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Gessen writes: "Donald Trump has scored a legislative victory with staggering costs. The price of the tax bill has to be measured not only in the loss American society will face in the increase in inequality, in the impact on public health, and the growth of the deficit, but also in the damage to political culture inflicted by the spectacle of one powerful man after another telling lies of various sorts."

Donald Trump. (photo: AP)
Donald Trump. (photo: AP)


The Language of a Dictatorship

By Masha Gessen, The New Yorker

23 December 17

 

onald Trump has scored a legislative victory with staggering costs. The price of the tax bill has to be measured not only in the loss American society will face in the increase in inequality, in the impact on public health, and the growth of the deficit, but also in the damage to political culture inflicted by the spectacle of one powerful man after another telling lies of various sorts.

All along there has been Trump claiming that the bill was a “gift” to the middle class. That this assertion appears to have no basis in fact has not affected the President’s statements. The President’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, maintained that his department had run the numbers and had shown that the tax bill would pay for itself. It appears that he lied, not so much about the result of the Treasury’s study but about the existence of the study itself: the Times reported last month that the analysis had not been done.

This was a Trumpian lie, which is distinct from other kinds of political lying. It might be called a power lie: its purpose is not to convince the audience of something that isn’t true but to demonstrate the power of the speaker. Trump tweets blatant lies, repeatedly, to show that he can—and that by virtue of his bully pulpit, his words, however absurd, always have consequences. Mnuchin showed that he can do the same thing, and that he has more power than the opposition.

The bill’s passage occasioned an orgy of false public ritual. It began when the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, led the Cabinet in prayer, which included offering thanks “for a President and for Cabinet members who are courageous” and “for the unity in Congress that has presented an opportunity for our economy to expand.” (Not a single Democrat, in either chamber of Congress, voted in favor of the bill.) Following the prayer, Trump called on his Vice-President the way a teacher might cold-call on a pupil. For a full two minutes, Pence dutifully offered thanks for the President’s “middle-class miracle”; he said that he was “deeply humbled, as your Vice-President, to be able to be here.” Trump looked stern as he listened, nodding slightly, his arms crossed below his chest.

Later in the day, the Republican leaders of both houses of Congress, the Vice-President, and other Republican politicians gathered at the White House to offer praise to their leader. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and others hailed Trump for setting records in judicial appointments and, now, for passing the tax bill. Representative Diane Black, of Tennessee, thanked Trump “for allowing us to have you as our President.” Orrin Hatch, of Utah, who has been in the Senate for forty years, predicted that the Trump Presidency will be “the greatest Presidency we have seen not only in generations but maybe ever.” Pence performed, too, again, addressing Trump: “You will make America great again.”

Political speeches are rarely occasions for truth-telling. But the good ones combine a description of shared reality with the expression of a vision, or with words of celebration. The mediocre ones consist of platitudes—well-intentioned but lacking the force of inspiration or recognition. And then there is the genre of the thoroughly insincere pronouncement that is all empty ritual. This is not normally observed in countries with functioning democratic institutions, because hollow words are the very opposite of accountability. These kinds of speeches are usually given in dictatorships: their intended audience is not the public but the tyrant. This is what we observed in Washington on Wednesday, and it’s the scariest part of Trump’s big tax triumph.


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+53 # elizabethblock 2017-12-23 10:42
Thanks to RSN for reprinting this. (I wanted to reread it and couldn't immediately find it.) Most important:

"And then there is the genre of the thoroughly insincere pronouncement that is all empty ritual. This is not normally observed in countries with functioning democratic institutions. These kinds of speeches are usually given in dictatorships: their intended audience is not the public but the tyrant."

Masha Gessen fled from Putin's Russia. She knows whereof she speaks.
 
 
+58 # Moxa 2017-12-23 10:50
It is good that observers are beginning to use the right words to describe what is going on. Our democracy, to the extent that it has been one, is being hollowed out, gradually but quickly, until there will be but the scantiest SYMBOLS of democracy left. Dictatorship is exactly where the country is heading. And, as the author points out, Trump could not do this on his own. There are legions of cowering sycophants aiding and abetting his crimes. As with their leader, their inner sense of insecurity must be so great that no amount of cruelty or dishonesty is too high a price to pay to prop up their empty facades of importance.

The question is whether we can save ourselves from this disaster. As with climate change,(but one of the disasters this administration is actively promoting), where we forget that December is supposed to be cold, not balmy, we lose track of what is normal, we adapt to the untenable.

None of the Democrats voted for the tax heist. Yet this is not enough. Only a radical new vision that galvanizes the people--by clearly showing them the difference between empty and mendacious rhetoric and the truthful language of justice, compassion and genuine practical help for all people--can save this country.

Only one politician, Bernie Sanders, embodies this vision on a level powerful enough to mobilize the nation. Perhaps there is still a chance. No language is too extreme to depict what is happening and how radical must the remedy be.
 
 
+15 # futhark 2017-12-23 15:01
Moxa makes a very important point in saying that it is not enough for Democrats to merely oppose the tyranny being pushed by Trump Republicans, they need to formulate workable alternatives to Trump's ruinous policies, giving the voters an actionable vision of a way toward real justice, peace, and a sustainable and widely shared prosperity. Senator Sanders has given us a start in this direction, but unless more Democrats join this movement we are likely to be stuck in a Trump quagmire for quite a long time.
 
 
+4 # LionMousePudding 2017-12-24 03:22
But.. but.. but.. we should just sit back, do nothing, and wait until everyone votes Democratic because they like Trump. Why do anything if we are going to be in power in a few years even if we don't do anything? And anyway sitting back complacently and not being Trump worked so well in the general election.

--Nancy Pelosi
 
 
+2 # Robbee 2017-12-23 15:09
don't we just hate chicken counters?

- who say that if the election were held today, then: "Sanders Would Be the Instant Frontrunner for 2020" - Brent Budowsky, The Hill, 22 December 17

frankly, if and only if, the election were held today, then: "Sanders Would Be the Instant Frontrunner for 2020"

problem #1: the election IS NOT BEING held today!

moreover, don't we just hate hatchetmen? who say, it's nonsense to even try, "Dems would (n)ever allow (bernie) to (be dem nominee for prez)" or "DNC has made it clear that they would (never) support a "progressive democrat""

bernie's job is to sell america, including, of course, dems, on progress, a better future for working families - he's doing his job! with boundless enthusiasm and energy!

just as he fights for us, it's our job to fight for bernie! - not with hubris that he can't lose, or hopeless, on the other hand, that he can win!

win or lose it's our fight just as much as it is his! - AT LEAST WE KNOW FOR WHAT WE FIGHT, SOME OTHERS DO NOT, THIS IS OUR INHERENT ADVANTAGE - than bernie, we cannot afford to bring any less enthusiasm and energy to OUR FIGHT!

in short, no matter how good or bad things ever look for bernie, every day we need to campaign just as hard as he does!
 
 
0 # ericlipps 2017-12-23 21:19
Quote:
don't we just hate chicken counters?

- who say that if the election were held today, then: "Sanders Would Be the Instant Frontrunner for 2020" - Brent Budowsky, The Hill, 22 December 17

frankly, if and only if, the election were held today, then: "Sanders Would Be the Instant Frontrunner for 2020"

problem #1: the election IS NOT BEING held today!
I don't often agree with you, but on this I do. Speaking of chickens, Bernie's no spring chicken himself, you know; he might not even be alive in 2020, or if he is he might be an invalid. You never know; my grandfather worked into his eighties and then had a heart attack flowed by a stroke, and that was that. (The same thing might have happened to Hillary Clinton and might yet happen to the Rump.)
 
 
0 # Jaax88 2017-12-25 19:12
That means the Demos/progressi ves, we, need a Bernie level second to be in place to take over in the unfortunate case of Bernie's disability or death.
 
 
-9 # ericlipps 2017-12-23 21:10
Groan. Not this again. "Bernie, Bernie, only Bernie!" "If only Bernie hadn't been robbed by the evil Hillarycrats, he'd have walked across the Potomac to an inevitable inauguration ad we'd be well on the way to paradise."

I try not to argue with religious fanatics; I learned years ago that it's pointless.
 
 
+41 # giraffee23 2017-12-23 11:14
CLEARLY, congress members were BOUGHT OFF; in some cases openly - 9ne example is Corker.

Trump's blatant lies must be exposed - INCLUDING those made on FOX news, by RUSH Limbaugh, etc.

1. Over turn Citizens United
2. VOTE.
3. Stop voter suppression

May NO U.S. Supreme go until Trump goes --- PLEASE
 
 
+14 # wrknight 2017-12-23 16:40
Bought off or blackmailed? What does Trump's private spy service have on those assholes?

I have the strong suspicion that the obvious adulation of Trump during the signing ceremony was a sign of fear - not respect.
 
 
+38 # Trath Mutters 2017-12-23 11:51
Ms Gessen again provides cogent insight,
telling the toll of contempt held by the vain and venal Kleptocracy for the
99%. Theirs is a sociopathy that civilization cannot afford.
As light returns to the north
she calls us to WAKE UP!
 
 
+32 # Kootenay Coyote 2017-12-23 11:53
Trump: Mussolini redux; though with more & orange hair….
 
 
+13 # dotlady 2017-12-23 12:01
Clearly what we have here is a dictatorship - or a mad king - with lies, obsequious fawning, and no accountability. Not even human decency. The beacon idea of American democracy has shriveled to the size of a small piece of burnt bacon.
 
 
+12 # Kiwikid 2017-12-23 22:04
Agreed, watching the display of these 'leaders' was truly puke-worthy. If they were simply 'peeing in Trump's pocket', we all have a problem. If they were sincere, we all have a problem. Either way, we're all in deep doey.
What has really outraged me over the past 24hrs is the president's twitter attack on Andrew McCabe - a man totally defenseless, given his current position, and incapable of defending himself. This has to be a new low in dispicability from the man in the big chair. To repeat Heraclitus "Character is destiny", and for DT and his acolytes this can not and must not end well. It would be a crime against humanity if there is no reckoning.
 
 
+12 # Blackjack 2017-12-23 12:26
A sickening display of complete absurdity! Right now the rule of law is all that is keeping us from a complete dictatorship, but Trump is trying as fast as he can to quash that. His appointment to judicial offices of incompetent right-wing idealogues may well be complete by the time Mueller concludes his investigation. In that case, no matter what Mueller's conclusions, there will be no competent judge remaining who will mete out any form of real justice. Repukes will rejoice and Dems, as usual, will try to "compromise" their way out of a mess they helped to create by displaying timidity when boldness is called for. . .you know, the kind of boldness that Bernie Sanders possesses.
 
 
+5 # elkingo 2017-12-23 13:15
Heil Hitler! The Big Lie. Orwell: Lies are Truth. Herr Prezident and his sycophantic claque do everything in the direction of callous needless suffering and death for countless billions of individual people, in Yemen, in the U.N., at the border, domestically. Wouldn't the idea of government be to make people feel good? This cancerous monstrosity of a "government" must be removed immediately or it will plunge us into one kind of terminal world holocaust or another, and I wonder if procedural, legal and electoral means will be in time. It has been said reliably for example that power-plant carbon emission must be reduced to 0% by 2018. Happy New Year.

This genocidal orientation is the issue of the inevitable historical development of a fanatical psychopathic capitalism, and Bernie is the only hope in the short run, if there is a short run.
 
 
+13 # draypoker 2017-12-23 14:01
Italy had a very weak adoption of democracy, and had experienced the consequences of a bad war when fighting the Austrians.

The US claims to have been a democracy for a couple of centuries. How then has America ended up with a Mussolini look alike? And how far will he be allowed to continue?
 
 
+2 # elkingo 2017-12-23 15:11
"Tsongkhapa, the 14th-century founder of the Gelug tradition, opened one of his best-known poems, The Ground of All Excellence, with this praise of the guru:

You, kind Lord, are the ground of all excellence, Right devotion to you is the root of the path."

From an article by Steven Batchelor denouncing this kind of authoritarian cultism. Sound familiar?
 
 
+18 # wrknight 2017-12-23 16:33
The really scary part of all this is that the obvious and patently insincere adulation of Trump by all the party members is a sign of fear rather than respect for the man in power. This ridiculous show adulation for the president goes way beyond mere gratitude for signing a piece of legislation that pads the pockets of the privileged class. Remember, just 20 months ago most Republican politicians were blasting Trump, but now that he's has power, they appear scared shitless.

It makes one wonder what else is going on that we don't know.
 
 
+8 # palaherb@gmail.com 2017-12-23 17:01
Trumps' Christmas present is one huuuge, gigantic, beautiful lump of Coal -- the coal is "clean" as a result of washing it with hypocrisy and letting the drippings coat his constituents.

Hatch is probably correct in his quote about the "greatest Presidency" -- he just failed to indicate whether it would be a success or a FAILURE!! Take your pick.
 
 
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-12-23 18:57
This story is not what I observed in the media. I saw a lot of skepticism about the tax bill and a lot of independent analyses which said that there would be dire social by-products of the bill.

It is not surprising or anything when the rich lie to people in order to steal their money. This is what they have been doing for as long as there has been an oligarchic class.

This is not the language of dictatorship. It the language of a con-artists. The republicans are con-jobbing Americans about this tax bill. Trickle down theory is a con-job. Dictators do not need to con anyone. The have a language of absolute power.

Bush on the advice of his neo-con advisors used a lot of the language of dictatorship. He claimed to have "unitary" powers. Or "plenary" powers. He claimed that a "war president" could not be questioned by anyon.

Trump's language and that of republicans in general was the language of persuasion. It was dishonest, but persuasion is often dishonest.
 
 
+10 # economagic 2017-12-23 21:19
At best a distinction without a difference. Dictators certainly DO employ the Big Con. It is called "propaganda," Edward Bernays' original term for what he later called"public relations," after "propaganda" acquired a negative connotation.
 
 
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-12-24 12:13
Econo -- OK good point. Dictatorships do not have a public relations industry. In America most news organizations are really part of the public relations industry. Bernays said that, too.

Chomsky makes clear in "Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies" that it is really the self-proclaimed democratic societies that have the greatest need for propaganda and con-artistry.

These may be used in dictatorships, but since there is no public debate over legislation, persuasion is not really needed at all. In "the land of the free and the home of the brave" we need all kinds of phony public debate in order to maintain the "necessary illusion" that the people are the ultimate authority for policy making. This is all con-artistry and persuasion.

Anyway, I just don't think the author's claim that Trump's language is the language of dictatorship is very persuasive. Trump's language is that of faux democracy.
 
 
+2 # vicnada 2017-12-26 21:15
'Following the prayer, Trump called on his Vice-President the way a teacher might cold-call on a pupil. For a full two minutes, Pence dutifully offered thanks for the President’s “middle-class miracle”; he said that he was “deeply humbled, as your Vice-President, to be able to be here.” Trump looked stern as he listened, nodding slightly, his arms crossed below his chest.'

This vignette convincingly portrays the triumph of a dictator. Having worked in a cult for 9 years, I am chilled every time I see Trump at work with his staff and handling "crowd control" from stages. He is the leader of the world's most powerful cult and his style is absolutely dictatorial.

This interaction of Trump and Pence is the classic submission demanded of an underling for lack of loyalty or perhaps for the unpardonable sin of critical thinking. On the heels of his tax con-job, GOP supplicants ritually line up to lick Trump's boots. Looks a dictatorship to me. When exactly does "Thought Control in Democratic Societies" make the final tilt to inevitable totalitarian political control? In my view, if Trump parlays this victory into survival of GOP congressional control in 2018, all bets are off. Amerika could well be goose stepping in jackboots.
 
 
+4 # NAVYVET 2017-12-25 19:45
There is minimal difference between Dubya Bush and Drumpf. Both were egotistic rich kids too spoiled and lazy to grow up. Both have serious problems with thinking, vocabulary and grammar. Dubya may have slightly more empathy than Drumpf--but not much. The big diff is that Dubya was a playboy business failure supported and bailed out by his family's riches. Drumpf was also a total business failure, but his rich dad died and his siblings didn't like him, so in lieu of bailouts Donald had to learn one thing, the easiest, laziest way to make money: how to be a salesman for absolute, God-blessed, infallible cures for every ill. We used to call those bozos snake oil salesmen, confidence men or con artists. The small-timers get arrested and imprisoned for their word tricks and lies. Those lucky enough to inherit enough money to pretend they're rich can often get away with it. It's like the different fates of local murderers and the perps of world wars. But the con artists don't ALWAYS get away with it, or we'd still be monkeys in the trees. In the long run, genuinely smart & wise people can win, but this time climate change or nuke war caused by a con man are primary probabilities. DO WE HAVE TIME FOR A LONG RUN?
 
 
+3 # dquandle 2017-12-23 19:59
"(Not a single Democrat, in either chamber of Congress, voted in favor of the bill."
What the "Democrats" did do was spend their time screaming about commies under the bed for the past 6 months and extolling the virtues of the FBI and CIA, organizations bent on repression and anti-democracy, both at home and abroad, instead of actually spending that time meaningfully organizing and fighting like hell against the f-ing appalling tax bill that they damned well knew was coming down the pike, in any way they could.
 
 
0 # lfeuille 2017-12-23 20:48
This is partially true. The Dems. did put a a credible resistance to this bill and there were no Democratic defections (for once), but it didn't receive much press coverage since the 4th estate just couldn't tear themselves away from Russiagate long enough to cover what was really happening. The Dems fed the Russiagate monster for so long and just didn't know how to turn it off when they wanted to focus on substance for a change.
 
 
+10 # ericlipps 2017-12-23 21:29
I defy you to find a single Democrat "screaming about commies under the bed" during the past months while the Russian election hacking scandal has been under scrutiny. There's been a lot of screaming AGAINST the Democratic Party, though, some of it right here.

Democrats are perfectly aware that modern Russia is ruled not by Reds but by robbers. Just as the U.S. is, sad to say. They'd rather not see the presidency ripped off.
 
 
+10 # economagic 2017-12-23 21:34
Once again I strongly recommend Yale historian Timothy Snyder's small, inexpensive, and easy-to-read, but important book, "On Tyranny." The con job can turn into tyranny at the drop of a hat, and tyranny is often foreshadowed by cons of various sorts. Snyder's "20 Lessons" provide both matter for thought and principles for action, and could not be more relevant.
 
 
+11 # relegn 2017-12-24 07:57
To tell a huge lie in public to the public and be applauded for the lie must be a big thrill not only for d.trump but to all the wealthy fellow travelers he has brought to DC. For them it is a demonstration of POWER similar to the Woodie Hitler is reported to have gotten when giving his speeches to the German public.
 
 
+4 # metaphysician 2017-12-24 11:24
old Asian observation: "When Tao is lost, compassion becomes doctrine.
When compassion is lost, justice becomes doctrine.
When justice is lost, ritual becomes doctrine.
Ritual is the slow loss of loyalty and the beginning of unprincipled confusion."
 
 
+2 # economagic 2017-12-24 20:44
Clearly the president* (per Charlie Pierce) has lost most if not all of whatever Tao he might once have had. But the process of such loss in this country began long before Trump. The two decades following WW II were awash in critiques of American society and the direction it seemed to be going, from highly insightful people such as Fromm, Jung, Schweitzer, Watts, Alpert/Ram Dass, and many, many others. In retrospect, overall they were close to the mark.
 

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