Donald’s Trump insistence that he actually won the 2016 presidential election in a landslide has now been commonly termed the “big lie.”
This “big lie,” which Trump mobilized arguably to incite the white supremacist assault on the Capitol, will center, of course, next week’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
The assault on the Capitol has been understood as an assault on democracy itself, and Trump’s “big lie” has in many ways epitomized the anti-democratic character of his presidency in its entirety, which featured a seemingly endless and relentless barrage of lie and lie.
Of course, Trump’s behavior has caused Republicans to break ranks—or, rather, to strategically and deceptively practice a political distancing from Trump and the Republican Party.
Let’s be clear, though, that this political distancing is just that— a matter of political strategy, not one of ideological difference, regardless of what they say.
The “big lie” is not unique to Trump but rather constitutes a long-standing Republican tradition and political practice that, far from distinguishing itself from Trump’s governance, in fact enabled and even created it.
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Thomas Friedman opined that the silver lining to Trump’s debacle of a presidency might be that “principled Republicans” would coalesce and form a third party.
But let’s face it: these anti-Trumpers, some of whom have re-constituted themselves as members of the Lincoln Project, are simply trying to save conservative ideology from Trump’s sinking ship. While Trump has, for all intents and purposes, pulled back the curtain on traditional Republican “ideals,” revealing the small-man retrograde politics of racism, mass redistribution of wealth to wealthiest, sexism, anti-unionism, resistance to LGBTQ civil rights, and more, these defectors from Trump and the GOP are trying to create a life raft for conservatism by speciously peddling the story that the values of traditional conservatism and Trump’s Republican Party are somehow distinct.
Jennifer Horn, former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party, announced her departure from the Republican Party in the pages of USA Today recently, waxing nobly about conservative principles and lamenting Trump’s supposed departure from them: “Those ideals that I have spent so many years fighting for — liberty, conservatism, constitutional leadership — are no longer the principles of the Republican Party,” she asserts with brave face. “I remain committed to the fight for conservatism, constitutionalism and individual liberty. My belief in the promise that is America remains strong. America must remain a beacon of hope for freedom and liberty for all.”
Her resignation followed that of former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who actually joined the Democratic Party, declaring himself a single-issue voter, that issue being democracy.
Both are members of the Lincoln Project, and both toe its political mantra we see the likes of Michael Steele, Rick Wilson, and other former high-level Republican operatives seeking to salvage the coded anti-democracy politics of conservatism from Trump’s exposure.
The founders of the Lincoln Project spell out this party line, writing, “We have been, and remain, broadly conservative (or classically liberal) in our politics and outlooks. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain, but our shared fidelity to the Constitution dictates a common effort.”
They insistently distinguish their Republican values from Trump’s: “Mr. Trump and his enablers have abandoned conservatism and longstanding Republican principles and replaced them with Trumpism, an empty faith led by a bogus prophet.”
Speaking of “bogus prophets,” though, let’s recall a some of the “big lies” the Republican Party has perpetrated on Americans.
First, let’s remember when Pennsylvania Republican House leader Mike Turzai declared back in the 2012 that Voter ID laws would help Mitt Romney win the presidency by suppressing the vote.
Did Steve Schmidt and his Lincoln Project Peers cry out for their beloved democracy then?
The GOP back then and for some time has been no fan of democracy. Just remember Karl Rove’s fantasy of a “permanent Republican majority” back when he was serving as George W. Bush’s brain. Voter suppression and gerrymandering were the order of the day. These “longstanding Republican principles” did not value democracy in any way shape or form and thus disgraced the Constitution as well.
Second, does the acronym “WMD” jar your memory at all? Remember when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, along with their entourage, sold Americans a bill of goods in order to invade Iraq, costing the U.S. thousands of lives and trillions of dollars? As Rachel Maddow since exposed in her 2014 documentary Why We Did It, the regime of Bush and Cheney, both with personal ties to big oil, were working hand in hand with oil companies.
That was a pretty big lie.
Third, what about trickle-down economics?
All these Republicans now sanctimoniously declaring their love of truth and democracy went along with the oft-repeated lies of trickle-down economics that tax cuts for the wealthy would pay for themselves and eventually this wealth would work its way down the ladder. The International Monetary Fund has since confirmed the big lie of the traditional economic policies of conservatism.
Did we hear them disagree with Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell when, after Trump’s huge tax cuts for the wealthy, a staple of trickle-down economics, they insisted Social Security would need to be cut to manage the deficit? Did they decry the tax cuts themselves, which simply redistributed wealth to the richest?
Back in 2004, Al Franken penned a book titled Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced View of the Right, highlighting just the rampage of lying that, in the age of Trump, is repeatedly identified as “unprecedented.” Paul Krugman recently traced the Republican aversion to fact and reality to the beloved icon of conservatism Ronald Reagan.
Hitler’s top PR guy Joseph Goebbels is perhaps most famous promoting and exploiting the “big lie,” but it has been common practice in Republican politics for some time.
We should not be fooled into believing the “big lie” that anti-Trump Republicans are asking us to believe now—that they are devotees of truth and democracy distinct from Trumpism.
Just look who is blocking relief to Americans now, claiming they are not in need: the old guard of Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and the like.
There is no pro-democracy pre-Trump Republican Party. There’s just another big lie.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.