The rise of Poland's far right has important lessons for Americans
Of Donald J. Trump. We in the United States have become accustomed to a degree of fabulous. Um I've done more for black Americans than anybody. With the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, the president, self aggrandizement provides the framework for his alternate reality. We have one of the lowest mortality rate way had 900 Deaths in a single day. You have the numbers place because I heard we had the best mortality number one low mortality, right? We are being given something I can't recall in my lifetime, a choice of realities. One that is mostly regarded as evidence based and one that you might call faith based that faith being in Mr Trump In either case, you have a sizable cohort to back you up. Truth has been displaced in many quarters by rage and fear. Over the past four months, we've had many opportunities to observe the impact of paranoia. When deployed by a fantasist in the White House in Arizona Man died after taking Clara Quien, his wife said that they heard about it from Trump's briefings. Are you gonna allow the government to tell you you have to wear a mask? Some believe these mask orders go against their freedoms will protect. All right, I will know asked me and I will not pay for antibiotics. Conspiracies of Sena numbers swell on Facebook and doctors warn, if left unchecked, they could undermine an effective vaccine. The death toll from the Corona virus pandemic has surpassed 150,000 in the United States. That's the highest number of fatalities in any nation by far. And accounts for nearly 1/4 of the recorded global. Told immediately after the 2016 election, I spoke with New York ER writer Masha Gessen, who, after having lived long under Vladimir Putin had some advice for anxious Americans trying to navigate the so called new normal. She explained that for the would be authoritarian, the lying is the point that the ability to create a reality flagrantly staring down conspicuous fact. Is a crucial component of building and sustaining power. And last fall boxes, David Roberts noted bluntly, where such a strategy left unchecked, could lead this sort of cultish, increasingly authoritarian movement takes over the country. In Russia and Turkey and Poland. Right's a disturbingly longer and longer list. We see countries that we thought were democracies devolve into this. In the U. S. So much has happened in the last few years that we thought would never happen. I think we should really loosen up our imaginations as to what can happen when a movement that is convinced that everything it knows and loves is in danger of falling apart movements that's thinking like that unconnected anymore to fax or reality. And got its hands on the power of the federal government is the basic recipe for democracy is falling apart. And so last fall on, the media producer Leia Feder reported on one of those places Poland, a young democracy teetering on unstable ground and where it's far right Nationalist government is intent on rewriting the nation's painful history. For almost a decade, Poland has been in the grip of a conspiracy theory what really happened when a plane crashed in a forest in western Russia, killing Poland's president and dozens of other government officials. The plane had been on route to commemorate another Polish tragedy, a massacre that had occurred in the very same location in 1940. 1973 documentary explored the mystery While the German army is advancing from the West, the Soviets crossed Poland's eastern front court in a method of Polish army collapsed, Um, surrendered. The victors, divided the country down the middle and imprisoned every soldier they captured. Russia took a 215,000 Poland officer Corps were never seen alive again. Many. What die near Smolensk, in a forest called catching after decades of opacity and suspicion on investigation in the early nineties, confirmed finally, that it was not Hitler. But Stalin, who had ordered the massacre. And so when, on April 10th 2010 a delegation of 96 Polish politicians and officials traveled from Warsaw to Smolensk. It was in service of remembrance and reconciliation. But what happened instead compounded the national pain. Poland's prime minister burst into tears when he heard the news today that his country's president was killed in a plane crash pilot tried to land in a thick fog at least twice missing the runway. And ignoring the control tower's direction to divert to another city. Not just losing the president of that country. The first lady, the ahead of the army chief of staff, the National Security Office head deputy Parliament speaker, the deputy foreign minister. It was a devastating national tragedy. What's more, the symbolic layering was undeniable. Ah, longstanding tragedy finally solved and a new one appears in its place. And yet, in the immediate moments and days after the crash, there was a kind of common shock. An Applebaum is a journalist and academic beast in Warsaw At the time of the 2010 crash, her husband was minister of foreign affairs in the Polish government, and there was pretty straightforward reporting. About what had happened. What was immediately clear There were people on the ground who saw the crash. So there was a kind of concensus initially about what had happened that it was a terrible Accident and that you know many people of value to the nation had died. But the story started to shift is the investigation into the crash proceeded. Investigators say pilot error was mostly to blame. It became clear that one of the causes of the crash was the fact that the pilots were under pressure to land. The president's delegation had arrived late for the plane. They were running behind schedule as they got closer to smell lens, which was even really an airport. It was a kind of airstrip in the forest. They began to be worried about the fog and the pilots weren't sure they could make the narrow landing. But according to black box recordings, Polish President Lech Kaczynski, head of the opposition party directed the pilots to do it was meant to be the launch of his reelection campaign. So there were cameras there which he knew, and he was very anxious to go under pressure, the pilots tried to make the landing. Instead, they hit a tree, killing all 96 people on board. The president's twin brother, the head of the nationalist right political party in Poland, same parties, the president He didn't like this story. It made the president look bad, more to the point. This is a terrible crash very near to a place where a Nurlita generation of poles were murdered by the Soviet state. Because of that eeriness. People immediately began to speculate that there was actually a different, deeper story that perhaps the Russians caused the crash. Perhaps there was a bomb on the plane. And conspiracy theories began to proliferate online. The president's brother, Nijinsky began openly alluding to them. Kaczynskis Law and Justice Party made unraveling the Smolensk conspiracy. It's key campaign promise once you had bought into their idea that there is a secret conspiracy, possibly involving the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Possibly involving the Russians, and that lots of people high up in the state were implicated in some great big secret plot to kill the president. If you believe that Then you can believe a lot of other things. The point was to get people to believe in a kind of alternative reality to doubt institutions to doubt that the government was telling them the truth, and that was absolutely an attempt to help win an election, But it did more than carve out a new electorate. It created new divides in Polish society. Where one's Polish politics were split between Communists and anti communists around economic policy. Now it was over a vision of history. It was how you see Poland's place in the world. And whether you think secret dark forces air trying to undermine your country and whether you know you need to elect a government of Patriots in order to make sure that doesn't happen. Where you fell on that dividing line affected how you would vote and how you would understand politics for the next several years, And so when line justice one in 2015 it spawned a new kind of power a power based on the willingness to embrace the myth. They fired large numbers of Polish civil servants. Polish members of the foreign service. All kinds of people who work for the government also leaders and board members of state companies and they replaced all of them with people whom they were sure we're loyal. And one element of the loyalty test was belief in this Molinski myth. Smolinski conspiracy implied that there were dark, mysterious forces continuing to try to manipulate and undermine the Polish nation. It also drawn the larger story of a Poland continually attacked by outsiders and the valiant Polish resistance to threats past and present line Justice Road that narrative electoral victory. And then wrote its electoral victory to further consolidation of that narrative in service of Polish nationalism.