Dissecting The Authoritarian Tactics Driving Trump’s Orwellian Attacks On Biden
In Iowa, Trump falsely claimed he's defending democracy and called Biden the "destroyer of democracy." Trump is using 20th century authoritarian tactics to deflect from his own attacks on democracy.
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There are only six weeks until the Iowa caucuses, and the presidential campaigns are ramping up. In Trump’s case, it’s a disinformation campaign.
In a Saturday appearance at a community college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Donald Trump unleashed one of his most mind-bending attacks on President Biden yet. In an attempt to deflect from his own attacks on democracy, Trump accused Biden of doing exactly what he is guilty of doing.
Donald Trump, who sought to destroy American democracy through a corrupt plot to overturn the 2020 election, accused President Biden of being “the destroyer of American democracy.” Trump claimed he is actually the one trying to defend democracy while he is actively attacking it.
In nearly the same breath that he claimed Biden is attacking democracy, Trump also repeated his democracy-eroding lie that the 2020 election was stolen. Trump claimed Biden is weaponizing the Justice Department as he himself tried to weaponize the DOJ to overturn the 2020 election and promises retribution against his political targets.
While Trump spewed these blatant lies, his campaign handed out “Biden Attacks Democracy” signs to the audience. New York Times politics correspondent Michael Gold snapped a photo of the signs at the event:
CNN Anchor Jim Acosta discussed the signs on his weekend show, saying, “That is some pretty Orwellian stuff. I feel like we’re living in the Upside Down.”
Trump is doing the equivalent of holding a “Biden Attacks Democracy” sign in one hand while repeatedly taking a hammer to democracy with the other. He does this all while telling his base to ignore what they are perceiving with their own eyes and ears.
Acosta is right. This is incredibly Orwellian. These tactics are straight out of “1984,” George Orwell’s iconic book about authoritarian rule. But they resonate far beyond fiction. Trump weaponized some key disinformation tactics used by 20th century fascists.
Calling out lies is great. But breaking down the anatomy of the lies and detailing the authoritarian tactics being utilized is even better. That’s what I’m going to do in this piece.
Here are some of the tactics we’ll cover.
Projection: Falsely accusing the other side of what you’re doing. In this case, Trump accused Biden of weaponizing the Justice Department and destroying democracy, while he has done the exact same.
The democratic cloak: Falsely claiming you’re defending democracy while you’re attacking it.
Let’s dive into what Trump said and how he utilizes these tactics.
The Projection Method
Projection, also known as “accusation in a mirror” or “mirror politics,” is a tactic that’s been widely used by authoritarians throughout history. Accusing a target of what you’re guilty of doing is a technique inspired by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.
We saw a lot of this in Trump’s Cedar Rapids, Iowa speech.
“Biden and his radical left allies like to pose as defenders of democracy,” Trump told his supporters. “But Joe Biden is not the defender of American democracy. Joe Biden is the destroyer of American democracy.”
Donald Trump is blatantly projecting his behavior onto President Biden. Trump is the “radical” one trying to pose as a defender of democracy. Trump is the one who attempted to corruptly overturn the 2020 election in a concerted conspiracy that sought to certify fraudulent electoral votes and waged a baseless crusade of lies that incited an insurrection at the US Capitol.
It’s Trump who has come under fire for echoing fascist dictators by calling his political opponents “vermin,” not Biden. It’s Trump who is promising to implement authoritarian immigration policies, weaponize the Justice Department against his political targets, shut down multiple federal agencies to further centralize power, and use the Insurrection Act to authorize military force against Americans.
Trump is the clear authoritarian threat here, but accusing Biden of doing this gives his base a talking point to deflect from his own actions. It’s an exercise in both-sideism and whataboutism that seeks to disorient the public.
Trump didn’t stop there. He went further in his speech, claiming that Biden has “been weaponizing government against his political opponents.”
This is not true. All available evidence indicates Biden has not been involved in any of the DOJ investigations of Donald Trump, not to mention Special Counsel Jack Smith adds another layer of independence.
On the other hand, not only did Trump abuse his power during his presidency in efforts to investigate his political opponents and to pressure the DOJ to help his plot to overturn the 2020 election, but he literally promised to weaponize the DOJ in this speech where he’s accusing Biden of doing the same.
In the very same speech, Trump said he would “investigate every Marxist prosecutor in America for their illegal, racist-in-reverse enforcement of the law.” Trump has, of course, also promised to use the DOJ to “go after” the Biden family in his second term.
Trump then went on to make an even more brazen projection: “This campaign is a righteous crusade to liberate our republic from Biden and the criminals in the Biden administration.”
Trump faces 91 criminal charges across four indictments, including state RICO charges and federal felonies for his effort to overturn the 2020 election. The hypocrisy is astounding.
The Orwellian nature of this was speech unrelenting. There is a method to this projection madness.
German philosopher Leo Löwenthal discussed this technique in his book on the American pro-fascist movement of the 1940s, “Prophets of Deceit.” Löwenthal explained how this tactic was used by fascists to target President Franklin D. Roosevelt:
“To further muddy the waters, he hurls the accusation of fascism against those who have come to symbolize opposition to fascism. He consistently denounces the New Deal as an effort to introduce totalitarianism in America, and declares that ‘Roosevelt got his technique from Hitler and the Jews.’”
Donald Trump is doing precisely the same thing here with his attacks on Biden.
The Democratic Cloak
Authoritarians always claim they’re the ones protecting democracy while they seek to destroy it. It’s how they make their corrupt cause appear righteous to their supporters.
“If Joe Biden wants to make this race a question of which candidate will defend our democracy and protect our freedoms… We will win that fight and we’re going to win it very big,” Trump said in his Cedar Rapids rally.
This isn’t the first time he’s made the false claim that he’s actually protecting democracy. In June 2021, Trump said he was trying to save democracy:
"I am not the one trying to undermine American democracy. I'm the one who is trying to save it."
This is what authoritarian scholars call a “democratic cloak.” After Trump made that June 2021 claim, I edited an article two scholars, Greta Jasser and Dominik Hammer, co-wrote on this phenomenon in Rantt Media entitled, “How Authoritarians Erode Democracy Under The Guise Of Defending It.”
German philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote about the “democratic cloak” in his book about Martin Luther Thomas, whom Adrono calls an “American fascist-style demagogue.” Adorno broke down the tactics Thomas used in his radio addresses in the 1930s:
“The American attack on democracy usually takes place in the name of democracy. Very often the progressive Roosevelt administration is blamed for being that very dictatorship at which the fascist aims”.
That could have been written in 2023 if you replace Roosevelt with Biden. Trump is very clearly utilizing the same exact tactics.
What makes Trump’s claim that he’s defending democracy even more shameless is that in the same Cedar Rapids speech, he falsely claimed that the 2020 election was “rigged” and “stolen,” continuing his lies that sowed doubt in American democracy and fueled an insurrection.
“The most important part of what is coming up is to guard the vote, and you should go into Detroit, Philadelphia, and some of these places, Atlanta, and you should go into some of these places, and we have to watch those votes.”
We Have To Call This Out
Trump is utilizing so many authoritarian disinformation tactics it’s hard to keep up. But as I wrote about in my piece on right-wing disinformation campaigns, we have to continue to call this out and utilize anti-disinformation tactics, or else we’re doomed to repeat world history and live out the worst predictions from fiction.
“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” - George Orwell, 1984