My Mother frequently told me that dire things happened as a result of lying, and proved that to be true with the help of a switch cut from a weeping willow tree that was swiftly applied to my legs. The whole exercise was more ceremonial than painful, but was enough to convince me that indeed lying was a bad thing to do–unless you were sure you could get away with it. As with most things in life, lies come in all sizes. There are large lies, small lies and even white lies that are often meant to do good. When I was a kid, it seemed as if people made a big deal out of lying. Even white lies were considered troublesome, and lying was considered evil no matter the purpose. There was the traditional promise that doing something bad would result in punishment, but the lack of a confession when caught was sure to result in an even more painful backside.
Yes, in those days corporal punishment was widely hailed as an advocate for truth (“spare the rod spoil the child”), and truth was sacred. Little wonder that my generation is so screwed up. In order to keep my 4 kids in line, I had subscribed to this philosophy by fashioning a paddle. My oldest, Molly, who early on demonstrated her resistance to authoritarianism would later become a hero to her siblings by hiding it. When asked about the missing paddle, the kids denied knowing anything. It was years later after we lost Molly that they laughingly confessed to being part of the grand conspiracy. It was then that I realized the situation had been a win-win in that I didn’t have to follow through on my threats to whip them into shape and they suffered no physical pain. Although I did a bit of woodworking in those days, I never got around to making another paddle, nor do I recall fretting about its disappearance. As a matter of fact, I had no memory of that paddle until the kids brought it up while reminiscing about their childhoods. As Freud noted, our brain can be facile in the way it stores memories.
While sheltered in place by a pandemic and a blizzard, I recently decided to donate a week of my life to watching the impeachment proceedings. Since at my age every week is precious, I did my best to pay close attention to the proceedings only missing an occasional snippet for a potty break. I was very impressed by the prosecutors. Having experienced the pain of losing a child, I was amazed at the ability of the lead prosecutor Mr. Raskin’s performance only a few days after the death by suicide of his son. In spite of or perhaps because of such a devastating loss, he proved to be the most impressive of a group all of whom held my rapt attention. Their presentation was not only dramatic, but telling. The defense was erratic and mostly off the point-not surprising since they had been last minute recruits and relatively inexperienced at criminal defense. Beside that, the quality of the defense was irrelevant since the jurors had admitted to their bias before the trial began. Thus, the defense’s job one was to provide an excuse for a not guilty vote, and as expected, the republicans were left with the disproven premise that the entire proceeding was unconstitutional.
Few of us are as virtuous as little George Washington whom we are told could not tell a lie. We old guys are at a higher risk of becoming minor prevaricators. because we like to tell stories of our past exploits, and since our memories are spotty, we are often tempted to fill in the blanks. The problem with little lies is that when called on to defend them we usually add layers of more lies and those little lies can grow, but our liar-in-chief demonstrated a talent beyond the reach of us little liars by starting at the top with a really big lie. He began months ago, priming his adoring fans for the big lie that he could only lose the election if it was rigged, thereby sewing the seed for the biggest lie of all, i.e., that the election was stolen. Indeed, this lie was big enough to set in motion a frightening assault on the very foundation of our government.
We only now are learning more about some of really bad actors in the invasion of the Capitol. The steady stream of videos shown by the prosecutors clearly showed the faces of many known to be involved in domestic terrorist activities to have forged ahead to lead the pack. Amongst the crowd were many Q-Anon signs, but to me the most repulsive of all was the creep who proudly displayed himself in a Tee shirt emblazoned with the sign: Camp Auschwitz. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to assume that some of the participants were convinced that a coup had taken place and their government was about to be taken over by a shadow group of a secretive radical left-wing group who planned to assume dictatorial powers. With that in mind, it is little wonder that they saw themselves as patriots. Nevertheless, past experience confirms that when under the influence of mob rule, well-meaning people, especially those convinced of the righteousness of their cause, may find themselves participating in activities they would find abhorrent in any other situation..
Although it was difficult to watch as the rioters smashed windows and screamed violent threats, the outcome could have been much worse. For example, imagine the chaos that would ensue if those two pipe bombs later found in a parked pickup truck had been detonated in the house and senate chambers. Supposing Mike Pence had been captured. Did those guys who were shouting “Hang Mike Pence” really mean it? Would they have made use of the gallows they had constructed in front of the building? There was also the guy who was looking for Nancy Pelosi who said he would “tear her to pieces.” Was he just blowing off steam or was he actually homicidal? It appears that some of these guys are serious bad asses. According to the Washington Post, the FBI had picked up an online conversation calling for violence as follows:
“Be ready to fight’ Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Antifa slave soldiers being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal.”
Remember the group who responded to Trump’s suggestion that they “take back their country” by storming the Michigan Capital and planning to kidnap the Governor? Supposing they had managed to trap the congress and hold them hostage. They are said to have been within minutes of getting to them before they were finally rescued. What would Trump have done? If he declared Marshall Law, how would the military and National Guard have responded?
Following the conclusion of the trial, Mitch McConnell, the minority senate leader displayed his versatility by with simultaneous conflicting messages of not guilty, and minutes later delivering a scathing condemnation of Trump insisting that he was actually guilty of all counts. He used the ploy that the trial was unconstitutional to explain his not guilty vote. It is little wonder that Mr. McConnell has survived and prospered all those years for such a talent for using both the left and right side of one’s mouth at the same time is a quality likely to be admired by many politicians. In this case the performance was designed to appease both the MAGA people and anti-Trumpers. Some cynics suggested it had more to do with encouraging the big money donors who had been scared off by public opinion polls.
Mitt Romney stated in a speech for the Congressional Record that Trump’s “Big Lie” took us to a “dark and dangerous place.” He was of course referring to Trump’s insistence that there had been massive fraud, and that the election had been stolen. As a matter of fact, one of the chants heard as the rioters attacked the capital building was “stop the steal”, and of course they had been invited to participate by Trump to go to the capital while the traditional counting of the electoral college votes was in progress. The term Big Lie was necessary in order to differentiate it from the several thousand ordinary lies which Trump had delivered throughout his career as liar in chief. Initially his lies had been characterized in the media as falsehoods, exaggerations, embellishments, or even jokes until the weight of their sheer volume resulted in a coarser representation. Now, with the exception of a few right-wing news outlets they are referred to in plain terms as lies.
Sadly, the big lie has not gone away. In the latest poll I could find, 76% of Republicans still believe Trump received more votes than Biden. Level of education mattered little for 71% of Republican college graduates concurred. [Link to article about poll] Meanwhile, the author, producer and director of this long running fiction has retired to Mar-a-Lago where he sits in judgement as to who is worthy to come and kiss his ring (or whatever). In a previous blog, I raised the question as to why people cling so tenaciously to lies even when they are proven to be untrue. I had quoted some research suggesting that repetition increased believability, but journalist, daughter, and editor Maggie (quite a load to carry) mentioned FBI director Comey’s note about how in his experience people often refused to accept they had been swindled.
There is little doubt that we do have difficulty admitting when we are wrong, especially when it involves other people. For example, in this country we have a long tradition of dickering over the price when buying a car, which probably hearkens back to the days when horse trading was seen as a competition which took the measure of a man’s expertise. I often hear friends say they got “a good deal” on their new car, yet I don’t ever recall anyone saying the salesman talked them into paying too much. It only seems logical that the more important the issue the more rigid we would hold on. Then I was reminded of what my old friend Sigmund Freud said on the subject. He who had something to say about almost everything sometimes said something that made sense, and a little over a hundred years ago coined the term “ego-dystonic” to refer to the instinctual need to maintain our self-esteem which makes it difficult to admit we are wrong no matter the evidence. Nevertheless, I find it remarkable that in spite of mountains of evidence which refute it, the number of Big Lie believers has changed very little.
It has been said many times that democracies are most at risk from forces within. In that vein, last September, Chad Wolfe, acting director of Homeland Security testified that: “Domestic terrorism has become the most lethal threat to the United States,” and FBI director Rae agreed. White Supremacist groups are said to be the best organized and most violent of all these forces, and recent information indicates there was careful planning and command control of the insurrection. The fact that they were able to enlist other antigovernment extremist groups along with the deluded Q-Anon Trump worshipers is indeed frightening. Our nation’s enemies although having shown no evidence of trying to affect the election results have done their part in supporting the Big Lie, which furthers their efforts to enhance the divisiveness.
Meanwhile, the Big Lie lives on. Trump continues to parrot it at every opportunity, and the faithful largely remain convinced that their hero is a victim. Many questions regarding the insurrection remain unanswered. It is obvious that those in charge of security were ill-prepared to deal with the size and violence of the mob. At the recent Senate hearing the capital police chief, the sergeants at arms of both the senate and house all deny ever laying eyes on the FBI warning which had been delivered to their offices prior to the attack. That such a dire warning escaped the attention of all three of the people who shared responsible for the security of the building, and the safety of those working there can only be explained as a result of gross incompetence or complicity. The other major unexplained issue was the delay by the Pentagon in sending National Guard troops after numerous pleas for help. Where are the conspiracy theorists when you need them?
Now, less that a month later, the whitewashing has begun. The latest theory is that the rioters were not Trump supporters, but rather Antifa members sporting Trump regalia. Even better was Senator Cornyn who read into the record a memo allegedly written by a participant in the march on the Capital in which it was stated that the mob was cheerful and pleasant until they were assaulted by the Capital police. Why not blame the victim? After all their leader has been victimized continuously for the past 4 years with vast left-wing conspiracies, witch hunts, and now the theft of an election. Poor fellow.