I’ve been struggling with the question of whether to allow Donald Trump to take up any more mental space in my head (and yours, if you’ve read at least this far). After all, Joe Biden is the president-elect!
This is a fact and has been for some time now, one that was acknowledged even this morning in a tweet by the current (for 65 days and counting…) president, who sounded every bit the first-grade schoolboy muttering barely out of hearing to his bigger, more muscular opponent who just vanquished him in a game of tetherball: “Yeah, but you CHEATED!”
If that were so, what does it say about him, the most powerful man in the world, whose government apparently couldn’t even oversee a free election on his behalf in a country with a 240-year record of standing as a worldwide beacon of freedom?
Whether to ponder Trump yet again is a dilemma he has visited upon everyone concerned about the hard and sustained veering toward autocracy that has characterized his presidency.
Between 70-82% of the approximately 44% of the voting population that identifies as outright or ‘leaning’ Republican believes we did not hold a free and fair election on November 3? We read that and we move on to the next item, when, in truth, we should consider our hair on fire and these findings to be a dire emergency…
He has been testing those autocratic waters yet again in his losing battle the past 12 days to upend the will of the people and overturn an election in what he has relentlessly claimed is the greatest country in the world.
Now, he seems to be grudgingly admitting, in a decidedly low-energy wail, that the Democrats outfoxed him and somehow managed to hide, discard and change millions of ballots in a blatant, illegal and successful operation that took place directly under the gaze of the oath-taking civil servants overseeing elections and the hundreds of attorneys and thousands of “poll watchers” he recruited from around the country to assure him a free and easy glide to a second term.
SO VERY UNFAIR!
O.K. enough piling on here about this child-man and his emotional disorders. What I want to explore is something more important, which is what his term in office has revealed about our country, about its future, and in a larger sense, about human nature itself.
A critical fact we must bear in mind: Trump’s virulent claims about fraud that began pre-election 2016 and have continued right through post-election 2020 have not been a mere snit from a disgruntled hack in a corner of South Dakota who lost by three votes in a town council race.
This has instead been the president of the United States loudly and incessantly claiming, over multiple election cycles, that voting in what the world has always looked to as its shining star of democracy and peaceful transitions of power is, in its very nature, rife with fraud, untrustworthy, able to steal an election with impunity from its sitting president and all the levers of power he controls.
In other words, not fundamentally different than a tenuous banana republic or wobbly new democracy still looking to root out its history of corrupt authoritarian rule.
And now we must add in these terrifying facts that ride in with those claims, as collated by the 538 polling firm on November 12:
“According to a poll from YouGov and The Economist conducted Nov. 8-10 among registered voters, 82 percent of Republicans said they did not believe that Joe Biden had legitimately won the presidential election, even though he has. This followed a Nov. 7 YouGov poll among registered voters that found 79 percent of Republicans believed voter fraud had occurred and affected the outcome of the election. Similarly, in a Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted Nov. 6-9 among registered voters, 70 percent of Republicans said they didn’t believe the 2020 election was free and fair—double the 35 percent of Republicans who answered that way in a poll conducted before the election.”
We read that and we move on to the next item, when, in truth, we should consider our hair on fire and these findings to be a dire emergency undermining the very existence and basic functioning of our country.
Somewhere between 70-82 percent of the approximately 44 percent of the voting population that identifies as outright or “leaning” Republican believes we did not hold a free and fair election on November 3?
And this number apparently doubled once the losing candidate claimed it as so, without a shred of evidence to back it up?
How long can a nation of competing interests survive when the vast bulk of voters in a major political party can be persuaded that the most fundamental characteristic of a democracy—free and fair elections— are not to be trusted?
In George Orwell’s futuristic 1949 novel, “1984,” the mockingly ironic “Ministry of Truth” is the sole provider of news and information to a tightly controlled, always-monitored population of near zombies who go about bleak lives with their ears full of claims from authorities that life is beautiful and getting better all the time.
The Ministry’s incessantly repeated three-pronged slogan is:
“WAR IS PEACE,” “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,” “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”
In other words, everything is backwards. Why? Because the Ministry and its leadership, personified by the moniker “Big Brother,” say so. Over and over and over, through the mouths of all its puppets. And if they say it enough times…
An even closer-to-home example of that head-and-reality-spinning motto is the chocolate ration doled out to citizens to relieve the tedium of otherwise drab food choices in a totally regimented economy, where the spoils are reserved for the distant ruling class.
With the chocolate ration reduced from 30 to 20 grams one day, the Ministry announces the very next day that it has been increased to 20 grams, leading to celebrations thanking Big Brother for his largesse. Never mind the complete, countrywide repression of the fact of the previous day’s decrease. Writes Orwell:
“Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it…The eyeless creature at the other table swallowed it fanatically, passionately, with a furious desire to track down, denounce, and vaporize anyone who should suggest that last week the ration had been thirty grams.”
It’s almost as if Big Brother were holding maskless rallies with devotees jammed in at close quarters around the country at which he celebrates the imminent demise of a pandemic when it is, in truth, raging out of control. That couldn’t happen in a society with a free flow of information, could it?
Among the many things that have continued to perplex me about the 72.9 million people who voted for Trump as of this writing is how they could abide his incessant, exhaustively-chronicled lying. And I’m not referring here to the garden variety prevarications and sudden changes of subject most all politicians engage in on occasion.
No, this is about outright fabrications tantamount to claiming a reduction in the chocolate ration is actually an increase. Sure, his taxes will be released as soon as the audit is complete. And the new health care plan will be out in just a week or two. Same for infrastructure. And all the new auto plants he helped bring to Michigan during his term in office. (Actual answer: zero. Claimed: “Lots.”)
Or that he won an election that he lost.
Why don’t these and thousands of other lies matter? If someone demonstrably lies all the time, don’t we all, in our everyday lives, come to not trust a word he or she says?
And if that person holds the most powerful position in the world, why doesn’t that untrustworthiness terrify or at least deeply trouble every thinking person’s mind? How could it possibly be of minor or no concern?
One must either completely ignore overwhelming evidence of the lying presenting itself daily, right in front of one’s eyes and ears, or deny the notion that basic trustworthiness is an important and desirable quality in a nation’s leaders. And if either of those is true, the very moorings of society simply cannot stand, Big Brother has won, and Orwell’s stark warnings about the power of propaganda and lying have come to full fruition, 36 years after the fictionalized version suggested it could.
On yesterday’s podcast from The Bulwark, an organization of highly conservative Republicans who are currently feeling partyless in the Age of Trump, host Mona Charen asked Eric Edelman of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment think tank what his response would have been if a country he was serving in his career as a state department official and ambassador…
“…had just gone through an election in which the existing president was refusing to acknowledge he had lost and was firing top officials in the security apparatus….and that major parts of his party were also refusing to acknowledge the winner. What would you think about that country?”
“I would probably be preparing a telegram back to Washington saying we need to be prepared to invoke U.S. law that cuts off assistance to countries that have extra-constitutional changes of government.”
That’s a chilling phrase he used there—”extra-constitutional changes of government”—couched in diplomatese and essentially adding up to: “coup.” Such a country is indisputably unstable, lacking the essential foundation of agreed-upon norms on electoral behavior and citizen engagement.
But what else could be deduced from an atmosphere in which truth is fungible, facts are chimerical, and the reality before one’s eyes and ears is subject to wholly opposite understanding? In which the president himself had in consecutive elections refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he were to lose?
Here’s another national leader of the past reflecting on the brutal effectiveness of repeating egregious lies:
“In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.
“It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”
Those reflections from a Big Liar’s playbook are courtesy of Adolf Hitler, writing in “Mein Kampf” in 1925. Perhaps it offers us some insights on how Trump’s legions of followers manage to dismiss his incessant lying.
Sure, he has his share of racist skinheads and would-be Nazis in his corner, but many more of his voters are otherwise decent, community-minded people who perhaps can’t fathom or identify with the audacity and shamelessness of someone who lies about everything, all the time. So they take it all with tiny grains of salt that they manage, over time, in the pursuit of other purposes like stout opposition to liberal politics, to corrode to nothing, a trifle, a mere joke, hahaha.
Unfortunately, nearly 79 million Biden voters aren’t laughing, nor is the wider world beyond, including Russia, Iran, and China, all of whom our leaders have criticized over decades for their oligarchical ways and which are now, not without evidence, calling us hypocrites and knaves, a hapless, chaotic and failing power, mired in mutual distrust.
Is this our fate? The final chapter hasn’t been written yet, but some of it will be over the next four years. What has to happen, how can we get started in that period to restore a common regard for reality and a common respect for differences?
How about this as a baseline: that we can argue policy till we’re blue but we hold ourselves and our leaders to a simple telling of the truth, as best we all know it. That we demand our leaders don’t consciously distort reality because they think no one’s paying attention anyway, or if they are, they won’t care.
Nothing else matters if we can’t do that, does it?
Most all songs about lying are about…you know—boys & girls & stuff. Not this one…
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