Truth Absent, Tyranny Enters: Lessons from Timothy Snyder

In his important study On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder alerts us that the first stage of tyranny is an “open hostility” to verifiable facts. 

Thom Hartmann shares a clip of CBS President and CEO Les Moonves telling his shareholders, Donald Trump may be bad for the country, but he’s good for CBS! Uploaded to YouTube by Thom Hartmann Program.

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. 

“Political commentary on the streets of Gemmayze, East Beirut, Lebanon.” Photo by Brian Wertheim on Unsplash

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.

“Michigan Politics: A billboard touting God, Guns, and Donald Trump as viewed from the southbound lanes of I-75 in Saginaw County, MI.” Photo by Dan Gaken on Flickr.

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?

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2 thoughts on “Truth Absent, Tyranny Enters: Lessons from Timothy Snyder”

  1. Avatar

    I think a new idolatry has arrived, and with what swiftness and power! A personality cult built on deception, fear, executions (of people’s jobs and reputations), lies, scapegoating and only lip-service respect for sacred institutions, has almost sunk us in a second tsunami that was the last presidential election. Arnold Schwarzenegger may be more closer to the truth than he thinks regarding the Kristallnacht Nazi comparison and the Capitol assault, where there was a day of violent defiance that signalled the intentions of a new doctrine for living, with a personality cult crafted around its figurehead. On the ‘spiritual’ side ‘prophets’ have prepared the way in many churches and on you tube (Hitler did not have this benefit, though some in the Churches saw him as a blessing). Like Adolf Hitler, Trump too, is a ruthless opportunist. The person killed inside the Capitol was an Air Force vet, selfies were taken alongside police, the police reaction was muted, the Pentagon took 2 hours to ok the National Guard intervention: Trump’s tentacles are everywhere. Hitler was opposed, but came back from prison internment to take over ‘democratically’ the Chancellor’s reigns. Insurrection is treason, and if proven in a Court of Law, the penalty must be applied. Or else, the Courts of Law may become Trump’s Courts sooner than we think. I am not a gambling man, but if I was, I would lay a hefty bet on Pence regretting not resorting to the 25th Amendment and replacing Trump. If the lessons of History are not learnt from, then what are they good for?

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