by Rebecca Panovka published in Harper's Magazine
Read original on Harper's Magazine's website
Many quote Hannah Arendt whenever there is even a ...Show description
Posted 614 days ago
That wasn't really what I expected from the title of this piece. Panovka looks to piece apart Hannah Arendt’s arguments, essentially setting the record straight in a time that seems to quote and reference her endlessly (and mostly incorrectly). Panovka's effort is greatly appreciated.
She first tries to establish exactly what Arendt thought about totalitarianism and what we label today as "misinformation":
To Arendt, the “ideal subject” for a regime intending to exercise totalizing control is one who does not ask questions. A thinking subject, even one sympathetic to the aims of the movement, can always dissent.
When we think about today's world, we are much more "polarized" than all part of the same thought-engine. Panovka basically says that the Trumo administration couldn't be totalitarianism, because there was always a huge oart of the country, arguable over half, that constantly rebuked and critiqued Trump's statements and actions.
So what we saw in this presidency, rather than what some people labeled as totalitarianism incorrectly according to Panovka, was rather a typical manifestation of lying politicians. For example, she writes:
According to Arendt, Hitler felt compelled to play along with his predictions, following conspiracies to their inevitable conclusions, often against reason and even self-interest; he was not content to lie without reorganizing the actual world accordingly...To accuse Trump of anything so sophisticated is to misread his lies altogether.
To put it even clearer, she writes:
Mapping Arendt’s framework onto Trump obscures the way his lies operated, and what they were: not totalitarian world-building so much as boardroom bullshit.
And finally, which I don't think anybody could put in clearer words, she writes:
Trump’s lies were not more convincing than those of other presidents; they opened the curtain on an epistemic crisis because they were less convincing, more flagrant. Trump was often accused of “saying the quiet part out loud”—revealing the open secrets politicians generally avoid acknowledging. The rhetorical effectiveness of Trump’s taboo-breaking proved the same thing Arendt gleaned from the Pentagon Papers: the American people already know their politicians aren’t telling them the truth. Trump did not need to create a make-believe world, because he appealed to those who had already lost confidence in the official representations of American political reality.
I was very surprised at the academic rigor of this piece. This is my first issue of Harper's Magazine, and maybe this is just an example of what they tend to publish, but I thought it was super well written.