One year later, Trump’s ‘Big Lie’ still dominates GOP
On this first anniversary of the Donald Trump-inspired insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last Jan. 6 during which five people died, we find the Republican Party speeding toward a new identity as the “ReTrumplican Party.”
What began in the late 1850s as political movement dedicated to high moral values like expanding the right to vote and opposing the spread of slavery has become a party defined by restricting the right to vote, especially for minorities, and insisting on a litmus test of lies. The party of Honest Abe has in effect become the party of Truth-free Trump.
Just hours after the armed assault on the Capitol of Jan. 6, two thirds of House Republicans — 139 in all — voted to still overturn the 2020 election results, swallowing Trump’s “stolen election” falsehood whole and participating in the subversion their constitutional duty. They were joined in this malfeasance by another eight Republican Senators.
Yet, since then, things have only gotten worse. To get the party’s nomination in most red congressional states and districts this year most Republican candidates will first expound the “Big Lie” about the 2020 election that Trump demands. One of the few real Republicans left, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who has been stripped of her party leadership position by her GOP House colleagues for telling the truth, best articulated the threat this poses.
“The 2020 presidential election was not stolen,” Cheney tweeted. “Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.” Cheney used the term Big Lie specifically with clear purpose. Adolph Hitler first used the phrase to describe a lie so huge that no one would believe anyone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”
But never mind. Few other congressional Republicans are daring to criticize anything Trump says or does. What’s more, the supplicating, craven acceptance of Trump’s lies by GOP members of Congress and the Republican Party’s establishment has in turn convinced most Republican voters that they too should accept the Big Lie.
Polling shows that a significant majority, 55 percent, of Republicans voters say they’d be more likely to vote for a GOP candidate running in the 2022 midterm elections who questions the legitimacy of Biden’s victory. Now, even the Republicans with the courage to stand up to Trump’s litmus test of lies face possible defeat by an electorate following the lead of their party leaders and megaphones of malicious fabrications from conservative media.
But, as ugly as it is, the rest of America must face the truth — and call out, face down and defeat this infection of lies in one of our two major parties. Otherwise, we risk losing our democracy’s ability function and address the many very serious problems that challenge our nation.
Trump’s conspiracy theories and outrageous lies have opened the floodgates to even wilder and more dangerous political actors who even Trump is having trouble controlling. As the Washington Post reported, infighting among far-right elements of Trump’s party has them “calling their rivals Satanists, communists, pedophiles or ‘pay-triots’ — money-grubbing grifters exploiting the cause.” Truth-denying radicals throughout history have found that once a party’s leaders untether from factual information by pushing lies for their short-term gain, the more extreme elements within the party tend to gain an upper hand in the contest for telling the most provocative, rage-inducing and politically powerful lies.
Or as political analyst David Byler recently wrote, “Tribalism and conspiratorial thinking set the stage for the ‘big lie.’” But Trump drove Republican election denial to a new high. For years, he told supporters that elections were “rigged” and that, if he lost, it would be due to “fraud.”
Now, Republican-controlled legislatures in 19 states have passed bills to restrict the voting rights of tens of millions of Americans. By handpicking hyper-partisan election officials who may prevent certification of legitimate results, Republicans are also “laying the groundwork for a slow-motion insurrection,” said Mark Brewer, an election lawyer and former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, according to US News. The state’s current top election official, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, warned, “The movement to cast doubt on the 2020 election has now turned their eyes … to changing the people who were in positions of authority and protected 2020 [voting].”
“It’s not clear that the Republican Party is willing to accept defeat anymore,” says Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist and co-author of the book “How Democracies Die.” Adding, “the party itself has become an anti-democratic force.”
In his dystopian novel “1984,” George Orwell described the fateful political step of anti-factual acceptance and how it can lead to totalitarian results noting, “if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”
So, the crucial question in 2022 — for the Republican Party, for our democracy and for all Americans as they vote this year — is much the same. Are you willing to allow the lies of a past president to become the basis for the future of our country?
Paul Bledsoe is strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute. He served as a Democratic staff member in the House and Senate and as an official in the Clinton administration.
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