The Origins of American Democratic Fascism

WIB politics March 5, 2017 War Is Boring 0

Red hats. Photo via Flickr It’s no longer a question of if, but how fast we will see the unraveling of the U.S.-led international order...
Red hats. Photo via Flickr

It’s no longer a question of if, but how fast we will see the unraveling of the U.S.-led international order

by BRIAN E. FRYDENBORG

This is part one of a two-part essay. Read part two.

One can easily go back to the domestic tyranny of Athens’ democracy in ancient Greece, of the will of the demos trampling over minority rights, to begin a long history of systems that were democratic in that a majority had power and chose leaders or voted on legislation, but with that being the extent of the democracy.

In fact, as happens all too often, voters will choose someone who merely reflects the base instincts of their majority, will use democracy to create a political culture of persecution, intolerance and even brutalization of those who are not in the majority — and will create a system designed to favor and perpetuate the rule of this majority.

Such a system embraces limited forms of democracy, mainly elections and the right of those winning the elections to rule.

To be sure, these elections are often fair in a strict sense, but the party in power is often subtly rigging the system in legal ways to restrict the process of voting so as to favor itself and disenfranchise those not subscribing to its program to enough of a degree as to give that ruling party a substantial advantage.

Crude tactics such as voter fraud, harsh media censorship and election-day voter intimidation are cast aside in favor of redistricting, restrictions on voter registration and explicitly partisan oversight of elections. In such a system, even subtle voter suppression actions can make differences that decide outcomes.

Especially when such parties control the system over time, they are able to stack the courts with favorable judges. Thus, legal challenges to their misrule and abuse of power are stopped by “legitimate” means — with the very interpretation of what constitutes “abuse” or “illegal acts” watered down in a partisan way so that the legal precedents and judges’ opinions justify the very abuse being questioned.

This, in effect, makes these courts simply another tool for the ruling party to further its agenda and its consolidation and eventual stranglehold on power. These systems can also use a — free, even — press to twist and mold public opinion and in ways quite harmful, even fatally so, to democracy.

This process is now underway in the United States.

Such a press can help bring out the worst in the citizens themselves, something on which the tyrannical majoritarian system is counting. But, perhaps, their citizens may be good enough at bringing out their own worst tendencies without the press fanning the flames, either by themselves or with the help of a charismatic leader, though the three often work in tandem.

Extreme examples of systems today playing these games, or worse, involve Turkey, where journalists and politicians critical of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party have wound up in jail — and Russia, where journalists and critics of Vladimir Putin and his party have wound up dead, up to and including a prominent leader of the Russia’s political opposition, shot dead in sight of the Kremlin on a major public thoroughfare early in 2015.

Sometimes, even when not necessary, these “democracies” favor the crude methods to make their point even more bluntly.

The true spirit of democracy is not merely in holding elections and then allowing the prevailing winners to do whatever they pleases to whomever they please.

It is the recognition that the rules after the election apply equally to winner and loser alike, that the same protections of the basic rights of the winners must needs also apply to the losers.

The winners, while enjoying certain natural advantages electorally from having won the reigns of power, will not use the very machinery of government to explicitly entrench and expand those powers in ways that violate the equal application and protections of the law.

And this is why current developments all over the world in democracies are so terrifying. People are increasingly unable to link their own plights with the plights of those whom they deem “others,” with these “others” increasingly seen as the source of whatever problems — real or imagined — are fashionable to discuss.

I despise both hyperbole and conspiracy theories, but make no mistake about it, we live in an era of rising democratic fascism and of the weakening of traditional democracies and the values with which they were established and upheld.

And rest assured, I did not come to the use of this term lightly. Even a year ago, I would not have considered using the term “fascist” to describe anything major in American politics, not the Tea Party nor the Republican Party.

Yet it is hard to describe what is happening in America, Europe and elsewhere as anything else but democratic fascism. I’ve been coming across the term “illiberal democracy,” but that’s far too benign-sounding a term even if it is broadly accurate. And this is far more than merely a rightward lurch. The Tea Party was a rightward lurch, and this is beyond even that insanity.

Welcome to the Era of Rising Democratic Fascism: Trump, Putin, Europe, and the Assault on Western Democracy and the International Order

No, it’s not the 1930s, but today, the democracies of the world are collectively facing a cancer of populist, and, yes, democratic fascism that threatens to erase democratic norms, destroy liberal democratic values, and that seeks to remake many of the world’s leading democracies in the image of Vladimir Putin’s Russia and its “democracy” that relies on an intolerant majority that understands democracy simply as the gratification of their emotional desires.

Dissenters, minorities and others who don’t agree with them be damned, their complaints of abuse at the hands of the state dismissed and ignored.

Yet terms like democracy and fascism are thrown about quite casually, and not necessarily in a way that is accurate. In his seminal 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell expressed his understanding of how slippery the uses of both “democracy” and “fascism” not only could be, but were when he wrote that:

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies “something not desirable”. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides.

It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.

Such tendencies that flourished in Orwell’s time still, sadly, flourish today, over 70 years both after Orwell penned those thoughts and after the defeat of fascism in Europe. We shall do our best to avoid such traps in the discussion below by discussing the definitions of both “democracy” and “fascism.”

Lincoln and Washington. Photo via Flickr

Defining democracy

In a pure, technical sense, there are no democracies.

Every modern national system avoids direct rule by the demos, the people, in favor of a system in which the demos choose from among themselves a number of representatives, who by virtue of their election become an elite political class that represents the demos in the government, governs on behalf of the demos, and whom the demos hold accountable in a continuing series of recurring elections.

In every modern instance of true democratic government, the systems are set up along representative lines in the form of one or some combination of a republic, a constitutional monarchy where the monarch has relatively limited powers, and a parliamentary or a presidential system.

The people may occasionally weigh in on referenda, but their participation is limited to voting for their representatives, and the governance is left to these representatives.

Thus, in modern times democracy has come to be understood as a system that has the forms of mass popular input, free and fair elections in which the losers abide by the electoral results, and equal applications and protections of laws for all citizens on an equal basis regardless of their political or any other affiliations.

This is not, again, to naively say that winning and being an incumbent doesn’t come with certain natural advantages, but said advantages should not be collectively so powerful as to be insurmountable for an opponent.

Of course, other ingredients are vital — the American Founding Fathers recognized the massive importance of both freedom of speech and of the press, so that the people could have accurate information about the good, bad and ugly of what their government was doing and make decisions based on such information, not government-controlled propaganda.

Likewise, a population educated and informed enough was also understood to be vital so that the people could make wise decisions and be able to tell the difference between propaganda and actual news.

The dire threat to democracy today is not the abolition of elections, then, but the use of elections to empower leaders who to use the justice and law enforcement systems as a tool to stay in power, punish opponents and control or bend the media to its will in a way that either cynically plays on the stupidity of the people to not realize what is happening.

If this is allowed to happen, it is always with some combination of the ignorance of those voters who buy into the rulers’ propaganda, voters’ tacit approval, or voters’ enthusiastic embrace of a system that explicitly favors them because of their politics — increasingly tied to identity in terms or race, ethnicity or religion in this day and age — and explicitly discriminates or otherwise punishes those with differing politics.

The German-American Bund parades in New York City, 1939. Library of Congress photo

Defining fascism

“Fascism” as a word comes into English in the 1920s from the Italian fascismo, describing the ultra-nationalist movement that brought Benito Mussolini into power in Italy, but also alluding to the ancient Roman symbol of authority, the fasces.

Like “terrorism” and “democracy,” “fascism” as a term can easily become overly and poorly used. Writing in 1944, Orwell noted how “there is almost no set of people — certainly no political party or organized body of any kind — which has not been denounced as Fascist.”

Still, even noting the sharp disagreements of the people of his day over who or what was fascist, he noted that “[b]y ‘Fascism’ they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’.”

Christopher Hitchens, an enthusiastic admirer of Orwell, recalled some of what he wrote, but went further. For Hitchens, “[h]istorically, fascism laid great emphasis on glorifying the nation-state and the corporate structure,” is “based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind …[and is] hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons).”

He also describes fascism as “bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories,” as “obsessed with real and imagined ‘humiliations’ and thirsty for revenge,” as “chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia (interestingly, also, with its milder cousin, anti-Freemason paranoia),” as “inclined to leader worship,” and as a “threat … to civilization and civilized values.”

For Rebecca West, writing in 1935, “Fascism … is a headlong flight into fantasy from the necessity for political thought … persons supporting Fascism behave as if man were already in possession of principles which would enable him to deal with all our problems, and as if it were only a question of appointing a dictator to apply them.”

In his preface to the third edition of his The Mass Psychology of Fascism, written in 1942, Wilhelm Reich notes that:

In its pure form, fascism is the sum total of all irrational reactions of the average human character. To the narrow-minded sociologist who lacks the courage to recognize the enormous role played by the irrational in human history, the fascist race theory appears as nothing but an imperialistic interest or even a mere “prejudice.” The violence and the ubiquity of these “race prejudices” show their origin from the irrational part of the human character. The race theory is not a creation of fascism. No: fascism is a creation of race hatred and its politically organized expression.

For U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt, he felt that “the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself,” and what stood out for him was that “[t]hat, in its essence, is Fascism — ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”

In other words, when one ruler or group considers that it owns the state and that the state’s machinery, power and largesse exist as personal tools for those in power, when that controlling entity does not feel it needs to share the state, and its machinery, power and largesse with others different from itself, we have fascism.

Henry A. Wallace, FDR’s vice president before Truman, told The New York Times in 1944 that:

A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends. The supreme god of a fascist, to which his ends are directed, may be money or power; may be a race or a class; may be a military, clique or an economic group; or may be a culture, religion, or a political party.

[…]

The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.

[…]

American fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery.

For Umberto Eco, whose own childhood took place in Mussolini’s Italy, fascism was something that could be any combination of a number of key elements.

Writing in 1995 in an essay on what he termed “Ur-Fascism” — that eternal and incoherent fascist current within humanity — Eco saw fascism as something that espouses a “cult of tradition” in a way that was “syncretistic” and produced little if anything original.

He also saw it as a “rejection of modernism” and, in turn, an embodiment of “irrationalism.” For Eco, fascism values “action for action’s sake” in a sense that despised deliberation and intellectual discourse and the intellectual world in general. Building upon this, he also noted how fascism is unable to “withstand analytical criticism” to such a degree that “disagreement is treason.”

As a natural follow-up to this, he notes fascism’s hatred of diversity and its “exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference,” that fascism’s “first appeal…is an appeal against intruders,” making fascism “racist by definition.” It feeds on “individual or social frustration” in a way that is an “appeal to a frustrated middle class” that is “frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”

Eco feared that “the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.”

The psychology of fascism is obsessed with identity, particularly appealing to those lost and confused in a changing and challenging world, and offers them a crude way out based on a nationalism defined by exclusion of “enemies” of the nation. This psychology is based on “the obsession with a plot” against them, domestically and internationally.

Those subscribing to such a fascist movement “must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies” but also “be convinced that they can overwhelm” them. With such movements, “pacifism is trafficking with the enemy” and “life is permanent warfare” such that even in victory, there is still a pervasive sense of insecurity, unspoken inferiority and anxiety.

Eco’s fascism is also embodied by a “contempt for the weak” that is crucial for its “popular elitism.” The leaders of the movement convince their followers that they are the true elite, even as they thrive by exploiting their weaknesses, who feel superior to those not in the movement in a dynamic of trickle-down elitism.

“Every man is a king so long as he has someone to look down on,” Sinclair Lewis wrote in his 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, in which a man remarkably like Donald Trump becomes president running a campaign remarkably like Trump’s and ends up transforming America into a fascist dictatorship.

Here, Eco continues, “everybody is educated to become a hero” in a sense that engenders a constant hero martyr-complex. In fascism, Eco also finds a misogynistic, homophobic machismo that addresses its sexual inadequacy through the “ersatz phallic exercise” of “play[ing] with weapons.”

He also finds fascism to be based on a “selective populism” that is “qualitative” not “quantitative” in nature.

“The People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction,” and “[t]here is in our future a T.V. or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”

For long-time New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik,

What all forms of fascism have in common is the glorification of the nation, and the exaggeration of its humiliations, with violence promised to its enemies, at home and abroad; the worship of power wherever it appears and whoever holds it; contempt for the rule of law and for reason; unashamed employment of repeated lies as a rhetorical strategy; and a promise of vengeance for those who feel themselves disempowered by history. It promises to turn back time and take no prisoners. That it can appeal to those who do not understand its consequences is doubtless true.

So like democracy, we can approach a definition of fascism that avoids the pitfall of being too specific but is still meaningful past use as a simple pejorative, thus avoiding Orwell’s trap as well.

For a brief, poetic and literary understanding of what we may now say about fascism, allow me to satirize Paul’s lovely passage on love from First Corinthians:

Fascism is impatient, fascism is cruel. It is jealous, is pompous, it is inflated, it is rude, it seeks its own interests, it is quick-tempered, it broods over injury, it rejoices over wrongdoing but does not rejoice with the truth. It bears only itself, believes only itself, hopes only itself, endures only itself. Fascism always fails.

Furthermore, fascism is hateful, irrational, fearful and childishly boastful. It thrives and survives on misinformation and disinformation, lies and deceit. It brooks no criticism and is an eternal enemy of intellectual discourse, debate, diversity, inclusion and being part of the wider world.

It relies on racism, bigotry, ignorance, misogyny and brute bullying in all manners of ways, loves cultish-leader worship, lusts after a false imagined past and “tradition,” is corporatist, nationalistic, incoherent and contradictory, and is all of these things not mildly but intensely.

It takes more typical, offensive, intolerant and reactionary right-wing politics to a far more elevated level, so that even liberals will wistfully miss their old right-wing nemeses with the advent of the new fascism.

So that is our understanding of fascism in a general sense. Now, we may fuse that with our discussion of democracy into an understanding of fascism’s relatively-cleaned up, ready-for-television, outwardly milder but arguably even more dangerous step-child from a loveless marriage of some 70 years ago with the American-dominated, post-World War II international order.

Putin kitsch. Photo via Flickr

Fascism meets the 21st century

Much like how Bernie Sanders’ “democratic socialism” differs quite markedly from other forms of socialism and is far less “socialist” than many of those, so too is “democratic fascism” markedly different from the fascism of the 20th century.

For Eco, even if fascism in Europe experienced a rebirth, it would be shaped by the new circumstances of its birth and will hardly be a repeat “in its original form” of the same fascism that arose before World War II.

Unlike the fascist movements in the past — in particular Germany, Italy, Japan and in Latin America — fascism in the United States would not use violence as a major vehicle to its power, but would, rather, primarily come to power through using media and twisting the concept of “news.”

Of course, Wallace was onto the same truth that Orwell would present to the world in Nineteen Eighty-Four with the concept of Newspeak, a formal language of propaganda, deception and control.

“The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of [the regime], but to make all other modes of thought impossible,” Orwell wrote.

In his earlier-cited essay, Eco also identified Orwell’s definition of Newspeak as the final enumerated element of fascism, noting how it makes “use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.”

Eco also echoed Wallace when he noted that:

Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances — every day, in every part of the world.

The typical (small-“d”) democratic candidate asks you to vote for her to use the system and improve it to benefit you, the voter. The democratic fascist candidate campaigns to go to war with the system, that by his virtue and abilities and with the power of the people behind him, he will sweep away the bureaucracy, institutions, politicians, laws, rules and norms that apparently hold us back.

The democratic fascist needs to take existing legitimate problems and grossly exaggerate their intensity or to completely fabricate problems that do not exist but that play into people’s preconceived notions and prejudices — anger, contempt and derision are some of the core emotional foundations the democratic fascist’s campaign pitch.

Equal, or ever larger, than any hope for the future is the joy of destroying the existing order and of seeing the elites who have been in control be forced out of power or damaged in unconventional ways, so much so that even if the promises of a better future fail, the rest may be enough for supporters to be content with the new order.

They will “feel” better and “on top” and “in charge” simply by virtue of the discrimination against the groups they despise, which they see as a restoration of “justice” and the natural order even without any true improvement in their own situation.

So democratic fascism, even though it is far less jarring in it relative lack of violence compared to past historical fascist movements, can still amply demonstrate qualities of fascism even if in less overtly threatening ways.

At the same time, it is harder to stop democratic fascism or even to call it fascism because of its more subtle approach.

After all, some of our thinkers have warned how democratic fascists, especially, can deceive the public into supporting them, using the freedom of the airwaves to disseminate effective lies in a weaponization of information itself that enables them to reach a critical mass of support.

From there, they capitalize on their media influence within the free press and the lack of an informed, discerning population to turn the final element of successful democracy — a relatively independent legal and justice system — into a political tool enabling democratic fascists to suppress opposition and/or favor themselves just enough in elections to create a one party state supported by a large swath, even a majority, of the voting public.

Such a program is harder to attack as undemocratic when the government is not rigging votes and not taking over the free press and, instead, allows the appearance of a competitive democracy to still convince a huge portion of the population that this false perception is reality.

With enough public support and enough support within a free media, democratic fascists in power may not may not actually need to entertain the aforementioned overt measures in order for them to maintain power.

Thus, first with the media, then with the people, then with elections, and, finally, with the legal and justice system, democratic fascists succeed in bending the key components of healthy democracy into supporting the establishment of democratic fascism in a domino-like effect.

Greeting shoppers in supermarkets across America. Photo via Flickr

Spin, lies and the war on reality

Which bring us to a discussion of spin versus lies. Spin is a normal part of politics — it is simply how politicians and their supporters, whether in government or the media, try to put their best foot forward in making their case and defending their actions.

Much like lawyers in a courtroom, then, spin represents an effort to put something forward in the best possible light. More often than not, spin is rooted in truth, but is presented selectively in a way that only or mainly includes that which is most favorable to whatever position is being made.

Like the situation with lawyers in a courtroom, then, here, the truth is somewhere in between the two positions. Even when a lawyer “wins” a case, it is hardly accepted that every point he made was true. It is simply the role of the jurors or the judges to decide who made the better case and weigh the burden of proof into this as well.

In many respects, the news media is our courtroom of public opinion, and it is hardly a coincidence that many of the people on T.V. representing various agendas are lawyers themselves, as is the case of many of the people formally representing political parties and other groups within the government itself.

Spin certainly includes false suggestions and distortions, often driven by unfavorable context being deliberately omitted — and lies certainly do get told in the art of spinning.

Spin itself comes from the term “spin room,” which for decades has referred to the area where the press and representatives of politicians would engage with each other after a debate between two or more politicians, and pretty much every representative would tell the press that his or her candidate had won.

Like the line between democracy and democratic fascism, the line between spin and lies is not always clear. But we have clearly entered a new era where, as opposed to spin, we have politicians and their surrogates and supporters, particularly on the right, creating an alternate reality when reality doesn’t match their talking points, an alternate reality based on “alternative facts” and reported as the gospel truth by “alternative” media.

As a spectacularly salient example, immediately after his first debate with Clinton, Trump himself entered the spin room (an act itself unheard of), and, among other lowlights, Trump denied that he had said something that he had clearly just said during the debate with millions watching and the debate well-recorded for posterity.

Let that single example sink in for a moment.

Reality is not subject to partisanship, so the fervent partisan will create his own reality to suit his own ends. Yes, led by right-wing media outlets at first, and coupled with Trump’s campaign machine later on, this brazenly-reality-challenging environment was the catalyst of the successful internal democratic fascist coup.

So influenced, that electorate ended up enabling someone like Trump to win an election when never before would an American electorate have chosen him, for, as Orwell wrote, “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

And in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, this concept is taken to an extreme. “If all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

Thus, there can be little more dangerous to democracy than people uncritically accepting junk fake news — and I don’t mean a slant or an opinion on the news, but accepting blatant falsehoods and entirely false stories — designed to further a political end.

And now, all that stands in the way of democratic fascism twisting all four main components of democracy in America is its last main pillar— the legal and justice system not being political tools and not applying the laws to benefit Trump et al. and punish his opponents, a pillar which is likely only to stand if either Trump’s own Republicans stand up to him or Democrats manage to start winning again.

It did not get this way overnight. Republicans especially have been denying reality on a whole host of issues for years, including immigration, gun control, ISIS, Iraq, racism and climate change. But we are definitely in an era where the facts are far more loosely played with, even if they are stubborn things.

A conversation journalist Ron Suskind had in the summer of 2002 with top George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove is quite revealing of this mentality:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off.

“That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

To be fair to the George W. Bush administration, though this mentality should be quite troubling, it was never taken in its eight years to the heights that Trump, his crew, and his supporters collectively have taken us through today.

Democratic fascism is, in part, what it is because of how far it takes things, oftentimes just greatly metastasizing existing trends. The Bush administration didn’t generally outright lie, but it did tend to selectively present the best evidence for its case while deliberately avoiding or downplaying any information that didn’t help said case.

Yes, the intelligence assessments did estimate that Saddam Hussein had active WMD programs and Hussein pretended to still have them for his own reasons, but the credible parts of this intelligence were only based on old information and their estimates were not expressed as certainties.

Thus, the biggest lies of the George W. Bush administration were generally lies of omission, of exaggerating the degrees of certainty, or of rationales. Though Donald Rumsfeld should get some sort of special recognition for the alternate reality he set up for himself and even seems to have believed in, to boot.

And yet, the factual contortions of Trump and his team that occur on a daily basis almost make the misleading statements of the Bush administration see quaint in principle.

Even among the traditional, far more respectable media outlets not cheerleading for Trump, this election season was plagued by inadequate coverage, frenetic and thoroughly lacking essential context or rigor, and saturated with a blithe false-equivalence, with the way the Clinton e-mail server story was handled only being the most salient example.

Combined with misleading or outright fake news, there was a critical mass of media being consumed by Americans that distorted reality just enough — and I mean just enough in an election that came down to less than 38,600 votes.

Not only, then, did we have a presidential campaign that trafficked and reveled in fake news and constantly denies both reality and his own indisputable statements and actions, but we now have a president and his administration doing the same, with a huge portion of the American electorate accepting this fake news, lying denying and deception as reality.

Competing against an alternative reality that generally tells voters what they want to hear are candidates that try to be far more honest with voters, who try to guide them to understanding “hard truths,” to quote Hillary Clinton, about problems and what is required to achieve solutions to them, which is about as unfair a fight as one can imagine in a democratic election.

As the British historian Simon Schama noted, “The indifference about the distinction between truth and lies is the precondition of fascism. When truth perishes so does freedom.”

Brian E. Frydenborg is a freelance writer and consultant based in Amman, Jordan. You can follow him on Twitter at @bfry1981. This is a condensed and edited version of the original story. The full version with expanded analysis is available in two parts — part one here and part two here, and a Kindle edition, a Nook edition and an EPUB edition are available with previously unpublished content.


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