Mark Twain — whose legacy of misattributed quips is legion — did, in fact, say, “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”
In Donald Trump’s Republican party — where falsehoods are a feature and not a bug — there should be a great many politicians scrambling to remember just what it was they said on any given day. (Say, between what you told Fox in the morning and later told CNN.) Too many seem to be living the infamous quote attributed to boxing promoter Bob Arum:
“Yesterday, I was lying. Today, I’m telling the truth.”
Everybody lies. To point out that obvious fact is not designed to promote the belief that everyone is equally culpable in the use of disinformation. Today, a group of people who want to control our country take lying to an extreme.
Being charitable, one could say today’s far-right authoritarian politicians are immune to the truth. But lies are lies.
Democracy is the form of government based on the rule of law, requiring “truth and a shared factuality, or what social scientists call the ‘public sphere.'” It also requires a shared commitment to the public good.
The extremist element that has taken control of the Republican Party has been on a decades-long quest to destroy the federal government as we know it, a government built out of FDR’s New Deal that recognizes our interdependence. These authoritarian extremists do not show much interest in the public good.
Yet even after promoting their intentions with decades of misleading divide-and-conquer rhetoric, they find that being against the public good is not a very popular position. In fact, it is highly unpopular. Majorities of Americans — some substantial — support programs like Social Security, an expansion of the child tax credit, clean water, money for roads and bridges, broadband in rural areas, Medicare, a woman’s right to choose, a functioning post office, environmental protection, same-sex marriage, protection of voting rights, fair taxation of corporations and the wealthy…the list goes on-and-on. Because their positions are unpopular, today’s Republican Party has become an “antimajoritarian, antidemocracy organization driven to extreme tactics” to retain power, as noted by David Atkins in the Washington Monthly.
“The GOP only has a few actual policy ideas beyond owning the libs and causing blue America as much pain as possible … And it is willing to overthrow democracy to hold on to power. Extreme gerrymandering in statehouses and the U.S. House of Representatives, plus disproportional representation favoring conservative rural whites in the Senate and Electoral College, is stacking the deck in favor of a radical minority — and Republicans have grown brazen about simply stealing elections for themselves even if those advantages prove insufficient.“
Today, too many top Republicans spread lies.
- Some actually believe the crazy Q-Anon conspiracy theory that Donald Trump won the 2020 election when he — in fact — lost by sizeable margins.
- Others tolerate the lies because of their support of one key element of what’s left of the party’s platform, such as lower taxes on the wealthy.
- And then Republicans like Mitch McConnell know the claims by Trump and his supporters are lies, but they support them because they are useful in their quest to dismantle the federal government. McConnell has used his own set of lies around the confirmation process for the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court deserves special mention. Mainstream media pundits like Paul Waldman are waking up to the fact that every single one of the conservatives on the Supreme Court lied — under oath. It has become clear that they all lied about how they would handle challenges to women’s reproductive rights. Knowing that their female accusers had nothing to gain and everything to lose, I believe that Kavanaugh and Thomas almost certainly lied about their history of sexual harassment and assault. We now have six justices who — under oath — lied about their actions, intentions and agenda in order to get a lifetime seat on the most powerful court in the land.
Why did they do it? Because the last time a conservative nominee to the court said what he truly believed, his nomination was shot down by people like Barbara Jordan who spoke truth to power.
As Atkins points out, authoritarian Republicans are working from a place of weakness.
“Democracy’s defenders have an advantage: They do, in fact, represent the majority of America and are also the main drivers of the country’s culture and economy. Blue counties produce more than 70 percent of America’s GDP. U.S. cities — overwhelmingly blue — are responsible for the vast majority of the country’s cultural and economic output. Blue states are overwhelmingly donors to the states that despise them and seek to disenfranchise them. The nation’s most successful companies are typically located in ultra-liberal areas. And the country is becoming more diverse and more urban every day. Americans under 40 are overwhelmingly progressive. This is the present and future of America.
Successful fascist movements and authoritarian coups generally require “not only a fervent base of cruel, fundamentalist backers. They also need the support, cooperation, and acquiescence of social elites.” Most of all, they need a compliant public to roll over and go along with it.
“Real, normative America is urban and liberal; 83 percent of Americans now live in cities, and that number is growing. The oldest Millennials are now 40 years old and not getting any more conservative; Gen Zers are just as progressive, if not more so; and those two generations are about to dominate the electorate. Big Business clearly knows where the majority of its customers are, to the point where the conservative movement — until recently long allied with Big Business — now portrays itself as the victim of ‘woke’ corporate elites.“
Desperate politicians do desperate things — from the Brooks Brothers Riot which successfully stopped the counting of legitimate votes in Florida in 2000 to the January 6th insurrection which failed to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Both were based on lies. Those who want to defend democracy need to understand that it will take constant work on multiple fronts to beat back those lies. Building is slow, hard work, but it is work that must happen.
More to come…
This is the second of a two-part post on the effects of disinformation on our democracy. (Read Part 1.) Next Wednesday I will post one final Weekly Reader for 2021, when I will announce a shift in focus for this segment. Stay tuned.
Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash.
To see the implications of the lies that the justices made to acquire their seats on the Supreme Court, read the December 10, 2021 Letter from an American by Heather Cox Richardson: https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/december-10-2021.