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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Schizo-fascism in full-effect

by digby

My Salon column today:

In the disorienting weeks right after the presidential election of 2016, Timothy Snyder of Yale University, a professor of European history and an expert on the Holocaust, wrote a viral facebook post about fascism. It was composed of 20 lessons from the 20th century and how to see them in the context of what had just happened. It was soon turned into a small book called "On Tyranny" which served as a handbook for Americans to defend their democratic institutions, resist the propaganda and most especially to think clearly and critically. He wrote, “you submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case.”

It was obvious from the beginning that Donald Trump was a fabulist and a liar and there seemed to be a shocking willingness among many Americans to roll with his alternate version of reality. Snyder's little book was a strangely comforting message in those strange early days giving people a little bit of a roadmap as to how to approach these bizarre and unfamiliar circumstances.

I suspect those words have echoed in the minds of many people who read those words more than once over these last months. Yesterday, it came flooding back for me when I watched President Trump say in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars,"just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” This prompted members of the audience to turn toward the media in the back of the hall and boo lustily.

Needless to say, millions of people who may not have read that book by Snyder certainly have read George Orwell's "1984" and were reminded of this famous passage:
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
As Anderson Cooper pointed out:

Trump is getting more explicit about this command by the day .For instance, everyone who follows politics has seen the bit at the Helsinki press conference in which Jeff Mason of Reuters asked President Putin: "Did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?" Putin replied, “Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal." Rachel Maddow reported on Tuesday night that the White House has inexplicably omitted that part of the transcript and edited the accompanying video:

It's a cliche to bring up old Soviet practices in these situations but in this case it's just inescapable. The White Hpuse altered the part of the transcript and the video which shows Putin saying that he wanted President Trump to win. Just as the old USSR used to "erase" people's pictures from official photographs and edit transcripts, the administration is doing a similar thing with their official record. It's ridiculous, of course, because the actual tape is everywhere and millions of us saw it in real team.

Meanwhile, in the days since the Freedom of Information Act release of the FISA warrant for former Trump campaign official Carter Page, we've been subjected to one of the most "you can believe me or you can believe your lyin' eyes" responses in history from right wing media and congrssional representatives. The facts as laid out in the documents are crystal clear: the FBI had been tracking Page for years and relied on numerous pieces of evidence to establish the probable cause to initiate surveillance of him, a month after he left the Trump campaign. They revealed all of this to the four judges who signed the successive warrants. Yet Republicans are still insisting that those facts do not exist and they continue to parrot their previous narrative, which Trump himself tweets out almost daily, that has the FBI lying to the judges and basing their suspicions entirely on the Steele Dossier which they assert proves the whole thing a partisan hit job. It's maddening. The truth is there for anyone to see and yet they are simply declaring it is not.

Luckily, Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) finally threw some cold water on this gaslighting extravaganza:

It's unlikely it will stop the right wing media from pushing this propaganda for their followers but at least one Republican has validated reality in this story.

These are all "Orwellian" strategies and as disconcerting as they are they're somewhat familiar. But the President laid out another in a tweet yesterday that is a bit less recognizable as a common strategy. He tweeted:

It's almost as if he's preparing to re-up his "the election is rigged" mantra from the 2016 campaign when he seemed very sure he was going to lose and was prepared to lead his "movement" to an insurrection after the fact. After having "erased" Putin's admitted interference on his behalf, he's now going to lay the groundwork to invalidate a Democratic "Blue Wave" as the work of the Russians on behalf of their true allies. It's diabolical but it is also not unique.

Timothy Snyder's new book is called "The Road to Unfreedom" lays out a technique perfected by none other than Vladimir Putin himself which Snyder calls "schizo-fascism." He describes it as “actual fascists calling their opponents ‘fascists,’ blaming the Holocaust on the Jews, treating the Second World War as an argument for more violence.” It's an exasperating "I know you are but what am I" tactic designed to frustrate and eventually wear down opponents.

And it can work.  We already see that there is a willing audience for these kinds of distortions and millions of people ready to take the cues from their president and pass them along. Snyder sees Trump as a sort of apprentice practitioner of these tactics but I'm not so sure. Unlike Putin he has little long range strategic vision and he is mostly just trying to bluff his way through one day at a time. But because he has been a reflexively dishonest hype artist for decades, whose public utterances pretty much just alternate between bragging and blaming, he's more of a natural at this "schizo-fascist" style than Putin.

The problem for Trump is that he's not very mentally organized and in his zeal to create an alternate narrative, he loses track of reality. The good news for Trump is that he has some very cynical, very powerful allies who can help him keep it all straight:

Up until now Mitch McConnell had virtually nothing to say about election interference.