We live in a time that makes Orwell’s 1984 look grimly prophetic. Our elected leaders have routinely engaged in using two terms, “witch-hunt” and “fake news,” in such ways that are (no exaggeration) threats to democracy itself. Before you dismiss my musings as hysteria, let’s look at these terms, how they are used, and what they have come to mean in the summer of 2018.
Throughout history, so-called “witches” were indeed hunted, tortured, and executed in the name of decency and order. From the Europe of the dark ages to the New England of pre- and post- revolution, folks who did not fit into the moral order of communities were blamed for plagues, for misfortunes, for political events, for personal tragedy. Without any real evidence, torturers and judges created “trials” to prove diabolical connections to Satan, the Prince of Lies. The one underlying truth was that the “witches” were victims of prejudice against the “other”–many witches were women who practiced herbal medicine and midwifery. Some “witches” were people outside the conservative Christianity of their communities. Without a doubt, these were political victims. If not for enlightened humanists and evolving modes of thought, we might still be dunking women in cold water and lighting pyres. Let us not forget Joan of Arc, whose poignant shrine in Notre Dame Cathedral is a testament to the hypocrisy of a society that can execute a woman in one century and then (when convenient) deify her in another. So what of the President’s use of the term “witch hunt” to describe investigations into the Russian influence on American electoral processes?
He is a masterful usurper of inappropriate terms. A proper “witch hunt” means that someone is being railroaded on false charges. By using this term over and over again, Trump diabolically portrays himself as a victim of a heartless machine determined to destroy him on the basis of a false accusation. He uses the term over and over again, and this practice reflects the techniques used by the Third Reich in which a falsehood uttered over and over again by a beloved authority figure becomes “truth.” The technique was directly responsible in many ways for the ability in the German populace during WWII to claim they “did not know” bodies were being cremated in concentration camps abutting their farms and communities. The technique is so diabolical, in fact, that many societies have tried to stop lies through legislation–always a fruitless and fraught approach. The only antidote to lies is truth, and truth must be established through rational means and guided by souls moored in morality. Trump is a careful manipulator of words, despite his “awe-shucks everymanism” and his ball cap persona. He knows exactly what he is saying, and he uses it to create his own reality. He is no “witch,” and the investigations into Russia have little to do with Trump the man and everything to do with the integrity of our Democracy. The fact that he personalizes it is, in fact, the most chilling aspect of his entire power-mad presidency. He enjoys absolute power way too much.
The more sobering rhetorical device that is the favorite of the Trump regime is the term “fake news.” There is no point in belaboring the many instances of nut jobs accusing victims of being “crisis actors” and looking for “conspiracies” under every rock. When a racist incident happens and is reported, the regime cries “fake news.” The incident is “overblown” or “out of context”. The fact is that in Charlottesville, an unarmed woman was murdered in the streets by a Neo-Nazi, and instead of coming out in sympathy and solidarity with the family and friends of the victim, the president of the United States of America remarked that there were “good people” on both sides. There are no “good people” in the Neo-Nazi movement. There are no “good people” who are Klansmen. This is a moral fact. These people espouse hatred of the “other” and advocate murder to achieve their goals–goals that are nothing short of genocide. Yet, the Commander and Chief blows these groups off as if they are just a little rowdy sidebar of American society, just “good people” having a little fun and expressing their first and second amendment rights. Those who report about the horrific actions and execrable philosophies of these groups are purveyors of “fake news.” In other words, Trump has trained his followers with these buzzwords. Their minds are closed shut against the truth, because they have accepted the lie they have been asked to accept. It doesn’t matter to them when a racial crime is committed. The reporting of this is “fake news” meant to destroy the movement to make America “great” again. You see, if we don’t KNOW about these things, we can focus on all the great jobs and laws that are being created. If we can convince ourselves that the “border crisis” is about keeping America “great,” we can forget that the people petitioning for safe harbor are actually living, breathing human beings. Our leader gives us permission through his well-rehearsed lies to dehumanize the “other.” It is magic done with words. It worked in Germany during the rise of Adolf Hitler, and it is working now.
So we find ourselves in a frightening situation here in the summer of 2018. Our leader blasts through Europe casting his spells with words. “Immigrants” destroy the “fabric” of “culture.” Working together as a planet of humans is a “globalization plot” meant to destroy religion and home and hearth. Donald J. Trump is a 21st necromancer raising from the dead ideas that should have been buried in the rubble of Europe after Hitler. We should not be soft-peddling so-called Neo-Nazis in the 21st century. We know what path they lead us down. It is a path that leads to horror, to death, to suffering, and to the destruction of beauty and truth. We are people living with historical evidence of the evil of lies, and yet we have willingly elected a man who seems to look at racism and nationalism with a bored shrug. It is a studied ambivalence that hides a sinister reality. “Fake news” now encompasses everything from environmental issues to voting rights concerns. The masses have accepted the lie as repeated.
What are we to do, those of us who watch in horror while Nazis march in the streets of our beloved country? Voting has not worked. A divided Democrat party flounders impotently as Rome burns. The “witch hunt” is real, but Donald Trump is not the victim. Freedom itself is the bound victim perched on the pyre in the city square. Because our society chose non-thinking over the very painful practice of vetting all things against the rubric of reason, we find ourselves again at the brink of the apocalypse.
I am fairly convinced that it is hopeless, but I will continue to fight. I will continue to point out the sober lessons of history, and I will demand that words are based in reason and informed by compassion. If I must, I will go to the proverbial stake for truth. I will not stand silent while Nazi apologists blowhard in the public forum. It will not be said of me that I did not realize bodies were burning or that I dismissed the ashes blotting out the sun.
There are dark times ahead. Be strong and fight.
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