"Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power. It only helps us when they get it wrong; when they're blind to who we are and what we're doing." — Steve Bannon, Chief White House Strategist & Counselor to President Donald Trump, Interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Could the timing of the announced closing of the Ringling Bros. circus after more than 100 years in operation be any more opportune? After all, there’s a new circus in town — the one that transitioned on Jan. 20 from Trump Towers in New York City to the world stage of the White House in Washington, D.C. with all the pomp and pageantry reserved for the inauguration of a duly-elected president of the United States.
As with most circus acts that pitch to our basest emotions and intellect, the spectacle surrounding the installation of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States was rank with vulgar moments of barely disguised contempt and cruelty, bullying and hatred, a shameless disregard for decency, and elements of plagiarism that reminded us that we had somehow seen the show before. You could cut the tension in the air with a knife.
The majority of American voters did not vote for Trump to become president, and his approval rating, which stood at 40 percent — exactly half of the 80 percent approval rating President Obama enjoyed at the time of his transition in 2009 — was a historic low for any president-elect.
"I don't see this President-elect as a legitimate president," fulminated civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis to NBC News' Chuck Todd in an interview just prior to the inauguration, effectively vocalizing the sentiment of the vast majority of Americans. "I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton."
This was the shocking yet only reasonably logical conclusion that could be drawn from our collective electoral experience and the combined assessment of all 17 branches of American intelligence. What Lewis stopped short of articulating, however, was the public concern regarding whether Trump and his Putin-apologist associates actually colluded in acts of treason with Russia in their subversive exploits. Indeed, as Vice President-elect Mike Pence raised his right hand at the inaugural ceremony to take the oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” there could not have been a single moderately conscious American, including me, who didn’t wonder if those “enemies” did not now include our new president.
For the majority of Americans, the countdown events from Election Day to Inauguration Day were akin to watching a runaway train with its virtual engineers scrambling in wild disbelief to assess the logistics regarding where it will crash, how much collateral damage it will inflict, and how many people it will obliterate in the impending carnage.
And that, right there, is correct usage of the word “carnage.”
In his ominous, less-than-inspiring inaugural address, Trump used that word to paint a wildly inaccurate, dystopian picture of Barack Obama’s legacy, describing the nation he has inherited to preside over as a landscape of “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones” and inner cities infested with crime, gangs and drugs.
“The American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” Trump proclaimed pompously to perpetuate the kind of shocking inaccuracies and falsehoods that has become the hallmark of his communications with the American public.
Post inauguration, Trump’s pathological mendacity has only become more scandalous. While speaking to the Central Intelligence Agency -- where facts constitute the coin of the realm -- Trump brazenly invoked God as his benevolent patron on high who looked down and said, “We're not going to let it rain on your speech.”
It had rained throughout.
Indeed, in Trumped-up America, it is Trump who is the victim of a dishonest press, it is the dishonest media that has made it seem like Trump was having a feud with the intelligence community, facts support “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period," 3-5 million people voted illegally thus costing Trump the popular vote, the public is not interested in Trump’s tax returns, Mexico will pay for the wall Trump wants to erect, Trump has received “many, many environmental awards” and has “actually been called an environmentalist,” Trump is receiving standing ovations and wild applause wherever he goes because, well, everybody everywhere voted for Trump because we’re “all on the same wavelength,” etc. No, seriously.
That Trump has a 4-star Pinnochio rating on his fabrications is unsurprising. So barefaced are the lies being deployed into the public domain — like psychological weapons of warfare designed to distort reality on matters that are objective historical record; events we have exhaustively witnessed with our own eyes — that, on any given day, the whole concept of parallel universes now seems entirely plausible.
Nevertheless, it is time to get past the cognitive dissonance embodied within the collective media rants of such icons as Keith Olbermann, who continue to postulate, “This man is not of sound mind” and, by virtue of that “insanity,” call upon Trump to resign as president.
The only way Trump will relinquish power now is on a stretcher, in handcuffs, or by impeachment. Trump may be a narcissist, but he is not insane. Trump may be a pathological liar, a misogynist, and a puerile cad, but he is not insane.
Yes, our electoral college system and cyber security systems failed us — miserably. However, Trump’s win was also highly strategic — a ruthless power grab, within the Republican Party and over the Democratic Party — not unlike a hostile corporate takeover in which the most powerful operatives’ ultimate cachet is recognized only in hindsight. Steve Bannon, the white nationalist leader of the alt-right movement and former executive chairman of Breitbart News, sees himself favorably in this capacity — as Darth Vader. Therefore, when Trump’s typically invisible, assiduously muted chief White House strategist and counselor unfurls to strike, we should pay attention because what we are witnessing is strategy. When Trump’s trusted adviser, Kellyanne Conway, now Counselor to the President, is deployed, what we are witnessing are tactics.
“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” Bannon railed in an interview with the press Wednesday night. “I want you to quote this,” he added defiantly, throwing down the proverbial gauntlet. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”
Are you listening, America?
When Conway does her press rounds within the media, understand that she is not there to clarify, or inform the American public. She is there to confront the “opposition party.” She is there to dominate and conquer “the opposition” by any means necessary. She is there to take no prisoners.
Our First Amendment guarantees that Congress shall make no law curtailing the freedom of speech, or of the press. It does not guarantee that the press could not be effectively bypassed by the government or rendered useless purveyors of misinformation in favor of their own methods.
On Jan. 22, by Freudian slip or parapraxis, the American public gained tremendous insight and real confirmation on the inner tactical workings of the Trump propaganda machinery when, under tremendous heat and pressure by media titan Chuck Todd to admit to the lies regarding inauguration attendance figures that were being deployed by the Trump administration — lies that simply could not stand up to scrutiny — Conway pronounced such lies “alternative facts.”
A few days later, perhaps realizing her turn of phrase might have dealt a catastrophic blow to her credibility, Conway tried to backtrack the phrase as "alternative information" and "incomplete information."
Lest we forget, however, this is the same Conway who, when she represented Ted Cruz, attacked Trump for his “unpresidential” and “vulgar” language, for having “built a lot of his business on the backs of the little guy,” and for not releasing his tax returns.
"The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command." — George Orwell, 1984.
Fundamentally, this is what makes Conway so dangerous. As the self-professed “Face of Trump's movement,” she is seemingly amoral, for sale to the highest bidder, and the unparalleled personification of the campaign's manipulation machinery and its ability to obfuscate truth with “alternative facts.” She is undoubtedly familiar with fascist propaganda strategy — and intimidation.
Conway’s “alternative facts” debacle and Trump’s Orwellian echoes since the inauguration have been sufficiently fear-inducing to resurrect sales of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Written in 1948 as a perpetual reminder of the signs that presage a nation’s political descent into totalitarianism, 1984 was Amazon.com’s #1 best-selling book by late Thursday, riding on a 9,500 percent increase in sales.
Therefore, no, we are not losing our collective minds. Neither is Trump. What we are witnessing is post-truth strategy being meticulously executed by a masterfully assembled team that is committed to using populist strategy to achieve their ends.
Indeed, we now need to pick our mouths up off the floor, save the Monday morning quarterbacking for NFL games, educate ourselves, and regroup to strategize — quickly — because it is highly unlikely that the oligarchs assembled by Trump, in what constitutes the wealthiest Cabinet in our history, are there primarily to serve populist needs. Why would they? Furthermore, how could they? They do not have a mandate of the popular vote.
Why else do you think Trump is obsessed with crowd sizes at his inauguration and about “illegal votes” for an election he already won? Why do you think Trump discredits the millions of people who turned out more to protest his election than his inauguration, even implying in a disingenuous tweet, “Why didn't these people vote?”
They did — against him — by almost 3 million more votes — and without the help of Russia!
If you still think Trump’s bizarre behavior and lies are solely about ego, then you are not paying close enough attention. To effect the American brand of totalitarianism, it is imperative for Trump to win the court of popular opinion — at least initially. It is critical to his mission that the majority be seen as thriving under his authoritarian leadership. That is true populism.
Which is why our loud, unruly — free — press is now “the opposition party.”
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” — Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda chief.
Trump and his minions are already way ahead on the learning curve of “alternative facts.” They have help, too — from Russia! Therefore, we must familiarize ourselves quickly with the 4D strategies they use to spread misinformation and propaganda so that we can effectively name the lie and replace it with the truth:
- Dismiss: Dismiss uncomfortable allegations or facts. Most politicians already do this to influence those who already distrust the mainstream media.
- Distract: Dodge the facts by introducing distracting stories or counterclaims. (Conway’s specialty)
- Distort: If you don't like the facts, invent your own. (Trump’s specialty)
- Dismay: Scare off political dissenters with threats and intimidation. (Trump’s trump card -- black mail, vulgarity, sheer ugliness)
"Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations." — George Orwell.