Trump’s Loyalty Test: This Is What Authoritarian Regimes Do

When President Donald Trump -shudder- ordered Press Secretary Sean Spicer to the podium on Saturday for his first newspeak, it wasn’t just about Trump’s vanity or ego, it was also a test. “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period,” Spicer claimed. Regardless of Spicer’s politics, you know this man does not believe what he said. You know Spicer does not believe Trump’s inauguration crowd was larger than President Obama’s 2009 inauguration crowd. Anyone still clinging to the last smoldering shreds of reality knows this.

The reason he sent Spicer to the podium to repeat and reinforce a lie is because this president values loyalty above all things, well, except for “TRUMP” emblazoned on a building facade. This is the inner-workings of an authoritarian mindset. To paraphrase Ezra Klein from Vox’s “The Weeds” podcast — It’s the playbook of the authoritarian regime to send an intelligent human being into an untenable situation, forced to lie about something unambiguous.

It is far from unusual for an administration to obfuscate. Controlling the narrative, or at least attempting to, is commonplace among presidential administrations. It is instinctual to paint the president in the most positive light. But press secretaries are careful not to lie outright. On Saturday, Sean Spicer did something he knew would not work, something he knew he couldn’t get away with it. He spun an absurd tale about something substantively meaningless, but symbolically ominous.

Saturday’s Orwellian press briefing could be judged nothing more than an amusing sideshow, only if the prior eighteen months of Trumpism didn’t exist. If this administration can so effortlessly lie about something so easily proven false, what else might they lie about? What environmental data might they willfully skew — or discard? What economic data might they doggedly fabricate? If we don’t have good information and good data coming from our government, where does that leave us as a people? Universities and institutions rely on government to provide good data for studies and research, to the benefit of society. Businesses rely on good agricultural and economic data to make decisions. How does this work with an administration openly hostile to facts?

This is where liberals and conservatives depart — well, at least Trumptonian conservatives. Liberals believe in government. They want government to work. This requires good data. This necessitates the diligence to do hard work to collect good data. Liberals are not immune from confirmation bias, but liberals believe in having checks on the system, mitigating our individual biases for the benefit of the whole.

Trumptonian conservatives on the other hand believe none of this. At a moments notice a deplorable army of trolls is unleashed, smugly convinced of their own superiority even while lacking substantive arguments and verifiable facts. They do not believe in government, so they certainly do not want government to work. They hate “coastal elites.” Hell, they hate a lot of things, but they especially hate longstanding institutions, well, except for the church. Oh, and Fox News. They lash out at “libtards” and “snowflakes” while tearing the system down. All of this should indicate to the rest of us that they do not believe in a system of checks and balances designed to quell our innate human desire to confirm preexisting beliefs.

Earlier this week, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology urged Americans to get their information from President Trump and not the media. “[It’s] better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth,” said Texas congressman, and future dystopian novelist, Lamar Smith. And Politico reports that Voice of America (VOA) — yes, our very own state-run media source — might begin assisting the Trumptonian propaganda machine.

President Donald Trump on Monday dispatched two aides to scope out the studios of Voice of America, heightening concerns among some longtime staffers that Trump may quickly put his stamp on the broadcasting arm that has long pushed U.S. democratic ideals across the world. —

The concern among some staffers is especially acute because Trump’s administration is getting control over the broadcasting agency just weeks after Congress moved to eliminate the board of directors that had served as an integrity check on the organization, instead consolidating power with a CEO position appointed by the president.

Will President Trump allow the VOA to continue operating independently now that oversight is controlled by an administration appointee? Given the track record of this administration, not yet a week old, I’ll leave that for you to muse.

If we are lucky, we are simply in for a long four years, at the end of which we elect a sensible, reasonable, and logical-thinking new president. But until then, important questions remain unanswered.

What exclusionary laws might this Republican-controlled congress pass? What discriminatory actions will this administration take? Will facts continue to take a backseat to opinion? And if so, how do we build a strong economy in a post-truth era? Will we continue to be a vibrant melting pot? Is the multicultural experiment called America now on the decline? And how much fight do we have left to ensure that is not the case?

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