A "Morning Joe" panel examined President Donald Trump's lie-filled rally in Iowa, where his supporters cheered each falsehood and jeered when he attacked the media.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham compared the display to former President Richard Nixon's lies during the Watergate scandal, but he said Trump's rally was even more like something seen in a totalitarian regime like Nazi Germany or fascist Italy.
"Even now, in regimes like North Korea, where the dear leader speaks and we're all supposed to salute, that what the dear leader says has to be followed, whether it's associated with reality or not, whether it's grounded in reality or not," Meacham said.
The segment opened with a video montage of Trump's falsehoods, which the panel fact-checked against previous reporting, and Meacham said the president's lies undermined some of America's founding principles.
"It's a cult of the state," Meacham said. "It's a cult not of religion and neighborhoods and civic life and an obligation to facts as we perceive them and through common sense, which was a huge part of, really, the American experiment in the beginning. We weren't supposed to just listen to kings and clerics who for 1,000 years had had a monopoly on dictating the terms of reality. The point of the United States was that we all had the ability to look at reality, make our own decisions and participate in a collective enterprise to govern ourselves."
Co-host Mika Brzezinski was troubled that Meacham had to look outside the U.S. to find a parallel to Trump's behavior.
"(This), to me, is extremely disturbing and potentially catastrophic," she said. "Am I ahead of my skis? Am I overstating this?"
MSNBC's Elise Jordan, a former Bush White House and State Department aide, said the president was a proven liar, and his supporters simply didn't care.
"The empirical evidence is there, (but) the difference is that, I believe that a lot of Trump supporters, his most die-hard supporters, see these as little lies," Jordan said. "They see them as lies that don't matter, whereas, you know, they put up with the political class for so many years that has been lying about big things. You know, President (Barack) Obama saying you can keep your insurance. Now they see it as President Obama was spying on the incoming president's team. But this is how Trump supporters perceive it."
Sam Stein, the senior politics editor for HuffPost who is moving to The Daily Beast, said Trump's lies were part of a troubling pattern.
"You have a series of falsehoods peddled at these rallies, and then you combine it with what is objectively a crackdown on the press corps, what's happening at the White House right now, where you don't have live briefings, you don't have audio or video coming from the briefings," Stein said. "Sean (Spicer) and Sarah (Huckabee Sanders) don't talk to the press as much as their predecessors (as White House press secretary). Trump hasn't done an interview in weeks, and what you end up is with an incredibly altered set of realities -- they're not really realities -- being broadcast to voters with little bit of ability to actually question it and probe it, and I think that's a really pernicious development for the American discourse."
Veteran journalist Mike Barnicle pointed out the crowd of supporters had been "hand-selected for the president's amusement," and he asked Stein whether they experienced the rally as a political function or as theater.
"When you talk to some of these people, and you do ask them about what I would say are objectively conspiracy theories or mistruths, you will find out that a lot of them fundamentally do believe it," Stein said. "They're told it, they think it's truth (and) it's very hard to dissuade them of these truths. Some of it is confirmation biases or partisan biases, but some of it is because he has altered the way we consume information. It's just very difficult in this day and age to say, 'This is an objective fact,' when someone is challenging the press corps, limiting the press corps' access, bashing the press corps constantly."
"It does create, what I just said, is a pernicious development that I think we downplay because it's weird and funny and theatrical -- but it's not," Stein added.
"It's not funny," Brezinski said. "It's weird, and it's disturbing."