The former Public Editor of The New York Times, Margaret Sullivan, has issued a harsh warning to all journalists and members of the press who try to hold President Donald Cobblepot accountable: A Hellscape of Lies and Distorted Reality. The Columbia Journalism Review notes that Trump acts more like a media organization than anything else, one that is heavily influenced by the tactics and tone of Breitbart News, formerly led by his top adviser Steve Bannon, and Fox News, formerly led by his mentor Roger Ailes: Donald Trump is a Media Organzation.
What happens when emotion-driven messaging dominates over policy-making and good governance? Propaganda. I hate overblown comparisons to Nazis, but let’s not forget that Hitler and Goebbels were masters of communication innovation and used the most advanced means at their disposal to spread their poisonous dogma. And that dogma plunged the world into war and caused the deaths of tens of millions of innocent people. They too acted like media organizations. I think a sober analysis of how their propaganda succeeded in what had been one of the world’s most advanced and cultured societies is worth our time and attention, to avoid going down the 21st century version of that road.
Remember the TV show The Twilight Zone? If you’re middle-aged, you probably do. It was famous for its unsettling introduction by narrator/creator Rod Serling, which always ended with the dark words: “You’ve entered … The Twilight Zone.” And thus would begin another episode of warped reality, almost like science fiction but set in the quotidian, humdrum, familiar environments of American homes, small towns, cities.
It has become ever more clear that with the election of Donald Trump, we are entering uncharted territory: the most powerful nation on earth is now led by a malignant narcissist with a tenuous grasp on the truth, a lot of hatred in his heart, and many unsavory supporters. I call him President Donald Cobblepot: “Only I Can Protect You…” . The coming years will severely test our culture and our democracy. Do you think “it can’t happen here”? Yes, it can. In fact, there’s a Twilight Zone episode about that very possibility: “He’s Alive”.
“Portrait of a bush-league Fuehrer named Peter Vollmer, a sparse little man who feeds off his self-delusions and finds himself perpetually hungry for want of greatness in his diet. And like some goose-stepping predecessors, he searches for something to explain his hunger, and to rationalize why a world passes him by without saluting. The something he looks for and finds is in a sewer. In his own twisted and distorted lexicon, he calls it faith, strength, truth.” Sound familiar?
And so in honor of Rod Serling, I am naming this era “The Gaslight Zone.” We have entered The Gaslight Zone. Donald Trump’s favorite method of communication, like abusive spouses and bosses, and tyrants everywhere, is the tactic known as “gaslighting.” He makes statements that are recorded, then baldly denies having made them. He sends outrageous “tweets” to distract the press and the public from his actions. He lies, then doubles down on his lies when caught. He attacks people and groups who correctly describe his statements and activities: from a teenager, to CNN, to individual journalists and Hollywood stars, to the BBC. He is a modern version of an American fascist, and he has fanatic followers whose chants at his rallies, pre and post-election, are eerily reminiscent of German brownshirts and whose “alt-right” neo-Nazi activities are clearly inspired by 1930s Germany: American Nazis Rising as Trump’s Armed Brownshirts to Target Jews.
Trump’s campaign included many “dog-whistles” to white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He has barely commented that they should “stop” when pressed on that point, and he has appointed one of the “alt-right”‘s chief spokesmen, enablers and promoters, Steve Bannon, to be one of his closest advisers in the White House. OUR White House. The house of the American people.
We must all work against the hatred and gaslighting that this administration will constantly inject into our government and politics. Check facts. Call out lies. Demand accountability from Trump and the GOP. Go to work at the grass-roots of democracy. Try to counter the tide. We cannot let this man take our country and the world down this road. We’ve been there before. It’s not a good place.
[This article fist appeared on billmoyers.com on January 9, 2017] Note from Bill Moyers: I’m pleased to officially welcome Steven Harper to our site. Steven retired early from a successful career as a litigator to write – and write he has done, including two acclaimed books — The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis […]