There once was a state called the Soviet Union. It included places as wide-ranging as Lithuania (now part of the European Union), Kazakhstan (part of Europe as far as UEFA is concerned) and Kyrgyzstan (definitely not part of Europe). It was an intricate part of what was known as the Cold War, which pitted it, and its Central and Eastern European satellites, against “the West.”
The Soviet Union and its satellites were terrible places. They did terrible things. They represented totalitarian regimes which subjected — or at least attempted to — every aspects of their citizens’ lives to their control. They manipulated — or at least tried to manipulate — how their citizens perceived reality. In short, they constantly told half-truths. The Soviet Union had two major newspapers: Pravda (truth) and Izvestia (news). There was a joke at the time: There is no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia. Those who have no recollection of the mechanisms of totalitarianism might want to read Milan Kundera, the Czech author of “The Incredible Lightness of Being” and “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting,” forced into exile for exposing the lies that informed communist rule in his country.
How MAGA Sunk the United States
One of the central ploys of the system represented by the Soviet Union was to rewrite history. This was particularly pronounced during Stalin’s times. Those who fell prey to Stalin’s reign of terror not only disappeared from public life, they were also expunged from public memory as if they had never existed. The regime employed an army of censors who did little else than to scour official pictures and “Photoshop,” to use a current term, anyone who had become an “unperson” — such as Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev and Rykov — out of these pictures.
The same thing happened in China. The most famous case was Lin Biao, once Mao’s number two man and presumed successor. Lin died in a plane crash while trying to escape to the Soviet Union after allegedly plotting a coup. In the aftermath of the crash, he was “dropped down Orwell’s memory hole, all those pictures of him with Mao were expunged from the official record.”
Dustbin of History
In the 1970s and 1980s, numerous Western political scientists specializing in Soviet politics made a career out of comparing official pictures published in major Soviet papers to see who stood next to whom on the walls of the Kremlin during major parades. The point was to figure out who was in favor and who had fallen out.
The Soviet Union has long disappeared, its empire confined — to use a phrase famously coined by Leon Trotsky — to the dustbin of history. Ironically enough, it has found a new lease on life in the most unlikely of places: the United States. As they used to say in Honecker’s East Germany, learning from the Soviet Union means learning how to win (or be victorious). Over the past weeks, the Trump administration has gone to great lengths to rewrite history. Here is a president who just a few weeks ago characterized the panic over COVID-19 a “hoax.” This is a president who assured the American public that there was nothing to worry about, that this was little more than the flu. This is a president who assured his citizens that the country was in excellent shape to deal with the disease.
This is a president who refused — MAGA requires consistency after all — to accept outside help (from the World Health Organization) when offered, only to fall flat on his face and, in the process, wasting precious time. This is a president who just a few weeks ago claimed that the crisis was under control and that for some undisclosed reasons it would somehow miraculously fade away. This is a president who just a few days ago went on record saying that his country should go back to business as usual by Easter.
The result has been a national disaster likely to lead to a national catastrophe for a country that is short of virtually everything necessary to confront the epidemic. By now, the United States has turned into a global hotspot far surpassing China at the height of its outbreak. This has largely been the result of the Trump administration’s utter dismissal of the threat to public health, its consistent refusal to face reality, its mismanagement and moral corruption.
True to its nature, Donald Trump and his entourage have busied themselves rewriting history. After downplaying the threat posed by the coronavirus for weeks, the president now insists that he always knew that this was going to be a “killer of historic proportions.” After dismissing concerns about the virus as a hoax, he now claims that he always knew it “could be horrible.” Sean Hannity too, after repeatedly characterizing the virus scare on his widely viewed Fox news program as fabrication by the Democrats, now suddenly reversed course, insisting he had never thought that the virus was a hoax.
His brother-in-arms, the conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh — who, in another Orwellian twist, was bestowed the Medal of Freedom by Trump, one of the nation’s highest honors — at least has shown consistency in his utter disregard for reality bordering on delusion. As late as March 31, Limbaugh claimed that COVID-19 hospitalization rates were exaggerated. Fox News, ever eager to lick the boots of the dear leader, followed suit.
Disregard for Reality
This brings us back to the Soviet Union. The Soviet system was, in part, based on a fundamental disregard for reality. The story went that Soviet leaders, when moving around the country, would draw curtains so they did not have to be confronted with reality. Obviously enough, in the current situation, the country which claims to be the greatest in the world has a hard time confronting the fact that it is short of the most basic stuff to confront this crisis, from protective masks and other basic medical equipment to toilet paper. And because of a fundamental failure on the part of the leadership to appreciate the gravity of the situation earlier this year, it is tempting to fundamentally rewrite history and embellish the record.
This is the third stage of a process that starts with denial and dismissal, moves on to the recognition of what no longer can be denied only to end up in stubborn insistence that the first stage had never happened at all or, at least, not the way it might appear. Provided it did happen, it was never intended to be taken at face value. If the audience failed to understand the true meaning of the message, it obviously lacked the intellectual acuity and semiological finesse necessary to decipher Trump’s rhetorical subtlety and appreciate its intention.
This, in a nutshell, has been Trump’s modus operandi over the past few weeks. Today, the strategy is to deny that what everybody knows that it happened — and what can easily be checked online — in fact never took place. Unfortunately for this administration, YouTube videos are easily accessible and, to make things worse, cannot be easily manipulated.
Donald Trump has come to the realization that what his country is faced with is something akin to a war. In the face of war, national unity and solidarity usually trump (pun intended) all other considerations. On the eve of World War I, for instance, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm famously declared that “Should there be battle, all political parties will cease to exist! I, too, have been attacked by one party or another. That was in times of peace. It is now forgiven with all my heart. I no longer think in terms of parties or confessions; today we are all German brothers and only German brothers.”
Against that, Trump has continued to play political games in a situation where the well-being of America’s most important states is at stake. His hatred of blue states such as California, and particularly New York, is so profound, that he went on record suggesting that the shortage of masks in New York City hospitals was the result of massive theft. This led one prominent doctor to tweet: “Accusing heroic healthcare workers in NYC of stealing #PPE and #ventilators is an all-time low from @realDonaldTrump. They deserve our praise, and they get slapped in the face from this pitiful man. They give more of themselves in one shift than he could give in 1000 lifetimes.”
Politics and Trump’s personal acrimony toward governors who don’t show enough appreciation and gratefulness for his benevolence and magnanimity also appear to have influenced the distribution of medical equipment from the country’s strategic stockpile. Some states, such as Florida (red, where Trump likes to golf), received relatively lavish supplies, others, such as Massachusetts (blue), significantly less than they need. Under the circumstances, the suspicion that this might have more to do with personal resentment for those who won’t vote for him in the fall than rational allocation considerations based on need is hardly farfetched.
The Roman historian Livy warned that history should be written sine ira et studio — without anger and bias. In the current situation, this is hard to do. In the face of a potential human catastrophe that could cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of American lives, causing tremendous physical and psychological suffering — resulting from the callousness of an administration that has elevated the stroking of the fragile ego of its narcissistic leader to the level of raison d’état, dispassionate analysis is virtually impossible.
This cannot be reiterated enough: We cannot allow this administration — its toadies, minions, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, now inexplicably leading a “shadow” coronavirus task force, its sycophants and acolytes in the Senate, and particularly at Fox News and talk radio, the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity — to whitewash their record and expunge their vile and noxious comments from the public record. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never was so much life-threatening havoc wrought on so many by so few.
The Soviet regime ultimately collapsed not only because it was no longer in a position to compete economically, and particularly technologically, with the West. Its downfall was hastened by ignoring reality and manipulating the truth, neither of which was a sustainable proposition. Leaders such as East Germany’s Erich Honecker were so wrapped up in their own delusions, they proved completely incapable of reading the signs of the time. Yet, as Mikhail Gorbachev famously put it in November 1989 in East Berlin, “Those who are late will be punished by history” and, to repeat Trotsky, end up in the dustbin of history — where they belong.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.