You Cannot Speak Reason to Totalitarianism
There’s a piece I stumbled upon this morning from Forbes from way back in 2014, two years before Donald Trump would announce his run for the Presidency. The piece describes a form of government between a Democracy and a dictatorship, a hybrid of the two: Elected dictatorships. Countries like Russia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Egypt, Turkey, the former Ukraine, and Georgia. These countries elect their leaders, but virtually everything else about the government resembles a dictatorship.
Here’s how those elected dictatorships are described:
Media owned by the leader’s cronies; economy dominated by same; opposition politicians constantly harassed, prosecuted, or in danger of prosecution; state and religion hand in glove; judiciary pressured to comply with government’s diktat; independence of educational institutions relentlessly subverted; corruption ubiquitous in state institutions; free markets victimized by political expediency; foreign NGO’s scapegoated. And oh yes - almost invariably the country’s woes get blamed on sinister outside conspirators.
Does that ring familiar? We’re not all the way there yet, but my god, each day, we inch terrifyingly closer. In November, we’ll find out just how close we are, not based on the election results themselves, but based on how “free” and “fair” those elections are, a pressing concern given the fact that Trump repeated just yesterday that he believes Putin when he says that Russia did not interfere with our elections and the fact that Trump will be meeting with Putin soon.
How many dictatorships do you know in the history of the world have ended by voting the dictator out of office? Dictatorships typically end in one of two ways: The dictator dies and the hold he has over the country evaporates, or armed conflict. We can’t rely on Trump suffering a heart attack to save us, and, well, we can’t take up arms against Republicans because 1) that’s not who we are, and 2) we’ll get our asses kicked.
So, we probably have a short window here to actually do something about it. But here’s the thing about elected dictators and most of their supporters: You can’t talk reason with totalitarianism. Spend any amount of time on social media, and all you’ll see is our side trying to make a convincing case for how wrong they are; or how hypocritical they are; or how horrible they are on any number of issues.
We’re not changing anyone’s minds with that. It may make us feel better to believe that we’ve scored a point on the way to a Pyrrhic victory, but it means nothing. You cannot speak reason to totalitarianism. You can point out how hypocritical Mitch McConnell is until you’re blue in the face, but he will not change.
So, what’s the alternative? How do you beat back totalitarianism if armed conflict is out of the question and reason is useless? You offer a better alternative. That’s it. That’s the only chance we have. We have to offer a better alternative, and then we have to promote that alternative.
Mind you: This is not a call for civility. We must still resist. Organize. March. Protest. But we have to be like a cop directing traffic: Stopping the inflow of totalitarianism with one hand while directing the free flow of democracy with the other.
What does that mean? I think it means that instead of shitting on Trump all day, we promote a better alternative. You’ll never convince a Trump supporter that Trump is bad, but you might convince them of someone better. More importantly, you give our voters a positive reason to go to the polls. Hell, let’s get Fox News to promote our agenda for us!
I mean, seriously? How is any of that bad?
It’s so simple, but positivity works. I can yell at my kids not to do something 74 times and they won’t listen, but give them a better alternative, and they’ll listen every time. You just gotta go out there and find someone or something to be positive about, and there’s plenty of it out there buried under the blanket of hate that Trump has covered us with. I saw it yesterday at the Senate. I saw it the night before in the Bronx. I see it now in the way that journalists have come together in support of the Capital Gazette.
Obama spoke at a Democratic fundraiser last night, and he had some “tough love” for the audience, but one thing stood out in that speech. “They are mad even when they win,” he exclaimed. “Have you noticed that? They don’t look happy at all!”
It’s true! But instead of taking satisfaction in their misery, let’s give ourselves something to feel happy about, because like the rest of you, I am sick to death of feeling like this.
A final note. I write one of these political pieces nearly every morning, and when I dip down into the comments, there’s usually a lot about the dumpster fire we currently live in, or something else terrible happening, how horrible this or that person is. Today, can we just try something: Tell us about someone you’re hopeful about, be it at the national or local level. I just want to see what that feels like. Personally, I am happy that Jason Kander has decided to return to Kansas City and run for mayor. He is a good goddamn man in hostile midwest territory, but as mayor of K.C., he can make positive change for a lot of people.
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