Into Trump’s world (now our world, Helas!) come the words of Hannah Arendt, and they come into the untruth world of Donald Trump like a clarion call to something cleaner and better.
Probably only a very few of us still read the truth teller, Hannah Arendt. One who does is Thomas Edsall citing her several times in his recent op-ed piece, (NYTimes, 11/30/17) The Self-Destruction of American Democracy. For Edsall there is no doubt thatTrump’s extraordinary record of prevarication has called the truth into question, and when this happens, as Arendt famously said, “nothing can be believed anymore.”
Would that Arendt were still here, and could speak and write directly about what’s happening to our beloved country. For there is no one else, no one in a position of leadership, certainly no one in the two political parties who is telling it as it is, helping us to see the truth in a way that Arendt would be doing if she were still with us.
Arendt did leave us a number of imperishable works, the best known being, The Origins of Totalitarianism, a work particularly relevant today, given the fact that our democracy is now seriously threatened by a bigoted and authoritarian man seated triumphantly in the Oval Office.
Actually things in the country have gotten so bad that there are even those who are asking if we aren’t becoming another Weimar Republic, now threatened as the German Republic then, by being undone and our Constitution shattered by a smooth talking, all’s right with the world, you can count on me for your salvation, smooth-talking salesman-president with pronounced Hitlerian character flaws.
But Arendt is no longer with us, and will have nothing to say to us in this time of trouble, and even if she were still here who now among the spineless Republicans in the House and Senate would even listen to her let alone understand what she were saying, who among them, in a world of un-truth, would ever begin to tell the truth themselves about their untruthful leader? And in fact why are there almost no truth tellers among our elected representatives in Washington? Do you know?
Of there being no leaders willing to confront Trump, Edsall has this to say: “At the moment, Trump’s co-partisans, House and Senate Republicans, have shown little willingness to confront him. The longer Trump stays in office, the greater the danger that he will inflict permanent damage on the institutions that must be essential tools in any serious attempt to confront him….”
And isn’t that what makes us stop listening to the “fake” news, the no news that is coming from Washington, mostly from Trump himself, in the form of late night and early morning Tweets?
Here is Arendt herself as cited in Edsall’s piece:
“One could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; and instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”
Instead of deserting a leader who had lied to them… Trump’s followers seem to admire him even more, for what? for his “tactical cleverness.”
This is a good description of Trump’s base. Trump’s career did begin with a lie, the “Birther Lie,” and from that point on (when there was zero opposition from his base) there was no stopping him, no stopping his lies, one lie leading to another lie, while always arousing the admiration and eventually electoral support of his base.
Who what is this base? Who are the millions who continue to support Trump? You hear nothing from them directly but you know they’re there because of Fox News or what I call the channel of un-truth, fake news but the most watched of all the television news channels. The Fox News listening and watching audience just has to be Trump’s base, because who else would listen and believe the sorts of fake news and conspiracy theories that characterize The Fox channel, and are often picked up and further expanded by the likes of Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and countless other talk show proponents of the un-truth world.
You wonder how these people, Trump’s base, came into existence, what school system, for example, turned them out to become no-nothing members of the voting public? And you wonder if they will eventually outnumber the rest of us, or will they, as past no-nothing tribes, fade into oblivion, as I would hope. There are almost daily reports reporting on their strengths and weaknesses, not so much their whereabouts, are they hiding? In any case they are not talking.
But no one is prepared to say that Trump’s base has no future. In fact they’ve got us, the children of the 17th. century scientific revolution and the 18th century Enlightenment, worried, even afraid, as ignorance and actions based on ignorance, have always made us worry, for ourselves and even more for our children.
Cited also by Edsall in the same Times op ed piece is Hannah Arendt’s 1974 reply to an interviewer:
“The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie — a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days — but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.”
Isn’t this also a description of Trump’s base? In any case for Edsall there is no doubt that President Trump has single-handedly done more to undermine the basic tenets of American democracy than any foreign agent or foreign propaganda campaign ever could.
In Edsall’s own words: “Trump is a political weapon of mass self-destruction for American democracy — for its norms, for its morality, for sheer human decency,”