The autocratic leader lies and then falsely charges his opponents with lying. He politicizes institutions that are supposed to be free of politics by falsely accusing his foes of politicizing them. He victimizes others by falsely claiming they are victimizing him.
The autocrat also counts on spineless politicians to cave in to his demands. And as they destroy governmental institutions at his bidding, they insist they are defending them.
In her classic 1951 book, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” the philosopher Hannah Arendt offered two observations that help us understand the assumptions and purposes behind the memo created by the staff of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee turned propagandist for President Trump.
The totalitarian method of the 1920s and 1930s, she noted, was to “dissolve every statement of fact into a declaration of purpose.”
She also said this: “Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.”
Bear Arendt’s warnings in mind in pondering the Nunes screed whose sole purpose is to discredit an investigation that appears to be getting closer and closer to Trump.
The Nunes exercise fits snugly with Arendt’s second observation. The cynicism of a significant part of the public, particularly Trump’s supporters, leads them to believe that everybody in every institution lies. The Nunes talking points toss out distorted and disconnected facts, not to advance the truth but to cloud it in confusion. Thus did Nunes’s ploy accomplish the opposite of its intention. It simply showed how petrified Trump and his backers are of a comprehensive probe.
Our democratic regime is further endangered by the proclivity of Republicans in Congress to enable the executive abuses they’re supposed to check. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s disgraceful complicity in the release of the memo was made all the more shameful when he declared this past Thursday that it “does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general.”
Trump put the lie to this Friday morning when he tweeted: “The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans.” On Saturday, he claimed the memo “totally vindicates” him in “the Russian Witch Hunt.” Ryan and other Republicans claiming that putting out this memo would not serve to undermine the investigation are either fooling themselves — or us.
Autocrats don’t prevail unless they have allies to give them cover. Thanks to House Republicans, our country has taken another step toward the chaos that autocrats thrive on.
(Excerpted from Dionne, Washington Psot 2/4/18)