At some point in high school, Donald Trump’s new White House press secretary and communications director Stephanie Grisham must have read George Orwell’s “1984.” Instead of understanding Orwell’s book as a warning about totalitarianism, however, Grisham took it as a “how to” guide.
This is from a profile of Grisham, published last week in the Washington Post:
Does Grisham think Trump ever lies? After all, as of Aug. 5, The Washington Post Fact Checker had documented 12,019 false or misleading claims made by Trump during his presidency.
“No,” she responds without hesitation. “I don’t think they’re lies. . . . I think the president communicates in a way that some people, especially the media, aren’t necessarily comfortable with. A lot of times they take him so literally. I know people will roll their eyes if I say he was just kidding or was speaking in hypotheticals, but sometimes he is. What I’ve learned about him is that he loves this country and he’s not going to lie to this country.”
Despite the thousands of documented lies Trump has told since becoming president, his media sycophants at Fox News and elsewhere continue to claim that he is an honest and truthful person. Because they are authoritarians who are comfortable with their leaders lying to them, Trump’s voters and other Republicans also believe that he is honest.
Grisham’s recent comments to the Post are also another example of a very dangerous overlap between Donald Trump’s subjective reality, politics and truth. When Grisham says, “What I’ve learned about him is that he loves this country and he’s not going to lie to this country,” she is asserting that patriotism — always a subjective and normative quality — is a litmus test for the truth. Given his egomania and narcissism, Trump certainly agrees with her. Objective reality is to be made secondary, if not wholly replaced and usurped by, the whims of a mercurial, unstable authoritarian.
The real world is swallowed up by TrumpWorld; Trump’s critics and other detractors are then excluded from reality itself — which in turn legitimates their silencing by any means available.
In total, Trump’s lies, and the media and political machine that disseminates and sustains them, are antithetical to democracy. This is not a precondition for fascism. It is fascism in action.
Moreover, those people and organizations who aid, abet and enforce his lies are also enemies of a good and humane society. Philosopher Hannah Arendt warned of this in her 1971 essay “Lying in Politics”:
[T]he historian knows how vulnerable is the whole texture of facts in which we spend our daily life …. [I]t is always in danger of being perforated by single lies or torn to shreds by the organized lying of groups, nations, or classes, or denied and distorted, often carefully covered up by reams of falsehoods or simply allowed to fall into oblivion. Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy witnesses to be established in order to find a secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs.
The Washington Post’s profile of Stephanie Grisham also reveals the worldview and collective character of the Trump regime and those people willing to serve it. In Grisham’s comments about her job as press secretary and communications director there is no mention of a commitment to public service, the common good or the well-being of the American people. Loyalty to Donald Trump is all that matters. The framers of the United States Constitution rejected the divine right of kings and queens and the idea of a hereditary nobility in America. Donald Trump is the human exemplar of why the framers put safeguards in the Constitution to remove such an authoritarian.
Donald Trump’s lies are a tool. They help him to assault the rule of law, cut away at democracy, profit from corruption and greed, normalize his illegitimate regime, and stay in power by distracting the American people and the news media from his political agenda, which presents a dire threat to the existence of America’s multiracial democracy.
Donald Trump’s lies represent another type of threat as well. Philosopher Henry Giroux demonstrates in his new book “American Nightmare” how Trump and his movement imperil the American people’s relationship to history and reality:
History not only grounds us in the past by showing how democratic institutions rise and fall, it is also replete with memories and narratives of resistance that pose a dangerous threat for any fascist system. This is particularly true today given the deep ideological features and legacies of fascism that are deeply worn into Trumpism’s rhetoric of retribution, intolerance, and demonization; its mix of schlock pageantry, coercion, violence, and impunity; and the constant stoking of ultra-nationalism and racial agitation.
Keeping historical memory alive is a form of resistance because it questions everything and complicates one’s relationship to power, oneself, others, and the large community. It also functions “to give witness to the truth of the past so that the politics of today is vibrantly democratic.” Historical memory matters because it offers a form of moral witnessing, and serves as a crucial asset in preventing new forms of fascism from becoming normalized. The conditions leading to fascism do not exist outside of history in some ethereal space in which everything is measured against the degree of distraction it promises. Historical memory is a prerequisite to the political and moral awakening necessary to successfully counter authoritarianism in the United States today.
What can good Americans and other people of conscience do to survive and eventually triumph over Donald Trump and his movement’s full-spectrum assault on democracy and empirical reality?
First, they must vote in overwhelming numbers for the Democratic candidate for president — whoever that may be — in 2020. Democratic voters (and liberals and progressives more generally) must reject purity tests and unite behind their party’s presidential nominee. Supporting the candidate who is most likely to defeat Donald Trump and the Republican Party must be the overriding principle in 2020. Already imperiled, the future of the United States is at literal risk if Donald Trump is re-elected.
Good Americans and other people of conscience must also make a personal moral accounting. They need to ask themselves, “What am I doing in my day-to-day life to resist Donald Trump’s fascist movement?” Yes, sustained collective action is critical if the American people are to beat back this national and global crisis. But individuals must also stop waiting for other people to save them. Personal inaction is not a viable option. Passivity is complicity.
As others have suggested, all Americans — and all people around the world who are living through this global right-wing authoritarian moment — should maintain a journal or use some other means to document how the world around them is changing. Trumpism and similar movements are assaulting the very nature of reality itself. The Age of Trump is both a moral and political crisis that gains momentum and wins final power by shattering norms and creating a type of malignant reality and state of moral inversion. By documenting these changes, individuals can stay grounded and not be swept away by the lies and corrupting influence of Trump and his movement.
The personal must be the political, if Donald Trump and his version of American fascism are to be defeated. People of conscience should cease all communications with their relatives, friends, and other people in their lives who support Donald Trump and his movement. If that is not an option they should not discuss politics with anyone who supports Donald Trump. These people are willing members of a political cult. Trumpists cannot be freed until they choose to free themselves. Good Americans and other people of conscience should instead spend their energy supporting candidates and causes who are working to remove Donald Trump from office, blunting the harm he and his movement are doing in the present, and preparing to rehabilitate American democracy once Trump and other Republicans are removed from office.
You are not crazy. Trump’s defenders and other enablers accuse his critics of suffering from “Trump derangement syndrome.” Such accusations are acts of projection. In reality, it is Trump and his supporters and enablers who are politically deranged, wallowing in a state of moral inversion, lost to malignant reality and mass political psychosis. They are waging a war on reality and truth, here in America and around the world.