~ Frida Ghitis, CNN
Who in America can cut through the bull sh*t? John Oliver, sometimes Steven Colbert, Samantha Bee, and Trevor Noah, provide a glimmer of hope and a necessary public conscience, but they are journalistic jesters speaking truth to power.
I have to say, “John Stewart, where are you when we need you?”
Then we have the cable news/radio loudmouths: Anne Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Chris “Tweety Birdy” Matthews, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Ted Nugent—who should be sent to outer space to improve the public discourse.
But we do have investigative journalists for the New York Times and Washington Post, who have exposed Trump and associates’ ties to Russia. The findings may even cause the intelligence community or congress to find that the Trump colluded with Russia to disrupt the democratic electoral process, which is perhaps, treason.
We have newspaper and magazine columnists and commentators that seem to respect the truth, and wrap their points of view in reason. I often disagree with David Brooks and Thomas Friedman, but I think they speak truth to power. Certainly Eric Altermann, Debra Solomon, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Rachael Maddow, Jonathan Chait, and many others are bulls*it detectives.
In a culture where the liberal arts seems to be disappearing in many universities, even many of the best “educated” Americans may not be familiar with the satirical works of Aristophanes, Jonathan Swift, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Erasmus, Rabelais, Mark Twain, and H.L. Menken. Because of this, it may not be easily seen how the clown-child Trump appears over and over in history, and has been easily and effectively skewered.
Even the best liberal arts educated must remember what George Orwell wrote, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”
We should remember the words of Thomas Jefferson who said:
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. “
“It Can Happen Here” in a post fact, post reality world where the gaslights are very dim. In my opinion, without the press it probably would happen.
Author: Keith Shirey
Editor: Deb Jarrett