The Big Lie: It’s Bigger Than You Think

The Big Lie is that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election. He didn’t. The Big Lie is that Joe Biden is in the White House now because of a massive election fraud. There wasn’t any.

Those of us who still reside on planet Earth are quick to point out that there is no evidence for any of these claims. None. Zip. Zero. That’s why it’s called The Big Lie. Its only purpose is to soothe Trump’s fragile ego, solidify his grip on the Republican base and supply a fictitious basis for the voting restriction bills being enacted in Red states across the country (Georgia, Florida and Texas so far). It’s also the trumped-up rationale for a GOP-sponsored phony “audit” of the election results in Arizona’s Maricopa County (in one especially bizarre twist here, people searched for bamboo fragments on ballots — as supposed evidence that fake ballots were shipped in from Asia; I am not making this up).

I didn’t think we’d still be talking about this 6 months after the election. But because Trump and his cronies persist in keeping the The Big Lie alive, it is still a thing. Actually, it seems more entrenched and more dangerous now than it did back in late 2020. According to recent surveys, as many as 70% of Republicans believe that the election was stolen.

GOP members of Congress know the “stolen election” claim is a complete falsehood. They are being shamefully and deliberately deceptive. They are using it to cling to power — via the short-sighted political gain they expect will come from promoting the lie. But the GOP faithful out there in country truly believe the lie. It’s scary. And it’s becoming (as the phrase goes) an “existential threat to our democracy.” If one of the two major parties in the country believes that the current government is “illegitimate” and that violence against the government is therefore justified (see January 6 insurrection) — then we have lost one of the pillars of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power. It could be sufficient damage for the entire structure to collapse.

The Big Lie is bigger than you think. We should reframe how we speak of it. To say that there is “no evidence” to support the Big Lie gives it too much credence. It suggests a possibility, however small, that matters remain inconclusive (perhaps evidence of fraud will be found tomorrow?). Not so. Rather, the overwhelming, consistent and complete lack of evidence points to a positive assertion: The election was legitimate. It was freely and fairly won by Joe Biden. It’s a fact. Here’s how we know this:

  • The election was held on November 3, 2020. By the following Saturday, the initial count was completed and Biden was declared the winner with 306 electoral votes — coincidentally the same margin that Trump achieved in 2016 and that he declared to be a “landslide.”
  • At a popular vote level, the result was even more lopsided. Biden wound up with over 7 million more votes than Trump.
  • Over the next several weeks, each and every state “certified” the election results — even states that are controlled by the GOP. The electoral vote tally remain unchanged.
  • On December 14, the Electoral College met and voted “to cement Joe Biden’s victory over incumbent President Donald Trump.” There were no claims of irregularities or fraud by the electors doing the voting.
  • And, of course, on January 6, Congress (after an interlude caused by an insurrection at the Capitol) confirmed the election results, with then Vice President Pence declaring Biden as the winner. Even Republicans largely showed their support: only 8 GOP Senators voted against accepting the results.
  • This all led to Biden’s inauguration on January 20th. The sequence of events played out just as in every previous election. At no point was credible evidence of fraud presented.

Except under the most extraordinary circumstances, this should have — and would have — been the end of the story. But enter Donald Trump — who is almost the definition of negative “extraordinary circumstances.” Thanks to his Big Lie, these events were not sufficient. We needed more. Fortunately, we have more.

Prior to the December Electoral College vote, various recounts and audits were demanded — all by GOP officials in red or purple states that had voted for Biden — states like Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and, of course, Georgia. The hope was to provide evidence of fraud. They failed.

In every case, the initial results were confirmed: Biden remained the winner. Most famously, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger acknowledged: “We have now counted legally cast ballots three times and the results remain unchanged…There is no evidence of widespread fraud or malfeasance.” Joe Biden won Georgia. Period.

But wait. There’s still more.

Undeterred, Republicans challenged the results in various state and federal courts. By the time the dust settled, 62 lawsuits had been filed. In every instance (except one in Pennsylvania that involved a technicality that would not have changed the result), the lawsuits failed. Even the Supreme Court (yes, the court with a 6-3 conservative majority, including 3 judges appointed by Trump) rejected the claims of election malfeasance.

But wait. There’s even more.

At one point or another, virtually every Trump administration official charged with overseeing elections and election security acknowledged that Trump had lost. The list includes William Barr (Trump’s otherwise uber-loyal Attorney General), Christopher Wray (FBI Director), and Chris Krebs (Director of CISA). Krebs, as part of a joint-statement, went so far as to assert: “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Similarly, top GOP members of Congress, including Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, echoed the same conclusion. McConnell notably warned: “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again.”

But wait. There’s one more thing.

Even if you were to ignore all the above evidence, the Big Lie fails on logic alone. How can anyone credibly claim that Trump was a victim of ballot fraud — when Republican candidates for the Senate and House won many of their elections via the exact same ballots where Trump lost? How or why would someone change ballots to support Biden, while leaving all down-ballot races untouched? It makes no sense.

Given all of this, you may be asking yourself — how does anyone wind up concluding that the election was stolen? What evidence do they cite to support their belief?

The answer is that they don’t cite any evidence — because there is none. They simply assert that Trump won — because that’s what they want to believe is true and (more significantly) that’s what they are constantly and falsely told is true — within the news silos where they reside. It’s all they hear on Fox News, NewsMax, OANN and such. And on their Facebook pages.

And the Big Lie is now supported by almost all GOP politicians (even those that previously denied it). In fact, it has become a foundational principle of the party. The few that steadfastly remain opposed to the lie must be ousted (hello, Liz Cheney).

To be successful in their efforts, these officials need not prove any fraud. It’s sufficient just to sow doubt and mistrust. And in that, they have succeeded spectacularly — at least among the shrinking number of people who call themselves Republican.

Where does it all end? Will we ever return to a state of normality — where the GOP accepts the election results as valid? Or will things remain in this state of flux indefinitely? Or will matters get worse — leading to further right-wing distrust and violence — especially as the 2022 elections draw near?

Might a sufficient number of non-GOP voters reject Trump’s phony claims — leading to a major GOP election defeat in 2022? Or will the newly-passed voter suppression laws succeed in their goal of minority rule — allowing the GOP to win elections despite clear opposition majorities? And what will Democrats do if and when that happens?

The answers to these questions will determine the future of this country. Indeed, the answers will determine if our country has a future.


Follow-up [May 12, 2021]: It’s not just me who’s sounding the alarm about the state of our democracy. In the wake of the ousting of Liz Cheney from her leadership position, many of the country’s most respected political pundits are similarly sounding DEFCON-1 alerts. Thomas Friedman in particular has been warning: “…if Trump and friends are not stopped, one day they will get where they are going: They will lock in minority rule in America…{leading to}…a new civil war.” Cheney, to her credit, remains defiant: “I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”

As this CNN analysis makes clear, the mainstream GOP’s support of Trump has become so extreme that they are even “willing to jeopardize the party’s chances of winning back the House in order to preserve the cult of personality around Trump and the 2020 election that he lost.” In essence: The Republican party has decided it can no longer win elections by broadening its appeal to voters. Instead, it plans to win future elections by making it legal to limit — or even ignore — the votes of those who oppose them. The result? Minority rule. Autocracy. So sound the alarms. For starters, get Congress to pass the For the People Act.

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Trump’s GOP has become the Party of Liars

Sometimes politics can be very simple to comprehend. Sometimes things can get quite complicated. Sometimes, truth in politics can be hard to discern. Sometimes it’s surprisingly easy.

The current situation — namely Trump’s attempts to undermine the 2020 election results and the GOP’s complicity in doing so — is both incredibly simple to understand and easy to know what is true. In a nutshell:

• Biden won the election. Trump lost. Despite the difficulties of campaigning in a pandemic and contending with a dishonest incumbent, Biden will be inaugurated as POTUS on January 20.

• Trump and the GOP are claiming that there are serious voting irregularities and/or instances of fraud that could lead to overturning the election results — and a Trump victory. The claims are completely without merit. Regardless, Trump is refusing to concede the election.

• Trump and the GOP know the claims are false — but don’t care. They have engaged in a deliberate campaign of lies for the sake of a political advantage. Trump, of course, is a serial liar. But the situation has become so extreme that the entire GOP has become the Party of Liars.

Here’s the fuller version of what’s going on:

• The other day, Mitch McConnell said: “Let’s have no lectures about how the President should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election.”

This “what-aboutism” is a complete fabrication. The 2020 election was called for Biden via major organizations (such as the AP) that have long been trusted to be definitive. In 2016, for example, Hillary Clinton conceded the election within 24 hours of the race being similarly called. Then-President Obama followed by inviting Trump to the White House to begin the transition. There was no effort by the Democratic Party to undo the election results or delay the transition. There was no claim that the results were only “preliminary.” What is happening now is the complete opposite of what happened four years ago. What is going on now has never occurred in any previous national election.

Trump’s refusal to allow Biden to have the office space, funds, and security access he is entitled to as President-elect represents a reprehensible pettiness that is without precedent and dangerous to the health and security of our country. The GOP’s response to these concerns is a collective shrug.

I would add that, back in 2016, it was Trump (not the Democrats) who promulgated falsehoods about the election results — notably his baseless claim that 3 to 5 million people had voted illegally.

• Trump continues to file fruitless lawsuits challenging the election results — and the vast majority of the GOP shockingly continues to back him up. Their justification? “Trump has the right to pursue all legal challenges to the election.”

Let’s be clear. While Trump has the legal right to pursue his fantasy version of events, that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. No investigation into vote counting this year has found any significant irregularities. And even if all the most serious of Trump’s lawsuits were found to have merit, the number of votes that would shift would not be sufficient to reverse the outcome. Biden would remain the winner. So there is no legitimate point to pursuing this. Every norm in our politics says, for the good of the country, it’s long past time to put an end to this. Unfortunately, Trump doesn’t care about the country’s welfare. It is his self-interest that remains his only interest.

• Most egregious of all, Trump continues to make false claims of substantial deliberate voter fraud (not simply voting “irregularities”). Yet there is zero evidence of any fraud. Despite years of claiming “rigged” elections, Trump has yet to provide even one substantiated example. And once again, the GOP is largely supporting Trump’s dive into the swamp. The vast majority of the Republicans in Congress still refuse to even acknowledge that Biden is the President-Elect.

It is all such an obvious untruth that virtually no one in the Trump administration or in Congress actually believes this bullshit about voter fraud. Indeed, privately, most of the GOP has already acknowledged as much. However, in a show of profound cowardice and willful deception, they just won’t do so in public.

In other words, the GOP has become the “Party of Liars.” Their survival has come to depend on spinning falsehoods — with the hope of convincing Trump’s base that the lies are true. They are playing their own voters for suckers. We are living in true-life version of 1984.

What’s the goal?

To what end are Trump and the GOP doing this? Theories abound. More than one may be true.

One says it is Trump’s delusional aversion to ever admitting he is a “loser.” As a result, he will probably never publicly concede the election, even though he will eventually agree to leave the White House. Once gone, he will continue to assert the election was “stolen” — and use this as a basis for maintaining support for himself. Already, in what is basically a scam, fund-raising appeals to supposedly pay for Trump’s court fights are actually going to pay off his campaign debt.

As for the GOP’s acquiescence, one theory sees it as due to their fear of appearing disloyal to Trump — possibly causing him to use his influence over the more than 70 million people who voted for him to harm the GOP. This is particularly worrisome in regard to the upcoming Senate run-off elections in Georgia.

Still others suggest the lies, lawsuits and obstruction are all part of a broader effort to undermine the success of the incoming Biden administration before it even takes power. It’s a “If I can’t be the winner, I will burn down the house” tantrum by Trump — with the GOP as the nervous parents who enable him. More frightening (but less likely), the firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper — and the subsequent post-election turnover of top officials at the the DOD — suggests a possible move to lay the groundwork for a coup.

Thankfully, almost everyone agrees that, whatever the motivations behind Trump’s and the GOP’s actions, they won’t succeed in reversing the results of the election. But that doesn’t mean they are harmless. By falsely sowing mistrust in our core institutions, Trump and the Party of Liars have undermined democracy at home and emboldened our enemies abroad. What Trump and the GOP are doing is shameful, despicable and {fill in your own critical adjective}. I don’t know if a “day of reckoning” will ever come. But if “the arc of the moral universe” truly “bends towards justice”…the reckoning will come eventually. It can’t come soon enough for me.

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The 2020 Election Results: Trump vs. Trumpism

The good news from this election…and it is IMMENSELY good news…is that Trump is on his way out. Barring an unlikely shift in voting trends in the remaining states, or a Trump success in the courts, Biden is headed towards victory. Trump will no longer be POTUS! The Trump administration is over!!

The bad news…and it is very bad news…is that Trumpism is still very much alive and well. And it’s not going away. Biden’s margin of victory (or in some cases, loss) in all the battle-ground states turned out to be much smaller than we had anticipated. Disappointingly close. Incredibly, more people voted for Trump in 2020 than did in 2016. The Trump vote out-performed his lower approval rating. The Democrats’ dream of a repudiation of Trump did not happen.

It gets worse. Instead of a gain of seats in the House, we had a net loss. And our hoped-for Senate majority is very much in doubt — after key races in Maine and North Carolina failed to flip. We also failed to flip any state legislatures — a critical loss in a census year. That’s why, even with the glow of a Biden victory, I feel less than victorious.

Amidst all of this, a key question keeps nagging at me: After the catastrophe that is the Trump presidency, how can there be so many people who voted for him?

What is going on? Who are these people?

When I calm down and reflect on this, my best answer is that there is more than one answer. Trump voters are not a unified monolith. In fact, there are at least three broad categories of Trump (and Trumpism) voters.

The first are the die-hard supporters. These are the people who love Trump for precisely the reasons we despise him. In fact, our outrage at Trump is part of what delights them. We are the “coastal elites.” And, despite being a pseudo-billionaire con artist, they view Trump as the hero of the working man. To them, Trump is close to god-like. If Trump says something, no matter how delusional and obviously false the statement, it is taken as gospel. It is both true and morally right, by definition. This is equivalent to a cult.

While I obviously oppose this cult, I can understand it. If I could accept their ill-founded assumptions, their support of Trump would make sense.

The second category are the duped. These are the people who have been fed a steady diet of disinformation and lies — and have come to believe it is all true. They aren’t members of a Trump cult, but they have become convinced Trump is their best option. These are the people who believe, for example, that if Biden becomes President, America will become a Socialist country. Or that antifa anarchists are destroying our cities.

This is the by-product of Trump’s assault on truth. The duped get their news primarily from Fox. They live in a separate universe from the rest of us — with their separate “alternative facts.” There is overlap with the die-hards here. The difference is that the duped could be “persuadable” if only they could break out of their bubble. As such, I have some sympathy for them. 

The third category are the “transactionalists.” They are the ones that trouble me the most. I have no understanding or sympathy here. Just disgust. To understand why, I need to back up a bit and define what I mean by a “transactionalist.”

Once you get past policy differences (where there can be legitimate disagreements), my overwhelmingly biggest objection to Trump is his “character.” This is an umbrella term meant to cover a host of sins: his lack of empathy, his narcissism, his ignorance, his bullying, his racism, his misogyny, his mistreatment of immigrants, his assault on science, his constant lying, his autocratic behavior, his destruction of almost all norms and institutions of our democracy, his crass politicizing of even the most non-partisan departments of our government. Added to this are his multitude of borderline or outright criminal actions: his obstruction of justice, his strange tolerance of all things Russia, the actions that led to his impeachment, his payoffs to porn stars, his fraudulent Foundation and University, his taxes, and his abuse of presidential powers to enrich himself and his friends at the expense of the interest of the country. And on and on. Add them all together and you get disasters such as Trump’s gross mishandling of the pandemic.

You would think we could all agree that such a person is unfit to hold any public office. But no. The transactional supporters of Trump attempt to minimize just how bad all of this is.

Their key attribute, however, is that they accept Trump’s transgressions as the bargain they strike in exchange for the one or two things they expect to get in return. They say: “I’m fine with Trump’s lies and crimes. Why? Because Trump lowered my taxes.” End of story. Nothing else matters. Or “Because he’s against abortion.” Or “Because he supports Israel.” Or “Because of the Supreme Court.”

Unlike the Republicans in The Lincoln Project who could rise above their political party preferences to see Trump as the existential threat he is — the transactionalists remain blissfully unconcerned. They turn a blind eye as Trump sets America’s house on fire. As the saying goes: “You don’t have to be a racist to support Trump, but you do have to say Trump’s racism is not a deal-breaker.” I have no tolerance for the people who have made this sort of deal.

What all three groups share…and what I find ultimately the most disturbing…is the apparent willingness of a large segment of our country to acquiesce to (even welcome) the rise of autocracy and the destruction of our democracy…in the name of supporting Trump. I thought America was better than this. Clearly, I was wrong.

[A postscript: Even if you accept that we (Progressives/Democrats) are not the cause of how we wound up where we are today, we still need to share responsibility for where we go from here. We can’t easily dismiss the fact that tens of millions of people voted for Trump — whatever the reason. But that’s a subject for another day.]


[Update (November 6): “All you offer are critical explanations for why people support Trump. Can’t there be positive reasons — such as the pre-COVID economy?” On balance, no. Sometimes the scales tip too far in one direction to allow for consideration of the other side. This is one of those times. As it turns out, Trump himself just offered further proof of this — at a news briefing of “historic dishonesty.” His remarks were so egregious that the major networks cut their coverage of it. It is beyond me how anyone can listen to this and conclude: “Yes, this is the person I want to vote for.”]

[Update (November 8): New York Times columnist Frank Bruni (whom I greatly admire) recently tackled the same basic question I asked above: “Why were so many of my fellow citizens so content {to vote for Trump}?” He offers answers that are more generous to Trump voters than I was: “That Democrats didn’t triumph even bigger in 2020 seems impossible — unless and until you…re-examine your assumptions through a lens other than the one you’re partial to. Those of us obsessed with what a miserable person Trump is lost sight of what a mighty candidate he is.” Perhaps. But even if there are separate lenses, it doesn’t mean they represent equally valid views. For example, if you’re attracted to Trump’s “we’re rounding the corner” assessment of the pandemic, you’re supporting Trump because of a lie – a complete fiction and a dangerous one. There is no equivalence of views here. Regardless, the article is definitely worth a read. And it forced me to continue to re-examine my own thinking — which is always a good thing.]

[Update (November 9): I have received feedback that I did not go far enough in my condemnation of Trump voters. Trump has openly stoked our country’s long standing undercurrents of racism and xenophobia — encouraging divisiveness, grievance, and anger. And many Trump voters have sadly responded by saying “Yes. I’m on board.” Numerous articles I have read, such as this one, similarly support a sense of grief at the extent of Trump’s support.

On the other side, several post-election articles I’ve read suggest a greater legitimacy to Trump’s support than I have been willing to admit. For example,  a column in the New York Times explores the depth of evangelicals’ support for Trump. While it remains transactional — it is perhaps not as hypocritical as I have implied. More generally, conservatives can have justifiable concerns about a leftist agenda (even though it’s not Biden’s agenda) focusing on Medicare for all, a Green New Deal, defunding the police and open borders.

Regardless, the bottom line for me remains that Trump himself should be an unacceptable choice for everyone — no matter what concerns one has. It’s like the famous (actually false) claim about Mussolini and trains: “Rather than serving as a fictitious symbol of the benefits of fascism, it is now offered as a sardonic example that something good can result even from the worst of circumstances. As Montagu and Darling wrote: Mussolini may have done many brutal and tyrannical things; he may have destroyed human freedom in Italy; but ‘one had to admit’ one thing about the Dictator: he ‘made the trains run on time.’”

I continue to struggle with the yin and yang of this difficult and complicated question. I could post further updates indefinitely. I have to draw the line at some point. This is the point.]

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Trump’s Coronavirus Rallies

For a brief moment, I thought that the White House daily briefings might reveal a Trump that, at last, was taking the virus threat seriously; that he would provide helpful information about what we should be doing and what actions the government was taking. Silly me. I should have known better. It’s now obvious that these “updates” have rapidly devolved into propaganda opportunities — a substitute for the rallies that Trump can no longer hold — complete with lies and misinformation, undeserved self-praise, phony plaudits from sycophants, lambasting his favorite targets (e.g., the media) and attacking made-up enemies (“the Chinese virus”). To the extent that people believe this crap, the briefings are actually harmful — which is why there is an increasing call to stop live-broadcasting the briefings .

As always, Trump is most concerned with how people perceive what he is doing. He wants to be admired. But again as always, he has no clue how to do this in a way that would gain deserved wide-spread approval. Rather than taking actions that might get the approval he seeks, he views this as a PR opportunity. It’s all a show. It’s all about marketing — creating the impression he is doing something worthy — even if he is doing nothing but harm.

When the history of this time is written, there is no doubt that Trump’s early refusal to take the virus seriously — even when he had overwhelming evidence to the contrary — will be cited as a major cause for why things got so bad. My concern is that, in the short run, as the situation gradually improves months from now, all of this will be temporarily forgotten. Once again, Trump will not be held accountable.

Even now…too many people are not taking the virus threat seriously. Just today, a WaPo article offered this quote from a man at a Florida lunch-spot: “We all started laughing and agreeing because we all said, ’We’re here, we’re going out, and the media is hyping this to get at Trump.’”

I take some solace in knowing that not all people are that crazy; there are still many people who are working hard and working together to stop this virus. But it’s hard for me not to hate what this country has become under Trump. I am both enraged and despondent. The branch I cling to is that Trump will not get re-elected. That cannot happen.

Update: April 1: A president unfit for a pandemic. Whoa! This Boston Globe editorial lays out the case against Trump as well as anything I have read so far.

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