Donald Trump's use of deceit to further his political ambitions is not only saturating his supporters with an opiate-high sense of righteousness, it is also permeating America with authoritarian methods of governance.
Trump legitimised his lying accusation that “crooked" Hillary Clinton's three million more popular votes were cast by illegal immigrants with the truth that his voters "feel the same way I do”. He paired his lie that two policemen were shot and killed in Chicago in the same hour as Obama's farewell speech with the reality of the city's gun violence, which in turn validated his threat to "send in the Feds.” And Trump’s adviser, Kellyanne Conway, attributed her fallacy that two Iraqis had carried out a massacre - that never happened on American soil - as an “honest mistake”.
The use of language plays a crucial role in how people think, whether it is the juxtaposition of terrorist and refugee, refugee and poisoned candy, illegal and immigrant, or blacks and crime. And when full-fat, artery clogging lying comes across as the virtuous finger raised against the entitled establishment, it hoodwinks those who are looking for refuge in authority.
Trump's lies have become the price tag that many Republicans as well as big and small business leaders are willing to accept in order to catch the economic bones promised in his political platform. Trump has tailored his message to his bottom-feeder’s perspective of the bottom line; that all alliances are transactions, that everything has a price and anyone can be bought and sold.
Under authoritarian regimes, it is the grain of resonance with core supporters that first lets in the dictator. Lies are then fed and watered by taking given facts - a president's parentage or the existence of terrorism - and applied to a made-up scenario - Obama was a Muslim born outside the United States and therefore unqualified for office, and Muslims cheered at the collapse of the twin towers on the streets of New Jersey. What follows logically is a ban on Muslim immigrants in order to put "in place the safety of the American people”.
This is how the lies of the manipulator evolve into the will of the people. Those who stand up for the rule of law are "so-called" judges who "betray" their country, and a free press is accused of "delegitimising" the president and should “keep its mouth shut”. “Draining the system” is nothing more than an old-style purge of the democratic institutions that uphold the country’s constitution.
What is emerging in America today through its president’s methodology and reckless America First rhetoric is the hijacking of a nation’s identity in the name of fulfilling his promises to his electoral base. And Trump's Republican agenda of tax reform, financial and environmental de-regulation and the dismantling of union rights is tempting business to ignore the lies and bully-tactics of his governing style.
There was no market plunge following Trump’s ban on the entry of refugees, nor as a result of his executive orders withdrawing health insurance for those who could not otherwise afford it, or funds for women's health services in Planned Parenthood, or cancelling “all wasteful climate change spending”.
Big business might not have greased Trump up the pole of power, but it may help to keep him there. One cool-headed and intelligent oil executive who voted for him just wants his Twitter account removed. But 20 million followers is the oxygen that will further inflate his existing delusions of absolute power.
Moreover, Trump’s knee-jerk lies on Twitter are now being moderated by his chief strategist Steve Bannon, who is calibrating their dosage to sedate a country. A big lie and its consequences might convulse public sentiment, but a drip-feed of smaller ones, like incremental doses of arsenic in one's daily coffee, could sleepwalk people's perception of "alternative facts" into general knowledge.
One might agree with Trump’s economic and political goals, but his outright lying is too corrosive a price for a superpower democracy to exact on its long-term health, especially if it incubates non-thinking, gung-ho obedience to non-civic behaviour.
This is not, as Newt Gingrich asserts, about Trump being “different”, and having to get used to his personality. Authoritarianism should never become part of the way to run a western democracy, particularly given the hindsight of history. In today’s hyper-connected, interdependent global environment, true democracy – government legitimised by an open, well-informed electoral process, operating under the rule of law which protects civil liberties – is the only option capable of delivering opportunity and prosperity as well as human dignity. Over the last thirty years, democracy has been gaining a significant foothold in other parts of the world; some argue that it now stands at a crossroads. Its stalwart must not be allowed to fail.