Home/Rod Dreher/Trump, Truth, And Totalitarianism

Trump, Truth, And Totalitarianism

Look at this:

Now look at this, from the local GOP elected official responsible for the voter registration database:

It’s a lie. Donald Trump is flat-out lying to manipulate the political process. I get sick and tired of people on the Left who refuse to believe things that contradict what they prefer to believe, but it is no better when people on the Right do it. It is as plain as day what happens when a people accept as true statements they have every reason to know are lies, and accept them because it suits their political preferences. The corruption of the truth is far worse than ordinary corruption, like stealing money. It makes it impossible to know what is real. From Live Not By Lies:

To grasp the threat of totalitarianism, it’s important to understand the difference between it and simple authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is what you have when the state monopolizes political control. That is mere dictatorship—bad, certainly, but totalitarianism is much worse. According to Hannah Arendt, the foremost scholar of totalitarianism, a totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is. As Arendt has written, wherever totalitarianism has ruled, “[I]t has begun to destroy the essence of man.”


Heda Margolius Kovály, a disillusioned Czech communist whose husband was executed after a 1952 show trial, reflects on the willingness of people to turn their backs on the truth for the sake of an ideological cause.

It is not hard for a totalitarian regime to keep people ignorant. Once you relinquish your freedom for the sake of “understood necessity,” for Party discipline, for conformity with the regime, for the greatness and glory of the Fatherland, or for any of the substitutes that are so convincingly offered, you cede your claim to the truth. Slowly, drop by drop, your life begins to ooze away just as surely as if you had slashed your wrists; you have voluntarily condemned yourself to helplessness.

You can surrender your moral responsibility to be honest out of misplaced idealism. You can also surrender it by hating others more than you love truth. In pre-totalitarian states, Arendt writes, hating “respectable society” was so narcotic, that elites were willing to accept “monstrous forgeries in historiography” for the sake of striking back at those who, in their view, had “excluded the underprivileged and oppressed from the memory of mankind.” For example, many who didn’t really accept Marx’s revisionist take on history—that it is a manifestation of class struggle—were willing to affirm it because it was a useful tool to punish those they despised.

Hannah Arendt wrote that a people’s eagerness to believe lies that pleased them was a clear sign of a pre-totalitarian society:

Propaganda helps change the world by creating a false impression of the way the world is. Writes Arendt, “The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda—before the movement has the power to drop the iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world—lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.”

… As Arendt wrote about the pre-totalitarian masses:

They do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations, which may be caught by anything that is at once universal and consistent with itself. What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.

Look, I wrote a whole book that describes the left-wing ideological assault on the truth, for the sake of achieving political power. We on the Right are no better than them if we surrender the truth for the sake of power. Donald Trump is not forcing anybody to accept the lie. That is on us. If you are a member of Congress who would rather affirm something you know to be a lie, or should know is a lie, because you are afraid of losing your job, then you have already lost something far more important than your job.

Once again, I want to see a Republican Party that embodies many of the principles associated with Trump: immigration restriction, anti-globalism, cultural conservatism, and so forth. But none of that matters if we abandon the truth. None of it. That is a price too high for honest men and women to pay. Besides which, even if you were prepared to accept a lie for the sake of power, it’s not going to work. From the Washington Examiner:

Another [Arizona] Republican member of the board, Bill Gates, sharply criticized the GOP Senate-led audit, raising concerns that Republicans alleging widespread voter fraud “will do lasting damage to our republic.”

“If Republicans become the party of the ‘Big Lie,’ if we encourage this madness much longer, we will lose credibility with the majority of Americans on issues where I believe we have better ideas,” he said.

That’s a truth that even cynical Republicans are bound to respect, for their own good.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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