Tag Archives: Big Lie

Living In Wacko World

There is much that I don’t understand about the Americans who continue to support Donald Trump and the Big Lie. There’s even more I don’t understand about today’s GOP, which looks absolutely nothing like the political party to which I devoted some 35 years.

Here’s a smattering of what I don’t get:

  • How do these people explain away the hysterical refusal of the Trump mob to testify to Congress or hand over documents? If they have nothing to hide, why would they act this way? From my lawyering days, I still remember the concern of criminal defense lawyers that a client’s failure to testify would be taken by a jury as evidence that the client had something to hide; in fact, there was a standard (and undoubtedly ineffective) jury instruction to the effect that the jury should refrain from making that obvious assumption.
  • How do they justify the rage and recriminations focused on the few members of the GOP who voted to repair the nation’s decaying infrastructure–especially when Trump tried and failed for four years to have his own “Infrastructure week”? Don’t they drive on our crumbling roads and worry about our failing bridges? How do they explain to themselves and others the GOP insistence that defeating anything  President Biden wants is more important than actually getting things that obviously need to be done, done?
  • What in the world prompts Republicans to threaten “reprisals” for the indictment of Steve Bannon? Bannon was indicted for contempt of Congress. There is no quarrel with the accuracy of the charge: he publicly refused to testify to the committee investigating the January 6th insurrection, and just as publicly refused to provide documents Congress identified. If individuals can ignore Congressional subpoenas, if they can thumb their noses at lawful investigations, we are really in Wild West territory. Yet members of the GOP are warning that Democrats’ efforts to force Bannon to comply “paves the way for them to do the same if they take back the House in 2022.”  According to the Washington Post report linked above, “most high-profile GOP leaders have quickly turned Bannon’s indictment into the latest litmus test for loyalty to the former president.”

This is evidently where we are: if the rule of law gets in the way of partisan loyalties, well, the rule of law must go.

What must also go in this world-view is the First Amendment of the  U.S. Constitution.

Last week, Trump’s disgraced former national security advisor, former General Michael Flynn, spoke at a “Reawaken America” conference in San Antonio, Texas. (According to multiple reports, the conference was intended to reinforce the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, and to support the argument that vaccine requirements infringe Americans’ liberties.) Flynn told the audience: “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God.”

The former national security adviser also characterized the investigation into the riot as “the insurrection crucifixion” and likened House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Pontius Pilate. “This is a crucifixion of our First Amendment freedom to speak, freedom to peacefully assemble. It’s unbelievable,” Flynn said.

Flynn’s speech was one of the more explicit endorsements of what the Rightwing political fringe has clearly wanted–and what respect for the rule of law has impeded–a “Christian” nation. (Actually, a nation ruled by White Christian males.)

This is hardly the first time Flynn gets attention for his statements that seem to go against some of the basic tenets of American democracy. In May, Flynn said at a QAnon conference that a military coup like the one that took place in Myanmar “should happen” in the United States. Flynn was Trump’s national security adviser for less than a month and resigned after it was revealed he lied about conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Flynn twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and Trump pardoned him.

What I don’t get–what I cannot wrap my head around–is how non-mentally-ill Americans (even those who get their “news” from Fox) can look at these and so many other examples of the GOP assault on logic, democracy, reality and the rule of law and tell themselves that they are the behaviors of “true Americans.”

If gerrymandering delivers Congress to the GOP next year, we are going to be living in a very different country than the one in which most of us grew up.

 

Truly Terrifying Data…

Earlier this month, Thomas Edsall investigated the phenomenon that has most reasonable, rational citizens incredulous: the significant number of Americans who believe what has been dubbed “the Big Lie.

Just who believes the claim that Donald Trump won in 2020 and that the election was stolen from him? Who are these tens of millions of Americans, and what draws them into this web of delusion?

Three sources provided The Times with survey data: the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Poll, P.R.R.I. (the Public Religion Research Institute) and Reuters-Ipsos. With minor exceptions, the data from all three polls is similar.

Edsall quotes a political science professor from the University of Massachusetts for a summary of the data:

About 35 percent of Americans believed in April that Biden’s victory was illegitimate, with another 6 percent saying they are not sure. What can we say about the Americans who do not think Biden’s victory was legitimate? Compared to the overall voting-age population, they are disproportionately white, Republican, older, less educated, more conservative and more religious (particularly more Protestant and more likely to describe themselves as born again).

Once again, the evidence connects Trumpism, and the alternate reality inhabited by Trumpets, with racism and fear of the “other.” P.R.R.I. tested for agreement or disagreement with so-called “replacement theory” —the belief that  “Immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background” — and found that 60 percent of Republicans agreed, as do 55 percent of conservatives.

Edsall also probed the connection between authoritarianism and opposition to immigration, quoting from a recent academic paper:

Right-wing authoritarianism played a significant role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In subsequent years, there have been numerous “alt-right” demonstrations in the U.S., including the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that culminated in a fatal car attack, and the 2021 Capitol Insurrection. In the U.S., between 2016 and 2017 the number of attacks by right-wing organizations quadrupled, outnumbering attacks by Islamic extremist groups, constituting 66 percent of all attacks and plots in the U.S. in 2019 and over 90 percent in 2020.

As he explained, the term “social dominance orientation” refers to the belief that society should be structured by group-based hierarchies–that certain groups should be dominant over others. There are actually two inter-related components to the orientation: group-based dominance and anti-egalitarianism. People with a social dominance orientation prefer hierarchies and–importantly–approve of the use of force/aggression to maintain them. Anti-egalitarianism manifests itself as a preference to maintain these hierarchies through means other than violence, through systems, legislation, and social structures.

Studies of the 2016 primaries found that Trump voters were unique compared to supporters of other Republicans in the strength of their “group-based dominance.”

The column quotes from a scholarly paper, “The Existential Function of Right-Wing Authoritarianism,” to answer the question that most baffles the rest of us: why do people embrace authoritarianism?

It may seem ironic that authoritarianism, a belief system that entails sacrifice of personal freedom to a strong leader, would influence the experience of meaning in life through its promotion of feelings of personal significance. Yet right-wing authoritarianism does provide a person with a place in the world, as a loyal follower of a strong leader. In addition, compared to purpose and coherence, knowing with great certainty that one’s life has mattered in a lasting way may be challenging. Handing this challenge over to a strong leader and investment in societal conventions might allow a person to gain a sense of symbolic or vicarious significance.

Furthermore,

perceptions of insignificance may lead individuals to endorse relatively extreme beliefs, such as authoritarianism, and to follow authoritarian leaders as a way to gain a sense that their lives and their contributions matter.

In other words, right-wing authoritarianism, serves an existential meaning function–it provides reassurance “that one’s life matters.”

Political psychologists tell us that individuals who are “cognitively inflexible and intolerant of ambiguity” are more likely to become “captive audiences for ideological, political or religious extremists whose simplistic world-views gloss over nuance.”

It’s worth reminding ourselves that–while today’s threats are mostly from the Right, Leftwing zealots are cut from the same cloth. Fanatics are fanatics.

Edsall quotes other academics who confirm the connection between authoritarianism and racism, and he explores what the research tells us about intellectualism versus anti-intellectualism, the conflicts between individuals with different moral commitments, and the elements that may lead to radicalization–especially the willingness to use violence in furtherance of one’s moral commitments. What, in other words, distinguishes those who hold extreme views from those who violently act on them?

I encourage you to click through and read the entire essay, which explains a lot. What it doesn’t explain, unfortunately, is what we can do to salvage the American Experiment.

 

 

Even A Stopped Clock…

On Wednesday morning, the GOP is very likely to strip Liz Cheney of her House leadership position.

I detested Dick Cheney, and I have no warmer feelings for his daughter. She has routinely staked out “conservative” positions that I oppose–as one pundit recently opined, she is one of the House members who have been most protective of the wealthy, most willing to sacrifice the environment, and most willing to ignore injustice. Just this last year, she’s voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, against the Paycheck Fairness Act, against an expansion of background checks, and against the American Dream Act.

Evidently, she also voted against removing Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees.

Judging by those votes, Cheney would seem to be a perfect representation of today’s Republican orthodoxy. So why are her equally regressive GOP colleagues seemingly out for her blood? Because–despite her track record of really extreme partisanship– she has refused to participate in “the Big Lie.”

As she wrote in The Washington Post,

Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this….

The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have. I have worked overseas in nations where changes in leadership come only with violence, where democracy takes hold only until the next violent upheaval. America is exceptional because our constitutional system guards against that. At the heart of our republic is a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power among political rivals in accordance with law. President Ronald Reagan described this as our American “miracle.”

Many years ago, when I was still a Republican, I predicted a schism between what we then called the “country club” members of the GOP and the fundamentalist Christians who were increasingly becoming the party’s foot soldiers. I was wrong. In the intervening years, pro-business “country club” voters separated into two groups–those whose desire for favorable regulatory and tax treatment overcame any moral qualms continued to vote Republican, while those repelled by the party’s increasing focus on culture war simply left. They became independents or joined the Democrats.

The division that threatens to take the GOP the way of the Whigs ends up being between the few Republicans who still live in the real world, and those who live in Trumpland.

Liz Cheney and her rapidly diminishing ilk still believe that the GOP is a party espousing their version of conservative principles, and that fidelity to those principles should be the standard on which they are judged. They are living in the past. In the 2020 election, the GOP didn’t even bother to produce a platform. In place of policy debates, the party falls back on a racism that is hardly masked by the repetition of tired slogans about “socialism” and “cancel culture.” Rather than any measured response to Biden’s agenda, GOP figures engage in diatribes about Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss.

Today’s GOP is the party of Marjorie Taylor Green, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and Lauren Boebert–a pathetic mix of venal and crazy. In that environment, even someone as ideologically unattractive as Liz Cheney looks good.

As the saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

 

Facts Can Be So Pesky

Santayana supposedly said that people who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. I think the even truer saying–one for which I don’t have an attribution–is “what we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.”

Which brings me to “the Big Lie.”

The big lie was a term used by Adolf Hitler in his 1925 book, Mein Kampf. It was a propaganda technique: tell a lie so huge, so colossal, that no one would believe that anyone would have the gall to make it up.

The Saint Louis Post Dispatch recently took aim at Trump’s effort to use a “Big Lie” to escape responsibility for his incompetent response to Covid-19. 

It was all Obama’s fault.

I am not suggesting that Trump is strategic enough to intentionally employ a propaganda technique; given his grasp of history, I doubt he’s ever heard the term “Big Lie.” (Besides, he blames everything on Obama. His jealousy of Obama is such an obsession that if space aliens invaded, that would be Obama’s fault too.) I’m not even sure he is capable of telling the difference between the reality he prefers and the reality most of us inhabit.

That said, his constant attacks on Obama create a story that his base–still smarting from the outrage, the indignity, of living in a country with a highly competent and widely admired black President for 8 long years– desperately wants to believe.

Trump has repeatedly blamed Obama for his own administration’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that “The last administration left us nothing.” But an investigation by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found that Trump’s own budget documents show the opposite ― exposing what it called “a lie of colossal Trumpian proportions.”

The newspaper’s investigators found Trump administration testimony to Congress in which it justified its request for big budget cuts in pandemic preparedness programs by explaining that the Obama administration had left it with everything that would be needed should a pandemic emerge.

Trump’s 2020 budget asked Congress to cut the pandemic preparedness budget by $102.9 million, part of $595.5 million in requested cuts to public health preparedness and response outlay.

Think about that.

Trump has also blamed Obama for lack of personal protective equipment and testing supplies, saying “our cupboards were bare. We had very little in our stockpile.”

But a chart provided to Congress by the Trump administration as part of its budget requests showed that by 2016 ―which was Obama’s final year in office ― the nation’s public health emergency preparedness was at least 98% on every key measure. And that 98% was the Trump administration’s own assessment.

As the newspaper’s editorial board wrote,

We’ve taken the time to dissect Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budgets from the year before Obama left office all the way to the present. Trump can lie, but the numbers cannot. Obama left office with an unblemished record of building up the nation’s pandemic preparedness. Trump systematically sought to dismantle it.

Perhaps because of his experience with the 2015 Ebola outbreak, Obama sought to leave his successor fully prepared to confront future pandemics. He asked in his fiscal 2017 budget request to boost federal isolation and quarantine funding by $15 million, to $46.6 million. Congress approved $31.6 million. In Trump’s three years in office, he has not requested a dime more in funding.

Obama asked to nearly double his own $40 million outlay for epidemiology and laboratory capacity. Congress balked, but Obama left Trump with that $40 million as a starting point. What did Trump do? In his 2020 budget, he asked Congress to cut that number to: Zero. Zilch. Nothing.

Let me repeat the newspaper’s most damning discovery: in the 2019 fiscal year budget, Trump asked for a $595.5 million dollar cut to the overall public health preparedness and response efforts. 

The one thing we all know about the Big Liar in Chief is that nothing is ever–and can never be–his fault.

The one thing we don’t all know is how many of “We the People” will eagerly believe the Big Lie.

 

Fake News and the Big Lie

A few days ago, Vox reported that

Attacks on the “fake news” media have become a staple of the Trump administration — and nearly half of voters, including the vast majority of Republicans, believe the president when he claims that the media is making up stories about him.

Forty-six percent of voters believe that major news organizations fabricate stories about Trump, while 37 percent do not and 17 percent are undecided, according to a new Politico/Morning Consult poll.

Note that the question was focused on “major” news organizations–journalism outlets with institutional commitments to verification and accuracy. The questions weren’t about dubious websites or partisan outlets.

A study by an organization called Study Soup, with which I am unfamiliar, found that Limbaugh, Breitbart and Fox News–rather than traditional media– were seen as the biggest purveyors of “fake news.” This particular study asked people whether they’d been personally duped; I suppose it is plausible that people who recognize that they’ve been fooled by dubious reporting would subsequently be less trusting of all media.

Americans across the political spectrum, led by Republicans, admit they have been duped by “fake news,” or partisan propaganda and outright fabrications, a new national study has found.

“In a heartening display of humility, many of our participants admitted they feared they’d been duped by fake news before. In fact, nearly 56 percent of Republicans said they had probably or definitely been deceived, and over 46 percent of Democrats said the same,” said the analysis accompanying the survey of 1,000 Americans by the education company StudySoup.com.

The study did find that Trump’s constant calling-out of specific media sources affected public perceptions of the accuracy of those sources. That shouldn’t surprise us. There is a famous Joseph Goebbels quote, describing the propaganda tactic known as “The Big Lie.”

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

The Big Lie is an all-purpose propaganda technique. According to Wikipedia,

The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

Use of the technique isn’t limited to politics. Back in 2011, Joseph Nocera demonstrated how politically convenient myths about the collapse of the housing bubble had been promulgated.

 

So this is how the Big Lie works.

You begin with a hypothesis that has a certain surface plausibility. You find an ally whose background suggests that he’s an “expert”; out of thin air, he devises “data.” You write articles in sympathetic publications, repeating the data endlessly; in time, some of these publications make your cause their own. Like-minded congressmen pick up your mantra and invite you to testify at hearings.

You’re chosen for an investigative panel related to your topic. When other panel members, after inspecting your evidence, reject your thesis, you claim that they did so for ideological reasons. This, too, is repeated by your allies. Soon, the echo chamber you created drowns out dissenting views…

The success of the Big Lie rests on two characteristics of human nature. First, people have a tendency to believe a big lie more easily than a little one; most of us are familiar with”little white lies,” but we find it hard to believe that someone would invent an enormous (and more easily refuted) fiction. Second, if you repeat even a ridiculous lie frequently enough, people will sooner or later believe it.

So–accuse respected journalists of “fake” news.

Does media bias exist? Of course–although the bias is usually toward conflict, not ideology. (Conflict, after all, is what makes something newsworthy, or at least interesting.) And reporters are human–they see things through their own “lenses,” no matter how hard they try for total objectivity.

Credible journalists do not, however, simply fabricate stories.

That so many Americans believe mainstream news outlets are manufacturing reports out of whole cloth is disquieting, to put it mildly. It’s one thing to be leery of conspiracy websites and partisan propaganda. When people don’t believe anything, from any source, there is no civic common ground. Without agreed-upon facts, we become uneasy; we can’t communicate.

That distrust creates an environment conducive to authoritarianism. Which is, of course, the point.