2 + 2 = 5

There is nothing subtle about Twitler’s behavior. He lies, he repeats the lie, and his listeners either cower in fear, stammer in disbelief, or try to see how they can turn the lie to their own benefit. Every continental wiseguy, from Žižek to Baudrillard, insisted that when they pulled the full totalitarian wool over our eyes next time, we wouldn’t even know it was happening. Not a bit of it. Twitler’s lies, and hurthis urge to tell them, are pure Big Brother crude, however oafish their articulation. They are not postmodern traps and temptations; they are primitive schoolyard taunts and threats.

The blind, blatant disregard for truth is offered without even the sugar-façade of sweetness of temper or equableness or entertainment—offered not with a sheen of condescending consensus but in an ancient tone of rage, vanity, and vengeance. Twitler is pure raging authoritarian id.

And so, rereading Orwell, one is reminded of what Orwell got right about this kind of brute authoritarianism—and that was essentially that it rests on lies told so often, and so repeatedly, that fighting the lie becomes not simply more dangerous but more exhausting than repeating it. Orwell saw, to his credit, that the act of falsifying reality is only secondarily a way of changing perceptions. It is, above all, a way of asserting power.

When Twitler repeats the ridiculous story about the three million illegal voters—a story that no one who knows, that not a single White House “staffer,” not a single Republican congressman actually believes to be true—he does not really care if anyone believes it, even if, at some crazy level, he does, sort of. People aren’t meant to believe it; they’re meant to be intimidated by it. The lie is not a claim about specific facts; the lunacy is a deliberate challenge to the whole larger idea of sanity. Once a lie that big is in circulation, trying to reel the conversation back into the territory of rational argument becomes impossible.

And so CNN’s Jake Tapper, to his credit, may announce boldly that the story is false from beginning to end—but then he is led by his own caution and sense of professionalism to ask Twitler whether, if he sees it as true, there ought to be an investigation into it. Tapper, like everyone else, knows perfectly well that a minimally honest investigation would turn up no proof of this absurdity at all. But that, of course, is the trap, the game. Watch: there will be a “commission” consisting of experts borrowed from Breitbart; it will hold no hearings, or hold absurdly closed ones; or hold ones with hurt-iitestimony from frequent callers to The Alex Jones Show—and this clownish commission will then baldly conclude that there is, indeed, widespread evidence of voter fraud. And Twitler will reassert the lie and point to his commission’s findings as his evidence.

Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress, thoroughly intimidated, fear shining from one eye and cupidity from the other, will exploit the “question” of voter fraud to pursue policies of actually suppressing minority voters. Caligula, the mad Roman emperor, infamously appointed his horse Incitatus to the Roman Senate, and that has been for millennia a byword for cracked authoritarian action. But we now know what would happen if Caligula appointed his horse to the Senate if the modern Republican Party happened to be in the majority there: first the Republicans would say that they didn’t want to get into disputes about the Emperor’s personnel choices, and then they’d quickly see how the presence of the horse could help justify dismantling regulations in the horse-chariot industry. (“Well, you know, he’s an unorthodox kind of Emperor, so I don’t want to get into that, Jake—but I will say that, whatever the Emperor’s beliefs, we have a very inclusive party, and, if we’re slackening regulations on the stables, I want to point out it’s with the full and welcome participation MCDNIEI EC001of a horse.”) The Emperor’s lunacy and the senators’ larceny match perfectly.

Starting this week, it’s vital that everyone who is trying to maintain sanity understand that this is so—that it is a myth that reason, as normally undertaken, is going to affect this process or that “consequences,” as they are normally understood, will, either. Whenever there is an authoritarian coup rooted in an irrational ideology, well-meaning people insist that it can’t persist because the results are going to be so obviously bad for the people who believe in it, whether it’s the theocratic revolution in Iran or the first truly autocratic Administration in America. Tragically, terribly, this is never the way it works. There is no political cost for Twitler in being seen to be incompetent, impulsive, shallow, inconsistent, and contemptuous of truth and reason. Those are his politics. This is how he achieved power. His base loves craziness, incompetence, and contempt for reason because sanity, competence, and the patient accumulation of evidence are things that allow educated people to pretend that they are superior. Resentment comes before reason.

Adam Gopnik

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2 Responses to “2 + 2 = 5”


  1. 1 nancy a January 28, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    “And in the death,
    As the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy
    Thoroughfare,
    The shutters lifted in inches in Temperance Building,
    High on Poacher’s Hill.
    And red, mutant, eyes gaze down on Hunger City.
    No more big wheels.

    Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats,
    And ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes,
    Coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers,
    Like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love-Me Avenue.
    Ripping and rewrapping mink and shiny silver fox, now leg-warmers.
    Family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald.
    Any day now,
    The year of the Diamond Dogs.

    “This ain’t Rock’n’Roll,
    This is Genocide.”


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