On November 4 in “Beyond Lying: Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Reality,” Jason Stanley argued:
Donald Trump is trying to define a simple reality as a means to express his power. The goal is to define a reality that justifies his value system, thereby changing the value systems of his audience….
The simple picture Trump is trying to convey is that there is wild disorder, because of American citizens of African-American descent, and immigrants. He is doing it as a display of strength, showing he is able to define reality and lead others to accept his authoritarian value system.
The chief authoritarian values are law and order. In Trump’s value system, nonwhites and non-Christians are the chief threats to law and order….
Trump is thundering about a crime wave of historic proportions, because he is an authoritarian using his speech to define a simple reality that legitimates his value system, leading voters to adopt it. Its strength is that it conveys his power to define reality….
Trump is, as Frankfurt asserts, certainly openly insensitive to reality. But he is not carelessly insensitive….
Denouncing Trump as a liar, or describing him as merely entertaining, misses the point of authoritarian propaganda altogether. Authoritarian propagandists are attempting to convey power by defining reality. The reality they offer is very simple. It is offered with the goal of switching voters’ value systems to the authoritarian value system of the leader….
Describing what Trump has done requires us to talk not just about the importance of honesty and accuracy, but also about power, value systems and in-groups vs. out-groups. It also requires us to confront the failures of elite policy that have led to an erosion of democratic norms, primarily public trust, that make anti-democratic alternatives suddenly acceptable.
Trump’s approach is in harmony with the widespread postmodern belief often reflected in contemporary culture (and the image above) that it’s impossible to know what is true or right.
Trump’s strategy is reminiscent of the Bush White House. In October 2004, Ron Suskind wrote in The New York Times Magazine:
In the summer of 2002, … I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. … he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
That senior adviser was later revealed to be Karl Rove.
Trump’s effort to create in-groups and out-groups may work partly because our society systematically divides-and-conquers by labeling people and exaggerating the importance of those social categories. Being judgmental and disrespecting others is drilled into all of us. Only the names of the enemies change.
The mainstream media is doing a good job of talking “about the importance of honesty and accuracy,” as Stanley recommends. That’s helpful. But so far, it seems to me, they aren’t addressing his other recommendation: to talk about “power, value systems and in-groups vs. out-groups.”