May 18th 2021

The Big Lie and Its Consequences 


WASHINGTON, DC – This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good.

True, the US constitution’s promise and central premise – that the people elect the president – has never been totally fulfilled. America’s aristocratic Founding Fathers didn’t trust the rabble (or slaves or women) to choose the person to fill the nation’s most powerful office. So, the United States ended up with supposedly wise men – the electoral college – who would select the president. 

Under President Donald Trump, the cooked-up issue was whether the count in the electoral college actually represented the popular vote in their states. What has come to be termed “the Big Lie” was not just that the election had been “stolen” from Trump, but also included attempts to legitimize various underhanded means of attempting to reverse the true result. 

In the run-up to the 2020 election, talk-show hosts joked that if Trump lost, he might simply refuse to leave the White House. But Trump had something more elaborate – and dangerous – in mind: if he lost, he’d declare that the vote count was wrong; that the election had been stolen. 

According to The Washington Post, this strategy for a failed candidate had been floating around in right-wing circles for some time; but previous candidates for federal office had spurned the idea. Trump, however, has never been much concerned about the impact of his actions on others or the country. There’s little evidence that he grasps the Constitution.

But to question the veracity of the official election result is to undermine the assumption of the integrity of the election system. Yet a disgraced, rejected, twice-impeached former president, has persuaded up to three-quarters of Republicans of his evidence-free claims.

It’s worth pondering how this could happen. An important factor is that the concept of utilizing the Big Lie was subscribed to not by Trump alone but also by a phalanx of right-wing activists, with some broadcasters perpetuating it. Trump has the rhetorical skills of the talented demagogue; his rants are leavened with entertainment. He applies to the dangerous the cosmetic of fun. Also, a great deal of the American electorate is poorly informed. The teaching of civics has essentially died out. And Trump has encouraged distrust of the media. He’s turned the truth into a volleyball. 

Given the large and impassioned following he’d already curried, the satisfying (for them) nature of his claim, and having dropped thousands of little lies, Trump had softened the ground for his most preposterous contention. Through derogation as well as raw muscle he has squashed potential rivals for party leadership – the canny Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried, but failed, to break Trump’s grip. 

Now, should an incumbent Republican fail to exhibit sufficient obedience, Trump could “primary” that heretic by backing another Republican for his or her position. Thus, a large number of elected Republicans who know that his election claims are baseless (as are his denials that he fomented the January 6 assault on the US Capitol) espouse them nonetheless because in addition to being wary of Trump they also fear their constituents who follow him. On top of all this, Trump is far and away the party’s most adept fund-raiser. 

What’s kept Trump from being an even greater danger to the country – his loss of the 2020 election at least halted his march on government authority, which included political control of the Pentagon and the Justice Department, both of which are supposed to have a bit of independence from the White House – is that, for all his shrewdness, tenacity, and entertainment value, Trump does dumb things: he trips himself up by overdoing things.

He is, for example, in legal jeopardy for trying to bully some state officials into rigging election results. His demands that his political enemies be prosecuted even became too much for the theretofore supine attorney general, William Barr. The separating of migrant children from their families at the border was a national disgrace. 

His demand that House Republicans remove Liz Cheney as chair of the Republican Caucus, because she was vociferously insisting that Trump’s lies about a stolen election were a threat to the Constitution, to be replaced by a toady, Elise Stefanik of New York, has made Cheney into a far more potent enemy. In fact, there was something of a point to the Republican argument that it was awkward that one of the three House party leaders was an outspoken critic of the prevailing, if misguided, party position, but the Republicans couldn’t get around the more evident point that they were squelching dissent – on a fundamental constitutional issue. 

The schism within the Republican Party over the Big Lie isn’t just about the past; it could decide the party’s future. Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory was narrow; a switch of only some 43,000 votes in three states (Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona) would have reversed the outcome. And now, Republicans at the state level are rushing out legislation designed to make it harder for Blacks to vote, since, immorality notwithstanding, voter suppression has been deemed by Republicans as key to presidential victory. These laws could make it difficult for Biden or another Democrat to replicate the 2020 electoral map. 

We Americans claim to be a country committed to the rule of law. But a democracy cannot succeed without voluntary cooperation, trust, and restraint. The laws aren’t self-executing, and there is a good reason why Supreme Court nominations are now the subject of vicious contention. Though it has sometimes set boundaries to his excesses, as a result of Trump’s presidency, the Court is firmly in conservative control for some time to come.

If key figures consistently act in bad faith, laws won’t protect us in the end. This is why Trump and what he’s set loose are such a threat to our constitutional democracy.


Elizabeth Drew is a Washington-based journalist and the author, most recently, of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall. 

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2021.
www.project-syndicate.org
 

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."