News-Record & Sentinel, September 30, 2020
This column won’t be an instant replay of Donald Trump lies. Those volumes are kept by professionals. No, this is more of a prophecy – about where Trump’s lies can take us.
I’ve just read a little book, “On Tyranny,” by Tim Snyder, a Yale guy who lived most of his working life in Europe, studying how 20th-Century dictators got power. It’s a guidebook for people living in free countries whose democracies are at risk. Like the United States of America in the year 2020.
One chapter, titled “Believe in truth,” jumps off the page at us. A tyrant, Snyder says, begins with “open hostility to what can be verified,” presenting his own fabrications as truth. His charisma draws followers, and his words, mostly untrue, become words with power, like words of an ancient oracle. His followers are now believers. The road to tyranny is not a slippery slope; it’s a leap of faith. Yes, faith.
The world sees Donald Trump simply as a compulsive liar. And well, it’s hard to argue with them when we see him in Michigan saying, “We built you a lot of car plants, Michigan,” when in fact not one plant has been built during his administration. That’s compulsive. Auto workers know what’s built and not built.
From the beginning of his political ambition, if not all his life, Trump has given no value to truth over untruth. In 2016, nonpartisan PolitiFact found that 60 percent of Trump’s claims in the campaign were either “False” or “Pants on Fire.” If they included “Mostly False” claims in the data, it hit 78 percent. Last month he squeezed four lies into one sentence on Twitter.
But his words, remember, are held by some as the words of an oracle. Snyder calls it “abandonment of reason.” When that happens, he says, “evidence is irrelevant.”
There’s magical thinking at play here. In the 2016 campaign, Trump promised a magnificent border wall that Mexico would pay for. It didn’t happen, of course. Oops, misstatement. But he didn’t learn. This past August in New Hampshire, he said: “We’ve already built 300 miles of border wall, and we’re heading for 10 new miles every single week, and the wall will soon be completed.”
It’s a lie of course, a silly, unprotected lie. Last December, the acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection stated (Wikipedia) that “by May 2020, only 16 miles out of 194 miles of wall constructed under the Trump administration was new fencing; the remainder was replacement for outdated or dilapidated sections.”
That’s worse than the Michigan auto plants.
Last October, Trump claimed that China would be buying billions in American farm products. He said, “I suggest farmers…immediately buy more land” to meet demand. I hope nobody did.
And you’d think time would expire on the “terrific” healthcare plan he would roll out “very soon.”
When his followers believe these obvious lies – or don’t care if his claims are truth or nonsense – then they have already submitted to his tyranny. They’re there. Political power to make it real is just a formality.
Will it happen? Yes…if.
Here’s my prophecy: If Donald Trump is reelected, America will be a democracy in name only.
I’m not saying it might happen. I’m not saying Trump will try to become a dictator. I’m saying he will in fact have total power.
He’s filled the government with amateurs who do his will. The mechanism of the GOP is his. He has shown no reluctance to use federal troops. Have no doubt: he’s poised to really do it.
The courts? Paper tiger.
Protests? Yeah, I’ll protest. They protested in Turkey, too.
The military? Will they or won’t they…do what?
Us? What can we do? Non-reelect him. After that, at least, his shenanigans will be illegal. And how we respond will be just.