It’s pretty clear Trump’s not even trying to, what’s the expression, reach out, or act even vaguely presidential — his stategery, to the extent he has any, is to play cult leader to the base. Truth to them is whatever he says (hence his recent ad insisting promises made, promises kept — warning, Fox news video). Hope the media is sufficiently cowed to push enough of his narrative that it fouls the waters. If he can eke out any kind of victory, watch out.
It has long been clear that the president is attempting to build a genuine authoritarian movement over which only his word has any power, and which he can use to ride roughshod over the institutions of democracy. So far, this attempt has been an unmitigated success, as his supporters inhabit the same infotainment vortex he does and other members of the Republican Party…bow to him out of craven fealty.
Lies that are not merely lies, but instead serve to destroy the very concept of truth, are a cornerstone of any authoritarian playbook.
Lying is the message. It’s not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself. Take, for example, Putin’s statements on Ukraine. In March 2014 he claimed that there were no Russian troops in newly annexed Crimea; a month later he affirmed that Russians troops had been on the ground. Throughout 2014 and 2015, he repeatedly denied that Russian troops were fighting in eastern Ukraine; in 2016 he easily acknowledged that they were there. In each case, Putin insisted on lying in the face of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, and in each case his subsequent shift to truthful statements were not admissions given under duress: they were proud, even boastful affirmatives made at his convenience. Together, they communicated a single message: Putin’s power lies in being able to say what he wants, when he wants, regardless of the facts. He is president of his country and king of reality.
Trump has exhibited similar behavior, apparently for the same reason: when he claims that he didn’t make statements that he is on record as making, or when he claims that millions of people voting illegally cost him the popular vote, he is not making easily disprovable factual claims: he is claiming control over reality itself.
The campaign is only beginning. By the time it’s in full swing, Trump might well insist he stormed the Normandy beaches. His minions will cheer along, and I don’t doubt there will be pressure on the media (with expressed or at least implied violence) to “not show any librul bias” in calling lies out for lies.
The question will be whether it works. If it does…