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I assume we’ve all heard the story. It’s almost a cliche in children’s books and movies and shows. A child tells a simple, harmless white lie. It seems like an easy solution. The kid gets to avoid getting in trouble, and it doesn’t cost anything, doesn’t cause any harm. But then there is some later consequence of the lie that the child didn’t think of. And they are faced with either admitting to the lie, and facing both the consequences they were originally avoiding and the consequences of telling a lie, or telling a slightly less simple, less harmless lie. And the lies snowball, getting greater and greater and doing more and more harm until the child finally comes clean.
Right now we’re seeing the beginning of that. We started with the quite predictable vanity issue of Trump claiming that he didn’t actually lose the popular vote for president, and that his inauguration crowd wasn’t as small as expert assessments and photographs suggest. But you can’t say that the popular vote was off by millions because of mass voter fraud and not do anything about it. But since it’s a lie, you can’t do anything real. The only right solution to a problem that doesn’t exist is admitting the lie. So you have to act on the lie. And that action will be a bigger lie, one that not only fixes a problem that doesn’t exist, but one that creates new problems that you need to come up with more dangerous and harmful lies to cover.
At some point, Trump will no longer be doing what he wants. Each lie builds momentum, creates another thing that he will have to react to in the future. Trump is building up a lot of momentum. I don’t know where it’s pointed, and I’m not going to speculate on what that looks like or where it ends.
I am also going to point out that this happening at a time when Republicans all over the country are shamelessly trying to prevent people who will vote against them from voting at all. That and Trump’s willingness to tell big lies and act on them is a combination that threatens the foundation of our system of government.
One last point: this is likely the most obvious, least consequential lie we are going to see from this administration. This one doesn’t have powerful special interests or personal fortunes or political movements riding on it. It isn’t complicated or difficult to see that it’s a lie. We need people to recognize this lie for what it is so that when the stakes are higher and the truth is more obscured they will be prepared.
Where to start? We could start at the beginning, talking about how his political career was built on the “birther” conspiracy theory, an attack on President Obama with no basis in fact that Trump revived when it began fading, and kept supporting long after it had been proven false.
We could talk about the election. That would include things like the cottage industry publishing made up Donald Trump propaganda. From satirists like Paul Horner who were taken seriously to the Macedonian town running over one hundred pro-Trump sites.
We could talk about the Russian espionage that directly supported Trump’s campaign.
We could talk about the highly unusual statements the FBI released that aided Trump’s campaign.
Or we could talk about what kind of president he’s going to be.
We could talk about his selection of the author of a neo-Nazi resurgence as chief strategist.
We could talk about his continuation of the unpresidential behavior many assumed or hoped he would discard once the campaign had ended.
But I think the most important thing to talk about now is the fact that Republicans control the Presidency, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and are likely to regain their majority on the Supreme Court.
In the days before and after the election, I heard many claims that Donald Trump wouldn’t be so bad as president because the Constitution would keep him in check. But the constitution is “just words.” It is only as strong as the will of Congress and the judiciary to enforce it. Keep in mind that the story of his election is that of an aggressive, vindictive man and a parade of unexpected victories over political norms and the very people who now must keep him in line. We should not take for granted their ability to stand up to him. We, the public, need to hold our representatives accountable just as they need to hold Trump accountable. We need to demand that they not let partisan loyalty, fear of reprisal, or desire for personal power and success prevent them from standing up to Trump wherever he breaks the public trust.
As a resident of Indiana district 12, I’ve found my representatives contact numbers. They are:
Representative Peter Visclosky (D) IN: 219-795-1844 DC: (202) 225-2461
Senator Joe Donnelly (D) IN: 202-224-4814 DC: (202) 224-4814
Senator Daniel Coats (R) 317-554-0750
I intend to call regularly and ask that my representatives not just keep my own political views in mind, but be aware of things that should be bipartisan, like upholding the first amendment and rejecting the elevation of dangerous people in the White House. I ask that you do the same.
For Democracy to work, the electorate really needs to be less gullible. One of the most effective campaign slogan of the British leave campaign was a blatant lie that caved in the day they won the election. And really, the only excuse people have for believing it is that wanted to believe it. For as easily and thoroughly as it was debunked, people had to actively reject the reality. And the rest of the campaign wasn’t much better, denying and defying all expert opinions and fact based analysis.
And there have been a lot of comparisons between the leave campaign and Trump’s, not least of all from Trump himself. The similarities between the leave campaign and Donald Trump’s aren’t just in tone. The “go big” style of lies, making grand, vague lies that resonate with people, are a hallmark of both.
The cynical response to this is that it’s just politics, that you can’t trust any of it anyway, so who cares? But that’s really not true. Some lies are easier to spot than others. Some lies are more appealing than others. And some lies lead you further away from the truth than others.
Leave and Trump both take those to extremes, combining the extremes of all three. The lies at the center of the campaign are appealing, easy to debunk, and lead people in a disastrous direction. I know most Trump voters are angry because they feel ignored and exploited, but Trump isn’t an answer to that. He’s more of it: bigger, stronger, and worse. I don’t know how to convince them of that. In finance we would arrest people who do this kind of thing for fraud. We can’t do that in politics, it wouldn’t last five minutes before it was exploited for partisan reasons. But we need some other way of exposing political cons, because right now we’re failing the biggest, most obvious test in recent history.