Trumpism is built upon lies. This is a common feature of authoritarianism and fascism.
These lies includes tales of national greatness, the idea of “populism” and the “silent majority,” the “will of the people,” an appeal to a mythic past and dire threats from invisible enemies.
The lies are part of a larger war on reality and truth. The lies are told about matters both great and obvious as well as small and petty.
The authoritarian regime’s lies help to create and sustain a cult of personality around the leader, a man who is depicted as perfect if not also immortal, an extension of the followers and their collective will to power and greatness.
Donald Trump may rank as one of history’s greatest liars. Social theorist Hannah Arendt described such people in her book “The Origins of Totalitarianism”:
The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.
Trump’s lies have been deadly: Considering the official count and those uncounted, at least 200,000 people have now died from the pandemic in the United States. There are projections that more than 400,000 people in America may die before the coronavirus runs its course. As documented in reporter Bob Woodward’s new book “Rage,” Trump’s lies and deliberate sabotage of pandemic relief efforts are largely responsible for that tragedy.
The Trump regime’s assault on the truth is more than just bending the truth in service to a fascist vision: It is an effort to replace reality with a nightmare dreamworld.
This is precisely what George Orwell described in “1984”: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
There is one area where Donald Trump and his regime have been remarkably honest. They want to create a country where nonwhite people are silenced and their interests ignored, and where white people — specifically, white Christian conservative men — remain in control of every area of public life in perpetuity.
The TrumpWorld vision of America is bizarre, a form of apartheid where there is racism without racists, colorblindness in service to white supremacy, and neoliberalism and Christian nationalism are unopposed.
In an interview last Wednesday with NBC News, Attorney General William Barr provided an example of the Trump regime’s “honest” racism when he said that there must be an explanation besides racism for why Black people are treated differently by police, as compared to white people.
With his absurd argument, Barr offered an almost textbook example of racism, in which the dominant group in a given society (in this instance, white people) is treated in a preferential way by the law, which is supposed to be neutral, as compared to another group of people (Black people) who have been oppressed in the same society.
Barr and the Trump regime see no problems with that logic. Why? They are committed to a set of values and beliefs in which nonwhite people are to be disadvantaged as a group because that is “normal.” Likewise, white privilege is viewed as a natural birthright. In TrumpWorld, racism only exists to the degree that nonwhite people somehow “oppress” or otherwise hurt white people — even though white people control every area of American public life.
Barr’s comments are part of a larger pattern of overt white supremacy by the Trump regime which includes banning Muslims from the United States; encouraging vigilantism and other violence by right-wing paramilitaries against the Trump regime’s “enemies”; characterizing Hispanics and Latinos as a natural-born group of rapists and murderers; overturning civil rights laws and protections for black people and other nonwhites; imprisoning nonwhites, especially Hispanic and Latino refugees and migrants in concentration camps; criminalizing dissent and deeming supporters of Black Lives Matter to be “thugs,” “terrorists” and members of a “hate group”; unleashing federal enforcers from ICE and Homeland Security to terrorize nonwhite communities; attempting to stop black and brown people from voting; respond sluggishly to the pandemic because nonwhite people in urban areas were dying in disproportionate numbers, compared to rural whites; and abandoning the people of Puerto Rico to the deadly ravages of Hurricane Maria.
Trump himself is a white supremacist (consciously or otherwise) who built his political career on the claim that Barack Obama was somehow not eligible to be president of the United States because he was supposedly born in another country. Trump has more recently told his followers that there is something inherently shameful and wrong about Sen. Kamala Harris, a black woman, potentially serving as vice president of the United States. Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s new book includes many examples of Trump’s pathological racism and hostility towards black people and other nonwhites.
The American people clearly hear and understand Donald Trump and his regime’s invocations of white supremacy and racism. A recent story in the New York Times reports:
Public views of Mr. Trump flow through a racial prism. A poll by CBS News last week found that 66 percent of registered voters believed Mr. Trump favored white people, versus 4 percent who said he worked against their interests. By contrast, 20 percent thought he favored Black people and 50 percent said he worked against Black people. Among Black voters, 81 percent said he worked against their interests.
Americans of conscience find the Trump regime’s racism and white supremacy repulsive. By comparison, Trump’s followers are drawn to him precisely because of those values.
Trump’s racial authoritarianism is also heard and understood abroad as well — for example, by German neo-Nazis as well as other fascists and members of the global far right.
Donald Trump and his regime’s “honest” white supremacy is obvious and bold. But there are more subtle and comparatively quiet examples of it as well. These are the shadows and colors which help to fill out and complement the outline of the Trump movement’s dream of American apartheid.
In one of the most recent examples of the Trump’s regime’s (comparatively) silent war against multiracial democracy, it was announced last week that “anti-racism” training will no longer be permitted within the federal government. The Trump regime is particularly focused on “critical race theory,” which its mouthpieces have fantastically (and dangerously) described as an ideology somehow being “weaponized” against white people.
As part of this new racist attack, the Trump administration also announced that schools which use the New York Times’ 1619 Project, relating to slavery and the founding of the United States, as part of their curricula will risk having federal funds withdrawn.
How should this new front in Trump’s war on the truth, reality, and multiracial democracy be best understood? We should begin with the facts.
Critical race theory — the target of this new attack — is a set of theories, empirical frameworks and methods for understanding and demonstrating how institutional racism and other forms of social inequality are central to American law, justice and society more generally.
Some of critical race theory’s core tenets include the following:
- Race is a social construct that overdetermines life chances and life outcomes for individuals and groups.
- Intersectionality: individuals have multiple personal and societal identities. These multiple identities overlap with one another and by doing so create opportunities for alliances, shared struggle and other social change work.
- Positive social change can occur because of interest convergence between elites, social movements and other actors.
- Whiteness and white people do in fact have a history and identity in the West and around the world. This identity reflects how power grants unearned privileges and advantages to white people as a group while denying it to nonwhite people.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project intervenes against America’s myth-making about the founding by making the color line, democracy, white-on-black chattel slavery, settler colonialism and capitalism central to the origins of the United States, rather than peripheral issues.
In TrumpWorld, as in the right-wing political imagination more broadly, none of these facts about critical race theory and the 1619 Project matter. As distorted through the white gaze, these things become bugaboos or empty signifiers, interpreted however the white right chooses to.
For example, critical race theory is being distorted as some type of conspiracy against white America in which “political correctness” brainwashes and programs “real Americans,” almost as in the famous Cold War-era film “The Manchurian Candidate.”
Republicans and other conservatives have a special obsession with the New York Times’ 1619 Project because it shatters their immature understanding of the origins of a country which they claim to love — despite their loyalty to Donald Trump and his treasonous, fascist movement.
Writing at Al Jazeera, Yannick Giovanni Marshall diagnoses the white right’s rage toward the 1619 Project:
As a result, the society built upon a gulag continues to be called a great experiment in democracy. Atrocities committed against non-white people are trivialised and reduced to “the imperfections” of an “imperfect nation”. The tonnage of blood and flesh peeled from whipping posts, Black town burnings, and “Indian Wars” are but flecks of dust floating against a harmonious, pioneering white settlement destined to civilise the world.
More a Merkers Mine than a state, the slave colony where Black life was waterboarded between the threshing wheel of slave production and the thin air of “race riots” is, even in 2020, seen by many as the birthplace of modern liberty. This is because embedded in both the colony’s structure — and in the minds of its admirers — is the fact that Black people do not count. If Black lives mattered, the lights shining from the shining city on the hill would be known to be concentration camp searchlights. If Black lives mattered, globally, America would be a pariah state.
The Trump regime’s condemnation of critical race theory and the 1619 Project is another example of the power wielded by White House senior adviser Stephen Miller.
As detailed in journalist Jean Guerrero’s new book “Hatemonger,” Stephen Miller is fluent in the language, signs, codes, logic, literature, stories and symbols of neo-Nazism and other forms of white supremacy. It is no coincidence that the language used in the Trump regime’s condemnation of critical race theory mirrors the white supremacist slogan that “anti-racism is anti-white.” Such language reveals a supposition by white supremacists that to be white means to be inherently racist.
In reality, anti-racism is not a form oppression. If anything, it signifies liberation from racism and from the way racist values limit a person’s and group’s ability to be full members of the human family, working together with other people across the color line to make a better world.
The Trump regime’s attacks on critical race theory and the 1619 Project show how today’s conservative movement has mated racism and white supremacy with conspiracism. Such a relationship is not new.
As Paul Mason, a New Statesman columnist and former BBC news editor and commentator, told me in a recent phone conversation, the conspiratorial thinking of Trumpism and the white right (which now includes the QAnon cult) has deep connections with centuries of anti-Semitism and the legendary fabrication “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
Because the Trump regime is racist, white supremacist and authoritarian, it ultimately views anti-racism as a mortal enemy.
So the Trump regime’s attacks on critical race theory and the 1619 Project are but another example of how, in TrumpWorld, critical thinking is not allowed, dissent is to be suppressed and thought-crimes that challenge its new orthodoxy are to be punished.