This Big Lie is more dangerous than the one about the 2020 election

Posted on February 8, 2023

Most Republicans now believe that average Democrats are “extreme,” “immoral” and “dishonest.” This results from years of right-wing propaganda. Rank-and-file conservatives now live in a carefully curated alternate reality.

According to Pew Research, 72 percent of Republicans think Democrats are “immoral” and a similar 72 percent say they’re “dishonest.” The same poll shows that in 2002 only about 20 percent of Republicans had a “very unfavorable” view of the Democratic Party. Over twenty years, the percentage saying their view is “very unfavorable” has risen sharply, to about 40 percent in 2012, 50 percent in 2016, and 62 percent in 2022. That’s extraordinary.

According to a recent GSG/GBAO “Navigator” poll, 77 percent of Republicans describe the Democratic Party as “extreme” with only 16 percent saying Democrats are “not extreme.” That is as crazy as any conspiracy theory. Asked about the emotions they feel about politics, 71 percent of Republicans say they are “frustrated” and 48 percent are “angry.” Only 17 percent say they are “hopeful.” In a December 2022 Rasmussen poll, 33% of Republicans said that Democrats are America’s biggest enemy, just below 35% who said our biggest enemy is China. Really.

It is one thing to disagree with political opponents. It’s quite another to invest them with preposterous characteristics and consider them the enemy. These views are both completely irrational and extremely dangerous.

Quite obviously, Democrats are not much different than they’ve ever been. It’s Republicans who have changed from center-right corporate-led economic conservatives to a party that is defined by white grievance, Orwellian lies, and a thirst for revenge. Joe Biden is the very opposite of an extremist. He is a plain vanilla, just a bit left-of-center, traditionalist. Biden is enormously more middle-of-the-road, moral and honest than Trump. And, besides Obama, he is considerably more moral and honest than every president since the departure of Jimmy Carter.

Nevertheless, here’s the effect of right-wing propaganda:

(1) GOP leaders who are not crackpots or fascists are afraid to tell the truth. If they defended political or policy truths – because a majority of GOP primary voters now embrace MAGA – they would lose their next primary. And that absence of truth-tellers just reinforces the cycle of lies. The media simply doesn’t understand that, while nearly all college-educated Republican leaders understand what is true and what is false, politically, they cannot and will not speak the truth. Those leaders either have to stay fairly quiet (e.g. most GOP U.S. Senators) or embrace the strategy of outrageous lies (e.g. DeSantis and Abbott).

(2) GOP leaders who are not crackpots or fascists are afraid to make bipartisan deals, even when they know it’s the right thing to do. Democracy hardly works without compromise and the propaganda blocks compromise. The media does not understand that Republican elected officials do not lead their party; it is the fanatical anger of the Republican base that leads their elected officials. That’s why we will soon hear otherwise intelligent Members of Congress say incredibly stupid things about the federal debt.

(3) It encourages and justifies violence. We’ve seen lots of unprecedented violence from right-wing extremists. But the problem is far greater than highly-publicized incidents like the attack on Paul Pelosi. As any elected official can tell you, there has been a monumental increase in threats of right-wing violence. The lives and families of both Democrats and Republicans are being threatened just for doing their jobs. You can’t get any more anti-democratic, anti-rule of law, and pro-fascist than that.

What is the solution? Among the overwhelming percentage of conservatives, changing their absurd beliefs is impossible. Democracy’s best hope is to persuade a slice of educated Republicans, convincing them of that their party has changed dramatically, leaving them behind.

The fact is, because there are so many very close elections across the nation, it only takes a small percentage to make a big difference. That’s what happened, just barely, in 2022.