In the first weeks of the Trump Administration, we have seen a flood of lies, confusing the public and sending the Press after a school of red herrings. From ludicrous disputes about inauguration crowd size to the Bowling Green Massacre, the Press has been trying to cover each of these lies equally. They shouldn’t. For one thing, I don’t think it’s possible. But more importantly, there seem to be two types of untruths: 1) clearly strategic lies designed to undermine our institutions and justify administration policies and, 2) off the cuff rants from Trump associated with his narcissistic need to be popular and avoid criticism. The beauty of it, from Steve Bannon’s perspective, is that Trump’s tweets and self-serving lies both obscure the deeper strategy behind the Administration’s actions and spread its propaganda. The lies don’t seem strategic because Trump’s statements are reactionary and self-important. There is no longer any doubt about it; Steve Bannon and is using Play #1 in every Dictator’s Playbook – The Big Lie – and Trump is his Useful Idiot.
Steve Bannon has mastered the Big Lie
According to recent reporting, Steve Bannon is running the show in Donald Trump’s White House. He is drafting executive orders, overruling the Secretary of Homeland Security about excluding green card holders from the United States, and placing himself on the National Security Counsel Principal’s Committee. I say he placed himself there because Trump apparently didn’t even read the order. It’s safe to say that any strategy is coming from Bannon, and the Big Lie is a big part of that strategy.
The Big Lie is a political tactic first articulated by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, and was used extensively by the Nazis and every dictator since. The idea is that a politician or political party can manipulate the masses by telling a colossal lie, because most decent people would only ever lie on a small scale, and they are not willing to believe anyone would tell a massive untruth. The Big Lie doesn’t eliminate the public’s ability to evaluate facts rationally, but we have presumptions about how most people behave, and about how people in public life behave. When the press, for instance, presents evidence disproving the lie, it does make at least some people question who’s telling the truth. Why would anyone make something like that up? The answer is, to undermine opponents and justify controversial or illegal policies.
While all the lies coming from Trump and his mouthpieces serve to undermine our ability to understand what is true and what is false, only some of them are part of a larger strategy. The lie that Trump won in a “landslide,” which first showed up in his post-election speech in Cincinnati, is designed to give Trump a mandate to govern decisively. “Alternative Facts” give supporters an excuse to listen to the Administration instead of evidence based reporting by the Press. Bannon’s declaration that the Press is “the opposition” indicates his desire to undermine their ability to function as a check on Trump. The “Bowling Green Massacre,” which is a complete fiction, serves to justify a Muslim ban, and stokes fear in the population. Much of the reporting I have seen on these untruths treat them as a joke. They aren’t, and they should not be reported as such. They are a clever manipulation designed to undermine our institutions, and that fact is being obscured by Donald Trump’s displays of impulsive narcissism.
Donald Trump is anyone’s Useful Idiot, as long as they know how to play him
The “Useful Idiot” is a soviet term for Marxists/Leninists in the West, who spread Russian propaganda and serve Russian interests by voicing their own opinions without the intervention or direction of Soviet leadership. So why am I calling Donald Trump a Useful Idiot? Donald Trump does not believe in anything other than the status and popularity of Donald Trump, but his predictable impulsivity and narcissistic obsession with popularity make all the lies coming from the Administration seem less strategic. For instance, his obsession with the size of his inauguration crowd (not to mention his hands) is a matter of vanity. Yet it was covered more thoroughly in the Press than our introduction to our allegedly increased crime rates. These silly, venial lies lend authenticity to the interpretation that all lies, whether about fake inauguration numbers or the destruction of the judiciary, are equally the result of Donald Trump’s character defects. Trump makes the lies easy to dismiss as the work of a self-important buffoon.
Bannon’s implementation of the Executive Order on Immigration is a great example of how he uses Trump to create propaganda. By getting Trump to sign a poorly written, expansive Executive Order, Bannon used Trump’s temperament to cause chaos and attack the judiciary. Bannon apparently wrote Trump’s executive order on immigration, and he prevented the DHS from interpreting it narrowly. He knew what he was doing. Once chaos ensued, all criticism was directed at Trump. Trump can’t cope with criticism. In retaliation, he’s now alleged that any future terror attack will be caused by a judge who stayed implementation of the EO, and alarmed his own Supreme Court nominee to the point where Judge Gorsuch felt the need to criticize Trump (which Trump, of course, refuses to believe). Bannon has successfully undermined the judiciary with a large portion of the population just by setting Donald Trump up for criticism.
Focus on the strategy, not the tweets
When lies come out of the White House, our first question should be “which institution does this undermine and/or which policy does it enable?” We have to identify the dangerous lies that undermine core institutions, and let the rest go hang. The “Bowling Green Massacre,” laughable at first, is now cited by the majority of immigration ban supporters as the justification for their position. These tactics worked on Germans, and Argentinians, and Russians, and we, as Americans, won’t be any different. There is, however, a silver lining! For some reason, autocratic propagandists can’t seem to resist following the “he who smelt it dealt it” school of lying. Breitbart “News” is the propaganda wing of the Trump Administration, and if you’d been reading it on November 22, 2016 you would have seen that it accused the Democrats of using the Big Lie. So read Breitbart, people. See what they accuse the Press, the judiciary, or the Democrats of doing, and you’ll know that’s what Bannon is up to.