We’re at the end of a long election campaign with its share of misleading statements, exaggerations and outright falsehoods. Of course, a lack of truthfulness is nothing new in politics.

The American champion of political dishonesty is Donald Trump, but the lies he and his MAGA devotees have promoted are of a different and far more sinister nature than the usual campaign discourse. Trump is not just untruthful. He is waging a war on the very concept of truth. As a would-be authoritarian, Trump is following in the footsteps of dictators like Stalin, Hitler and Putin, who discredit the importance of facts and seek to make the truth irrelevant.

Undermining the importance of the truth is an essential tactic of all dictators. They spread lies because it allows them to lead their followers to accept policies that would otherwise be abhorrent and rejected. The concerted effort to claim the 2020 election was stolen, despite the fact that every objective analysis has proven otherwise, is the culmination of years of Trump grooming his followers to believe lies and disregard any evidence to the contrary. The stolen election Big Lie paves the way for Trump and his followers to actively sabotage fair and honest elections.

Trump laid out his game plan literally from Day One of his administration when he insisted that his inauguration crowd was many times bigger than it was, even though clear photographic evidence showed otherwise. It wasn’t just a misstatement. It was the start of getting MAGA types to believe any lie he spouted. As his top advisor explained the next day about his inauguration lie, the Trump administration would rely on what they labeled as “alternative facts.”

Trump instructed his followers, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” It was a grim echo of a line in George Orwell’s novel "1984" about authoritarianism: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that 70% of Republicans now say that the 2020 election was illegitimate. They have been groomed for years by Trump to ignore, as Orwell said, “the evidence of your eyes and ears” and only believe what Trump tells them to believe. After all, to think that Trump really won an election he lost by more than 7 million votes, they have to disregard the decisions in 62 separate court cases, most overseen by Republican appointed judges, that found there was absolutely no basis to the Big Lie about the presidential election. Even post-election efforts launched by Republicans specifically to try to discredit the election, such as the Arizona Cyber Ninja audit and the disastrous Gableman-Vos investigation here in Wisconsin, came up empty.

Dictators like Vladimir Putin, a leader admired by many MAGA Republicans, have long waged a war on the truth. His attack on Ukraine, with its naked aggression, its torture chambers, its terrorist attacks on the civilian population, constitute the worst war crimes in Europe since Hitler launched World War II. Yet Putin absurdly justifies his Nazi style crimes with the big lie that he is “denazifying Ukraine” — never mind it's the only country in the world (other than Israel) that has had Jews serving as both prime minister and president at the same time.

Truth is the enemy of authoritarianism. That is why it is so viciously attacked, be it by Putin or by Trump. As the Czech freedom fighter Vaclav Havel put it, “If the main pillar of the system is living a lie, then … the fundamental threat to it is living the truth — this is why it must be suppressed more severely than anything else.”

Spencer Black served for 26 years in the state Legislature. He was chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and the Assembly Democratic leader. Since leaving the Legislature, Black has been vice president for conservation for the national Sierra Club and adjunct professor of planning at UW-Madison.

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