Why is President Donald Trump so dangerous to our democracy and the world? Because he lies, insists upon the truth of his lies, doubles down on them, and then mercilessly demeans and attacks his critics.
There is a method to what Trump does. Here are some of the specifics that are necessary for the achievement of his ends:
- He personally attacks his opponents by labeling them with demeaning name-calling, thereby belittling them and discrediting them;
- He mocks anyone who shows a disability or publicly displays emotion that he regards as a sign of weakness in order to prop himself up and establish himself as the big winner and therefore the embodiment of power and truth;
- He dismisses provable facts when they do not conform to his end-game agenda;
- He attacks the press, threatens journalists and networks, and denies them access to the White House;
- He fires staff that disagree with him and prohibits dissent by government officials;
- He threatens cities and universities by withdrawing financial aid when they challenge him;
- He challenges the last election as fraudulent so he can claim to have won the popular vote as well as the electoral college;
- He shuts down the White House switchboard to protect itself against negative public opinion.
Taken together these things (which are not exhaustive) are reminiscent of the methods described in Mein Kampf to subjugate a population to the power and will of the leader. As was the case in the 1930s in Nazi Germany, everything for Trump depends upon establishing the Big Lie as truth.
Robert Reich posted on his Facebook page ten specific steps Trump has used from the beginning of his campaign to promote the Big Lie as a means of establishing himself as the Savior of the nation:
Step 1: Trump lies.
Step 2: Experts contradict him, saying his claim is baseless and false. The media report that the claim is false.
Step 3: Trump blasts the experts and condemns the media for being “dishonest.”
Step 4: Trump repeats the lie in tweets and speeches. He asserts that “many people” say he’s right.
Step 5: The mainstream media start to describe the lie as a “disputed fact.”
Step 6: Trump repeats the lie in tweets, interviews, and speeches. His surrogates repeat it on Fox News and in the right-wing blogosphere.
Step 7: The mainstream media begin to describe Trump’s lie as a “controversy.”
Step 8: Polls show a growing number of Americans (including most Republicans) believe Trump’s lie to be true.
Step 9: The media start describing Trump’s lie as “a claim that reflects a partisan divide in America,” and is “found to be true by many.”
Step 10: The public is confused and disoriented about what the facts are. Trump wins.
What ought we to do in response?
- Call/email your congressional representatives protesting Trump’s appointments and actions when they are based on the Big Lie or when they run counter to his campaign promises;
- Organize for the mid-term elections to take back the House and the Senate;
- Run for political office yourself and/or encourage able people you know to do so especially against current office-holders and candidates who support Trump’s demagoguery and/or who have failed to speak out against his lies and policies;
- Actively support progressive causes (e.g. climate change, public education, affordable college education, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, criminal justice reform, universal health care, scientific research, economic justice, immigration reform, diplomacy in international affairs, etc. etc);
- Organize demonstrations against Trump wherever and whenever he appears, at the White House and at his retreats to get under his skin;
- Educate your children and grandchildren about American democracy, our democratic institutions, the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the built-in checks and balances of the three branches of our government;
- Remember that critical thinking is our nation’s greatest protection against Trump’s and his surrogates’ demagoguery and distortions of the truth;
- Challenge all outrageous and demeaning statements Trump makes;
- Support the media that call his lies what they are – lies – and who the Trump administration criticizes for reporting and/or speaking the truth;
- Defend everyone Trump attacks regardless of whether you agree with the speaker’s views.
Finally – because so much is being thrown up by the Trump administration every day, it is only human to want to stop listening to the news and, out of a sense of disgust and powerlessness, to turn away and disengage. That, however, is the opposite of what we ought to be doing. Deferring to Trump is exactly what dictators want from their subjects. Denial of what is happening in the body politic and moral character of our nation is not an option; neither is despair.
We Jews and we Americans are people of hope, and hope comes from engagement and the belief that we can effect change and heal the world of its pain and imperfections.
Chazak v’ematz – Be strong and courageous!
Note: I speak only for myself and do not claim to represent the views of my congregation or any other Jewish organization.