Charlie Sykes wrote an interesting OP-ED in The Weekly Standard entitled When Everything Is Possible and Nothing Is True.
At first (or second, or third) blush, this seems jarring. But, as Jonah Goldberg has written, conservatism has been beset with what he calls “Alinsky envy” for some time now. Since the left demonizes, slanders, and lies, he noted, a whole cottage industry on the right has been built around the insistence that “We should do it too!”
But this is where Hannah Arendt once again proves her indispensability. Trumpism’s blending of tribalism with transactionalism is also reflected in what Arendt identified as the “curiously varying mixture of gullibility and cynicism” in demagogic politics. In many ways the developments are parallel, as tribalism provides a mass political base that helps politicians and pundits alike rationalize the bargains they make. And the gullibility of voters who take their news from Gateway Pundit or Facebook groups provides the raw material for the cynical acceptance of untruth. Arendt explained the phenomenon this way:
In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true...
This mixture of gullibility and world-weary cynicism, Arendt wrote, dispelled “the illusion that gullibility was a weakness of unsuspecting primitive souls and cynicism the vice of superior and refined minds.”
Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.
The masters of this sort of propaganda understood that they could change their stories with impunity, because they would see their deceptions as a form of 8-dimensional chess.
The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness."
Remarkably, she wrote that nearly 70 years ago, long before the rise of our own alternative reality media ecosystems. But Arendt understood the endgame here; a tsunami of lies isn’t aimed at getting people to believe what the propagandist is saying. Rather, it’s to induce chronic disbelief, or an indifferent shrug. Who knows what to believe? Who cares? What is truth?