Over the course of history, vastly more people have lived under the boot of warlords, monarchs and strongman dictators than have lived in what Winston Churchill called the “sunlit uplands” of freedom and democracy.
So the grand, imperfect American experiment continues to plod ahead. We fought the Civil War to undo the grotesquely anti-democratic institution of slavery. At Gettysburg, President Lincoln called it “a new birth of freedom.”
World War I and World War II were fought to preserve democracy and try to maintain an environment in the world more hospitable to what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the universal four freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
We contained the ambitions of the Soviet Union and in time won the Cold War. We have defended our democracy against the ongoing threat of terrorism and continue to do so.
What the digital age now requires us to defend against is disinformation. The timeless trick of monarchs or dictators to poison the well of information flowing to the people has the power to destroy our democracy.
In times gone by, the spread of disinformation by a dictator was limited by the technology of the time. Even so, Adolph Hitler and his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels spread lies shrewdly enough to get 50 million people killed.
Beyond poisoning the well of information in their own countries, dictators and autocrats in the modern tech/information age such as former Russian KGB (disinformation) agent Vladimir Putin and many others now have the capacity to export their brand of “fake news” to disrupt and destroy free societies.
The lifeblood of a democracy is independently verifiable information. The lifeblood of dictatorship or strongman government is disinformation. In an interview with Lesley Stahl of CBS News’ “60 Minutes” Donald Trump said of his attacks on mainstream journalism and journalists; “I do it to discredit to all and demean you all so when you write negatives stories about me, no one will believe you.”
As it was in the world of George Orwell’s novel “1984,” perhaps in the mind of the “extremely stable genius” objective facts should be illegal.
Though he did not find enough evidence to prove the very hard-to-prove charge that the Russians and the Trump campaign formally conspired or “colluded” during the 2016 campaign, (the honorable) Special Counsel Robert Mueller did prove that the Russians were all over the Trump campaign like fleas on a feral dog and, he concluded, “that should concern every American.”
In 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, as four fascist rebel columns of General Emilio Mola were advancing on the government-held capitol of Madrid, Mola called those within the city sympathetic to his fascists the “fifth column.”
At press conferences with Putin in Helsinki, Finland and Osaka, Japan in June, the disinformation the president displayed an abiding affection and sympathy for the lawless practices of homicidal dictators. It is no exaggeration to say Trump has been a fifth column for many of the world’s thugs.
Possible on some future episode of “Donald Trump and the Chipmunks” (Fox and Friends) we will hear what Winston Smith, the main character in “1984” and a budding dissident recalled, “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”