Biden’s Challenge: How do you campaign against a lying, neofascist cult leader?



On lies and Truth, see

1) Margaret Sullivan, “Fact-checking Trump’s lies is essential; It’s also increasingly fruitless,” Washington Post, August 29, 2020 (7:00 a.m. EDT).

2) Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Chapter 10 (2017).

3) “Trump’s tsunami of lies,” The Trenchant Observer, February 7, 2017.

Snyder writes:

10. Believe in truth.

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

President Donald J. Trump has succeeded in creating a personality cult whose followers know only one truth–whatever he says–and a circus atmosphere in which even those who are not cult followers are faced with a sea of propaganda and misinformation which at times make it appear that Trump has destroyed the very concept of Truth.   Perhaps, with half the voters, he has.  In doing so, in fact, Trump  has followed one of the most basic rules in the fascist* playbook.


“Should Biden debate Trump?” The Trenchant Observer, September 2, 2020.

The answer is far from clear.  Trump may persuade a majority of voters that his alternate-universe version of the facts constitutes the Truth, or that his Truth is the only one that matters.

Josef Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda, was careful to limit the government’s lies to those that were essential to a particular purpose, with a view to maintaining overall credibility.

Trump, on the other hand, has long ago blown through any concerns about maintaining overall credibility. If you are a member of the cult, you have to believe everything. If you are a high-level collaborator, you have to accept everything, including all of the lies and fabrications. To demonstrate that you do, you have to repeat them, as if they were you own.

So how can Biden campaign against Trump and defeat him in the election, and manage the transition so that he actually assumes power on January 20, 2021?

Is there any way to pierce Trump’s propaganda bubble?

Biden has made a superb choice in Kamala Harris, who with extraordinary proecutorial skills can help Biden try to pierce that bubble. They should keep pressing Trump on the factual and analytical level, every day, as hard as they can.

But more is needed. They need to press their attack on the emotional level. We are in a situation like that in Germany in 1932, where the battle is being fought on the level of mass propaganda and manipulation of mass emotions.

What is needed are measures that will cut through the mass propaganda and misinformation bubble of the Trump Cult and his Collaborators, and speak powerfully on an emotional level to potential voters.

How do you do that?


Regarding the COVID-19:pandemic, on the rational channel, you can point to the numbers of new and cumulative infections and deaths, while stressing the facts of how Trump has bungled management of the crisis.

But what can you do on the emotional channel?  You need to find a means of communication that bypasses the rational and analytical part of the brain, and its defenses (which can be very powerful in the case of a cult believer); and appeal directly to the emotions.

One way to do that would be to sponsor the publication in local, regional amd national newspapers, and on television and social media, of the names of all those who died from COVID-19 the day before, or on the most recent day for which information is available. Just the names, and home towns. Day after day. This could fill up four or five pages of a newspaper.  The impact would be great, as it is when you see the individual names inscribed on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington.


A second step Biden and Harris should take, NOW, would be to create a Democratic Task Force on Crime and Public Order, which would be charged with determining who is behind the violence and the burning and the looting in towns where such actions have taken place.  Were white vigilante groups involved?  Were the Russians involved, e.g., in shutting down state and city computer systems at the time of the George Floyd demonstrations in Minneapolis?  When a second group came in after peaceful demonstrators had left for home, who were they, and who organized and coordinated their movements and actions?

The Task Force should also look into policing. But the sharpest focus between now and the election should be on finding out what groups are behind the violence, and urging state officials to effectively prosecute violent criminals where good evidence exists.

The Task Force should report on its findings every week between now and the election.

While the facts and analysis of the Task Force will be important,  the fact that Biden has constituted it and it is working, today, will have the  most important impact, on the emotional level, on voters and potential voters.  It should not be named and forgotten, but rather given prominence, every day and particularly at the time of its televised weekly reports. It should demonstrate that Democrats are taking the lead, and actually doing something constructive on the issue.

Such a measure would go far to undercut Trump’s “law and order” attack on Biden. It would demonstrate that Biden cares deeply about public order, and will bring the experience and expertise of leaders in the field to devising effective measures to maintain public order. The Task Force should look at police reform, but view its task as laying the groundwork for a subsequent commission focused on this larger task, after Biden assumes office.

How much prominence to be given to the Task Force is a question for Biden’s strategists to decide.  On the one hand, Biden may be reluctant to amplify the Trump’s messages  by playing on his turf.  On the other, the Task Force could be useful if crime and violence becomes a major issue in the campaign.

Biden also needs to sharply denounce the hassling of Republican politicians, as occurred outside the White House following Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday, August 27.


“Democrats’ silence gives “law and order” advantage to Trump–the most lawless president in U.S. history,” The Trenchant Observer, June 28, 2020.


Biden ought to become the real “law and order” candidate, even if he eschews that emotionally-laden term. He should sell himself as the “law” candidate, as in Rule of Law and respect for the Constitution.

And he should sell himself as the real “public order” candidate, as one who will end police tactics that violate the law, as one who will not seek to provoke violence to further his own political goals, and as one who will protect each and every person from violent crime, from whatever quarter. He will be the “Public Order” and “Rule of Law” candidate who will seek to calm spirits while urging effective prosecution of any who commit crimes of violence.

These steps should help steal Trump’s thunder, and puncture his bubble of lies.

Taking such tough stands, on an emotional level, may be exactly what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris need to do to win the election in November, and to take office in a peaceful transition of power in January, 2021.

The Trenchant Observer


*Definition of “fascist”:

1) Collins Concise English Dictionary © HarperCollins Publishers::
fascist /ˈfæʃɪst/(sometimes capital)
1. an adherent or practitioner of fascism
2. any person regarded as having right-wing authoritarian views

Also: fascistic /fəˈʃɪstɪk/
characteristic of or relating to fascism

2) WordReference Random House Unabridged Dictionary of American English © 2020

fas•cist (fash′ist),

1. a person who believes in or sympathizes with fascism.
2. (often cap.) a member of a fascist movement or party.
3. a person who is dictatorial or has extreme right-wing views.

Also, fa•scis•tic (fash′ist), of or like fascism or fascists.
fa•scis′ti•cal•ly, adv.

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.