This article lamenting the power of hate propaganda in open societies notes that "demagogues don't actually need to silence or censor their opponents:"
It turns out their followers are quite happy to succumb to wilful blindness, believing what they want to believe even as contradictory evidence stares them in the face.
One result of this is open societies remain surprisingly susceptible to misinformation that instigates intimidation, discrimination and violence against vulnerable groups. Untruths doled out in hate campaigns find ready buyers even in a free marketplace of ideas.
The unholy appeal of outright lies has been on stunning display in Donald Trump's rise as the Republican candidate for the US presidency. Independent fact-checking organisation PolitiFact has found 71% of his statements to be mostly false, false or in the "pants-on-fire" category.
This phenomenon is not new. More than a decade has passed since satirist Stephen Colbert coined the word "truthiness", referring to stuff that some people lap up because it feels right - even though it definitely isn't.
Sadly, the piece continues, "the invective is not confined to idle gossip, but converted into blueprints for action: remove them; ban their places of worship; censor their viewpoints; restrict their practices; kill them:"
Often this emerges as straightforward hate speech or misinformation that incites hostility, discrimination or violence against a group. Or it is expressed as righteous indignation, accusing the targeted community of behaving in a manner that causes outrage.
These twin tactics - the giving and taking of offence - meld into a potent political strategy that I call "hate spin". Its practitioners manipulate the visceral, tribal feelings of their audience in order to mobilise supporters and defeat opponents in their quest for power.
Jon Chait speculates about the GOP's Age of Authoritarianism and asserts that "the horrors Trump has unleashed are the product of tectonic forces in American politics:"
Trump has revealed the convergence of two movements more extreme than anything in the free world that may yet threaten the democratic character most Americans take as their birthright.
"There is no longer any such thing as a Republican who is not conservative," he writes, which helps explain the worsening polarization:
During the Obama administration, a spate of right-wing primary challenges eradicated what was left of the party's vestigial moderate wing and cowed its remaining mainstream members into submission.
"By Obama's first term," he continues, "authoritarian personalities identified overwhelmingly with the GOP:"
In its preference for simplicity over complexity, and its disdain for experts and facts, the party has steadily ratcheted down its standard of intellectually acceptable discourse: from a doddering Ronald Reagan to Dan Quayle to George W. Bush to Sarah Palin. From this standpoint, Trump is less a freakish occurrence than something close to an inevitability.
He identifies "a course that may sometimes be discomfiting but could satisfy every faction" as "libertarian ends achieved through authoritarian means."
In a September National Review cover story, co-authors Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru, two of the right's most erudite intellectuals, acknowledged that Trump has made some questionable statements that "certainly do not sound like the views of a person with a deep esteem for the constitutionally limited role of the president or for the delicate balance of our system of government." But, they quickly insisted, Hillary Clinton's support for executive actions, laws that create more bureaucracy, and liberal judges poses "a more concrete and specific threat than Trump." Indeed, "mainstream liberalism now subverts and threatens our democracy," and so they concluded that the safer choice, from the standpoint of the republic's stability, would be to hand control of the Executive branch to Trump. This is how a party consensus forms. The more strident wing openly endorses authoritarianism, and the "moderate" wing refrains while agreeing that authoritarianism is still preferable to liberalism.
No matter how awful Trump actually is, in other words, their fears of Hillary are much worse--such as, to quote one such example, Maine's Republican governor Paul LePage exclamation that "every single day we're slipping into anarchy." Although "Trump will probably lose," Chait continues, "That loss will provide little more than a temporary reprieve:"
The Republican-controlled House will be as conservative as ever, perhaps even more so. All the nice-¬sounding legislative programs Clinton offered up to soothe her restless base on the left -- affordable child care and college, improvements to Obamacare, -infrastructure -- will be dead on arrival, making Clinton appear ineffectual. Or worse than ineffectual: Republicans will crank up the investigative machinery and produce endless media coverage of ¬scandals, real or trumped up.