“When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching with torches and pictures of a leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.”Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny
These words published in 2017 by Yale history professor Timothy Snyder feel especially profound given the letter published in the Washington Post one week ago signed by all living former U.S. defense secretaries on the importance of peaceful transfers of power. Perhaps we came close to the end Snyder describes, though in his taped concession speech, our president warns the journey has only begun.
There’s the thing and then the response to the thing. The thing happened at our nation’s Capitol and now the response to the thing is a new kind of reality TV we’ve brought upon ourselves. It could be centuries of white elitism and racism still engrained in our country, or like Timothy Snyder calls it “post-truth, pre-Fascism.”
We in America are confounded by the truth. For many, a slow drip of lies has desensitized us and perverted our reason, allowing emotions to govern our beliefs. Perhaps emotions are more satisfying than the truth; they’re easier to come by. They make us feel strong.
I write marketing for a living. For marketing to work, it has to do two things: resonate with what you care about, and be true. Marketing influences our behavior over time to compel us to act, to buy. We make purchasing decisions based on an emotional response, sometimes a “gut feel.” We do that in hiring, even buying a house.
But this other kind of marketing, the constant stream of lies from the president and elected officials who enable it, relies solely on the lizard brain. The truth does not matter as long as the feeling is there. The feeling of being wronged and abandoned by the system. Millions of Americans feel that way and still side with Trump despite what happened here on Wednesday. They fail to see the connection between his lies and the risk to our democracy, the violence. They fail to see, only feel.
For me, beyond everything I’ve seen and read this week it’s the idea that millions of Americans are under control that is so disturbing. How they feel is being controlled by terrible people in power. Feelings by definition can’t be controlled. They can be aimed in a specific direction, though. In this way you could say that America is out of control.
Perhaps the truth will set us free.