It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about

“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.

Categories: musings

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30 replies

  1. Well, a tiny bit of good news is that some supporters have now declared enough – supporters of the Republican party more so than the man currently at its head. I suspect the ones who truly admire that man are a segment of society we’ll keep dealing with forever. I wish there were a way to extend a hand to them, to draw them into the light of accepting themselves w/o need to destroy others. I’m more optimistic than realistic, alas. I appreciate your perspective here on marketing – exactly what Trump’s been doing, and others will continue it in his wake. Hoping NOT from the White House again.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The political scene is ever more worrying and Trump as martyr would be even more worrying.

    Back here in Oz, the persistent efforts we have made to emphasize the positive characteristics of our Trumpeting children has helped heal what could have been a sad rift. Job continues, but…

    Anyway, all the best my cousin-country.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks David, I can imagine how troubling it would feel to watch from afar. You must feel powerless, though none of us are. Have to remind myself of that. Thanks for reading and for the well wishes from Oz! Bill


  3. I saw snyder being interviewed last week and he was spot on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, me too. Seems we must be on the same channel, you and I. Recommend his book On Tyranny and he just published an essay today too in the New York Times in case you haven’t seen. “The Abyss” in America I think it’s called.

      Liked by 1 person

      • If you haven’t yet seen it, a new graphic edition of On Tyranny was released last fall: Evocative illustrations by Nora Krug, which add a whole new layer of meaning to Snyder’s words. Reading all of the comments here is rather sobering, as there’s little that’s changed for the better in the 15 months and a lot that’s changed for the worse. The New York Times’ recent deep dive into Tucker Carlson and his alternate universe was alarming…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I saw Mr. Snyder talk about an updated edition to that book, which is so spot-on now. Striking how clear the roadmap is and yet how ignorant or tolerant many are to this behavior! I have not seen the illustrated version but will nab that. It reminds me of a graphic novel of 1984 I spied in a book store earlier this year. I read the last several pages starting with the rat torture scene. That book is tattooed on my psyche. And I saw the Tucker stories but avoided them out of a need to protect my mental health. I’m like a garden weasel that occasionally pops its head up you know. Anyhow thanks for this, I’ll have a look. Best, Bill

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “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.”

    This, right here. This. So many just want their emotions stoked and want to hear things and believe things that conform to what they “need,” rather than what is true and what is reality. While they are confounded by the truth, as you say, those of us who believe in truth and reality are confounded by the lies that seem to work with so many.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey Mark, thanks. I’ve never been comfortable writing about politics but I think we’re beyond what’s comfortable and what’s not. You write so clearly about it, for me this was really hard to organize my thoughts and try to separate my own feelings from what I wanted to say. Just felt compelled to, can’t be quiet on what’s happening (and not happening) right now. Glad it resonated with you, it is confounding. Goes back far and down deep, perhaps.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Under pressure, indeed. I really appreciate this post, Bill, and the thought that clearly went into it.
    “The unexamined life is not worth living”, ol’ Socrates opined. Perhaps being willing to self-reflect—honestly—on the Pavlovian thrill on having our emotions prodded is vital if we are to get through the molasses of self-indulgence we’ve let congeal around us.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I think Irv Yalom may have used that same quote in that book by him you recommended. Hey thanks Bruce…Pavlovian thrill it is. Oddly we’ve started watching WWII documentaries. Didn’t know the Nazis were jacked up on crystal meth; that’s what kept them up for 3 days straight. This righteous anger vented here there and everywhere is its own drug too.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve been wondering what our way forward is, with so many caught up in these delusions. I expect their lust for violence has not been satiated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I fear not Carl, nor ever will be! Reminds me of the film Escape from New York, or Mad Max. Some of those chintzy outfits, that dystopic future that seemed so real and far away in the early 80s.


  7. When you wrote about marketing needing to be true, I thought WHOA. As a person who recently bought a pickup truck, and my research taught me that most of the trucks are utter pieces of crap, I thought “Well not all marketing needs to be true.” But then I realized that Donald Trump and pickup trucks are marketed to the same people. And the decision to buy either is pure emotion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha ha that’s brilliant Jeff! Yes, grain of salt…take mine with, on marketing. “The elasticity of truth.”

      Liked by 2 people

      • We had a nice holiday, back in our newly re-mixed home, DJT gone… why am I STILL SO FUCKING ANGRY? Hoping my bloke can help when we resume next Friday, but I think, re-reading this, it’s not so much the elasticity, but the erosion, the corrosion of truth that has knocked me about. I feel a bit like Galileo’s peers might have felt as they saw a fundamental pillar of their world view evaporate before their very eyes. Or someone realising that religion is a power/political construct and nothing more. Sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You and my daughter Lily should chat, re: the anger. The more you read and pay attention the angrier you get. Hang in there, feels like we are making progress. Just spoke to my dad today and he feels the same, kind of unsatisfied and skeptical still. Glad you’re back home and settled in from holiday! Started reading about The Who today. Somehow that lifted my spirits, the less self-important Who that is. Not like I can relate.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I used to think that if you engage both intellectually and emotionally with the world, and do so with some degree of perception, the inevitable result is carrying a changing yet ever-present load of both anxiety and depression. Certainly the majority of people I interact with by choice fit the bill. I thought of introducing this concept to the boy, but decided it is better if he works it out for himself, a process that is well underway. After all, his favourite Christmas present was a windcheater that bore the legend: Existential Crisis Club: Lifetime Member.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, well said. Sadly I’ve withdrawn a bit into single person shooter video games. Not proud of it but it’s a decent proxy for alcohol.

        Liked by 1 person

      • LOL. The boy introduced me to Geoguessr last night. Very addictive for travellers!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Timothy Snyder has an excellent essay up at NYT Magazine entitled “American Abyss” recommended reading, subscribe if you dont already:

    “Our big lie is typically American, wrapped in our odd electoral system, depending upon our particular traditions of racism. Yet our big lie is also structurally fascist, with its extreme mendacity, its conspiratorial thinking, its reversal of perpetrators and victims and its implication that the world is divided into us and them. To keep it going for four years courts terrorism and assassination.”

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I was surprised to see this from you! I like.

    This is what it boils down to, I think, and you nailed it: “They fail to see the connection between his lies and the risk to our democracy, the violence. They fail to see, only feel.”

    When it comes down to feelings, reality is irrelevant, and that’s a dangerous road to travel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kevin and thanks! We are without power following a big storm last night, now going on almost 24 hours without, and I’m reminded of something you wrote about that a while ago. Like “it’s fun for a bit…until it’s not.” Ha, nice to hear from you. Glad you liked, thanks. Not my wheelhouse per se but felt compelled. I guess you might say “our country is our wheelhouse, period.”


  10. Thanks for this Bill. I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how one talks the Trumpies off the ledge. Maybe reasoning/truth is the wrong approach, and I need to go right to the feels. I’ll have to think about that.

    There has definitely been a huge marketing campaign of lies and fear, and the number of outlets and players involved is mind boggling.

    When it comes to Trump I don’t believe for a minute that he really buys into his own narrative, just promotes it as vigorously as he always promotes himself. But some of the FOX folks, politicians and religious leaders involved are scarier, because they almost seem to believe that they really are called to save the country from socialism, demonized Democrats and Satan himself, as do so many of their followers. I think it will have real staying powers, as religious zealotry usually does, and that is particularly sobering to consider.

    Hope you are back to full power and enjoying the last few lovely days we have had. Regards.

    Liked by 1 person

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