The Year of Lying Dangerously

Posted on December 30, 2020

According to a new NPR-Ipsos poll:

  • 67 percent of Republicans believe “voter fraud helped Joe Biden win” and only 44 percent of them “accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.”
  • 71 percent of Republicans believe there is “a deep state working to undermine President Trump.”
  • 62 percent of Republicans believe “COVID-19 was created in a lab in China.”
  • 45 percent of Republicans believe “COVID-19 is no more of a serious threat than the seasonal flu.”
  • 66 percent of Republicans believe “the majority of protests that occurred this summer were violent.”
  • 23 percent of Republicans believe “a group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media,” (in other words, QAnon). Another 38 percent say they “don’t know.” That means fewer than 40 percent of Republicans will say that the completely insane QAnon conspiracy theory is false!

These statistics are shocking but not surprising. Thanks to Trump and his allies, 2020 saw more political lies, and especially “big lies,” than any other year in American history. That’s because Trumpism requires dishonesty to rally grassroots support. It’s a feature not a bug.

Even before he was elected, Trump falsely claimed that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the collapse of the World Trade Center, that Mexico would pay for “the wall,” that he was against the Iraq war when he was for it, that Ted Cruz’s father participated in the assassination of President Kennedy, and that Russia did not play a role in the 2016 election – to mention just a few.

After taking office, Trump lied constantly to the point where, by August 2020, he was making more than 50 deceitful claims a day. Trump and the pro-authoritarian media – cable TV personalities, talk radio and websites, social media operations, and more – have elevated the art of lying far beyond anything seen before in the U.S. This dishonesty is more at the scale of fascist regimes; it’s “The Big Lie” strategy.

Big Lie: Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 election. This has gone far, far beyond any election dispute in American history. Trump says he won in a “landslide,” that the election was “stolen,” that at least hundreds of thousands of votes weren’t counted, and that millions of votes were deleted or switched by “crooked” voting machines. He says that GOP governors, secretaries of state, legislators and election officials, Republican members of the U.S. House and Senate, more than 50 federal judges and the United States Supreme Court are all wrong by failing to recognize his victory.

Worse, out of the many thousands of conservative officeholders across the country, extremely few acknowledged Joe Biden’s obvious, overwhelming victory. This is a direct attack on democracy. It shows that virtually the entire conservative establishment accepts Trump’s anti-American tactics. They have no shame, no integrity, and no loyalty to America’s system of government.

Big Lie: Trump’s claims downplaying COVID and the need for masks and social distancing. Trump’s series of irrational and thoroughly false claims about COVID – and the willingness of conservative political, civic and communications leaders to knowingly repeat these lies – have killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

He said “It’s going to disappear,” that cases were going down, that it’s harmless, that’s it’s similar to the flu, that children are “virtually immune,” that the U.S. was doing better than any other country, and that, anyway, it is all Obama’s fault. He told people they didn’t have to wear masks, that they didn’t have to social distance, that testing was unimportant and actually counterproductive. And Trump famously touted false cures.

The amount and degree of lying from both Trump and the right-wing media about COVID has been astonishing. What was the purpose? Where’s the economic or political gain? If Trump had acted like a normal human being in dealing with COVID, deferring to doctors and warning Americans to be careful, he may very well have won reelection. It’s both horrifying and nuts.

Big Lie: Trump’s demonization of opponents. This is a little more understandable, although no less despicable. Trump convinced his base that the Black Lives Matter movement is violent and a threat to suburban whites, that Antifa is an actual terrorist organization when it’s not even an organization, and that there is such a thing as the “deep state.”

When Trump finally leaves the White House, his lies will probably be less influential. At least the mainstream media will stop repeating them (we assume). But Trumpism will survive in part because the right-wing media finds it is profitable. Nearly half of Americans seem eager for obvious lies and crazy conspiracy theories. Sadly, it will continue.