I had a conversation the other day with someone close to me, who I hadn’t seen for a while. It went (verbatim) like this:
“Yes, he’s horrible,” I answered.
“It’s a good thing he can’t do any lasting harm.”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“They’re not going to let him get away with it.”
“Who’s not going to let him get away with it?” I asked.
“Which people?” I asked.
“Protesters. Journalists. And our institutions are strong. Nothing really bad can happen to America.”
“How about us? Aren’t there things we could be doing? Everyone needs to do their part, otherwise things fall apart. Bad things can definitely happen, and have already happened. This is how democracies die — we basically give permission to autocrats because we assume ‘others’ are fighting. Look at history” I said.
“They are, Peter! They are fighting! And they’re not going to let anything bad happen. What power do WE have? And anyway, it’s hard to know who’s telling the truth these days. How do we even know who’s right?”
As Roger Cohen wrote in The New York Times yesterday:
“There are many things that concern me about the Trump presidency — in fact, few don’t — but the frivolous blurring of truth and untruth, fact and falsehood, is the most grave. Liberty depends on facts. When the distinction between truth and lies disappears there is no basis for the rational discourse on which the organization of a free society, governed by laws, depends. Disorientation propagates itself — and disoriented people are more inclined to accept a despot as sole font of truth.”
And that, folks, is how democracies die.
I highly recommend that you read Roger Cohen’s NYT OpEd.