Crossing the Line into Totalitarianism

6 mins read
Image from pxhere. Public domain.

On Fox News, Trump said this about Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch: “She wouldn’t hang my picture in the embassy. She is in charge of the embassy. She wouldn’t hang it. It look a year-and-a-half, two years to get the picture up. She said bad things about me … This was not an angel this woman, okay?”

There are so many things wrong with this.

So Trump is that thin-skinned that he would recall a U.S. Ambassador who served for 33 years—including taking fire in countries he’s afraid to visit— because he thinks she didn’t hang his picture up fast enough?

Or because of a rumor that she said something bad about him?

This kind of thinking, “An ambassador may have said something bad about the president, so he recalls her and ruins her reputation,” is what happens in what Hungarian scholar Bálint Magyar calls “mafia states.”

In fact, the way to understand what Trump and Giuliani were doing in Ukraine is that they were attempting to turn the US into a mafia state modeled on Putin’s Russia.

Magyar’s scholarship on post-Soviet Union mafia states explains what Trump and Giuliani were doing.

Timothy Snyder’s work provides the historical background.

According to Magyar, Mafia states — like Putin’s Russia — develop as the government takes over businesses. As the ruler consolidates power and wealth, both wealth and power come to be concentrated in one person. Eventually, the entire state comes under the control of the head of the family and expands across the entire country.

The ruler ends up literally owning the country.

The fact that there is no evidence to support Trump’s accusation is important. Trump doesn’t need evidence. In the kind of state he envisions, the truth is whatever he says it is.

We learned how that works from George Orwell: Ignore any evidence of your eyes and ears. The Leader said she is disloyal. That is enough.

In fact, the Orwellian methods work better when there is no evidence. People must be conditioned into believing whatever the Leader says.

The best way to do that is to insist on the truth of his utterances in the face of contrary evidence.

Here we are moving from autocracy into totalitarianism.

In an autocracy, the people obey. Under totalitarianism, people must obey because they WANT to obey, because their minds can literally allow no contrary thought or idea.

Remember when Tim Morrison testified that after speaking to Trump, “Ambassador Sondland related that there was no quid pro quo but President Zelensky had to make the statement and he had to want to do it.”

The “he had to want to do it” part smacks of totalitarianism, along with the idea that the Leader must never have reason to suspect that anyone is disloyal, even in their hearts.

So that I don’t end this piece on such a gloomy note, observe that Giuliani took steps to launch what we might call Operation Ukraine Shakedown in late 2018 and early 2019.

(They were building on false narratives planted earlier, but you can see on my timeline when Operation Shakedown was launched.)

The timing is significant because they launched their operation just after the midterms when the GOP suffered large losses.

It appears to me that Trump and Giuliani knew if they didn’t pull off something big, Trump would go down in a landslide loss in 2020.

What we’ve learned from the testimony so far is how corrupt mafia states use corrupt prosecutions and investigations for political advantage.

Trump’s plan (which we see in multiple places) is to try to repeat the “Her Emails” manufactured scandal, which resulted from a politically motivated investigation.

We know it was politically motivated because the same people who hounded Clinton didn’t care if Sondland and Trump talked about Zelenskiy loudly on a cell phone that the Russians were no doubt monitoring.

Politically motivated investigations enable corrupt leaders to create a situation where it appears that ALL politicians are corrupt. This is the easiest way to kill democracy, because if all politicians are corrupt, it doesn’t matter who wins an election.

It creates tribalism: “Trump is a lying crook, but he’s our lying crook. Biden [or Clinton, or whoever] is the enemy lying crook. Let’s stick with our own lying crook.] It’s a method copied directly from Putin.

But now we’re on to it.

If you missed it, here’s the NBC New Op-Ed piece I published Thursday.

[View as a Twitter thread]

Originally published on MUSING ABOUT LAW, BOOKS, AND POLITICS. Re-published with permission.

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Teri has written novels, short stories, nonfiction for both young readers and adults, and lots of legal briefs. She is currently working on a book on disinformation to be published by Macmillan Publishers. Her political commentary has appeared on the NBC Think Blog and Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Slate Magazine, and Scope Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in the American Literary View, The Iowa Review, and others. For twelve years she maintained a private appellate law practice limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings. She believes with the ACLU that when the rights of society's most vulnerable members are denied, everybody's rights are imperiled. She also believe with John Updike that the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. Teri lives with her family on the beautiful central coast in California.

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