And it works. When I recently described this mechanism on Twitter, some users argued that the press secretary didn’t lie, adding photos of the crowd as seen from the podium. A fierce discussion ensued about the number of people in the audience and camera angles – even though it’s a fact that fewer people were present than during Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
Now the lie about the crowd at an inauguration seems relatively trivial. But it achieves something enormous.
First, it’s a demonstration of power: they present the media with new "facts" and monitor who repeats them dutifully; all the rest can expect repression.
Second, we question our senses more than we used to. We are fighting about things that are obvious. Faced with constant inconsistencies, we are exhausted and give up – and obvious falsehoods first creep into the domain of the thinkable and then into the domain of reality.
Once established, this mechanism makes it easier to lie even about the big things. "All Muslims are criminals," for example – and suddenly we are debating crime statistics instead of defending the achievement that suspicion based on birth or religion has no place in a democracy.
Confronted with such lunacy, sometimes people no longer trust their own eyes and ears. And that’s exactly what people like Donald Trump aim for.
It’s a fight against reason. People can control perception. The Enlightenment taught us to make good use of that. Trying to take perception away from people therefore is an act of anti-Enlightenment.
Members of a free society have to reassure each other every day that this lunacy isn’t normal. That lies are lies. That there are certain principles in our society that aren’t up for debate, and questioning them isn’t covered by free speech.
The new right-wing governments and parties are currently forcing democratic societies to fight again for values we had already won. To lose this battle would be simply disastrous.
We have to start by trusting our senses and our reason.
Totalitarian methods have to be called out. It’s time to confront them.
Translated by Franziska Roscher