In his important study On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder alerts us that the first stage of tyranny is an “open hostility” to verifiable facts.
A study found that in the 2016 election 78% of Trump’s claims were not factual. This was a warning of what was to come in his presidency. Did the press point this out during the campaign? Rarely. Indeed, they were complicit. Excited about the crowds Trump drew, and too lazy and uninterested to question the messages being sold the voters, the corporate media and their stockholders received a big return for their largesse. Indeed, the president of CBS said that Donald Trump “may be bad for the nation but was great” for his corporate profits so they gave Trump hours and hours of free television time to dispense his message full of unchecked lies.
A second dimension Snyder found in tyrannical politicians is a practice of “shamanistic incantation”—repeating the lie over and over and over like a mantra. “The election is stolen,” for example. That way truth moves from the critical mind of judgement into a perverse use of a mystical practice, from left brain to right brain, one might say. No judgment. Sentiment only.
When peoples’ right brains are out of practice they are sitting ducks for a misuse of the right brain. An incantation to the gods of falsity v replaces truth. “Endless repetition” of phrases like “lock her up” and “Lyin’ Ted” and “build that wall” invade one’s brain and lodges nicely there. This old fascist trick results in a kind of religious fervor that establishes a relationship between Trump and his listeners that is hard to dislodge. It can culminate in a mob invasion.
“Magical thinking” and abandonment of reason follow. A slogan like “Only I can fix it,” becomes becomes dear to the heart and repeated often. Focus on the leader enough and one abandons one’s own intuition and deepest feelings and the truth and values. Conscience is not needed. The leader and the mob with its slogans become all the truth one needs.
The fourth stage in untruth telling is “mis-placed faith.” An act of faith in a particular leader amidst a “drumbeat of propaganda” readily replaces facts in one’s mind. “Post-truth” becomes the “fascist attitude toward truth.” Indeed, “fascists despised the small truths of daily existence, replacing them with loved slogans that resonated like a new religion.…Now, as then, many people confused faith in a hugely flawed leader with the truth about the world we all share. Post-truth is pre-fascism.”
People who take a public oath of office to defend the constitution and then refuse to do so even after thugs and white supremacists invade the very capitol building where they took their oath are lying. To break an oath is to lie. Should such people be dismissed from office?
No wonder Truth is another name for the Great Mystery, the Divine, that is so much bigger than human lies and ambitions.
See Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, pp. 65-71.
See Matthew Fox, “Hitler as a Religious Figure,” in Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 389-398.
Banner Image: “Chaos as Trump supporters storm Capitol Hill, January 6, 2021.” Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer on Flickr.
Do you recognize a “new religion” or quasi religious happening in politics and politicians who use mystical techniques such as chanting of mantras in public rallies? Do you feel a new idolatry occurring? How best to prepare oneself and one’s culture to resist?