The Politics of Dishonesty
Donald Trump saved his biggest, boldest, brashest lie for the bitter end. That he didn’t lose the election. It’s a fitting bookend for the man who launched his political career with a whopper; the one about Barack Obama not being born in the United States. Lies and conspiracy theories didn’t begin with Donald Trump. Fear mongering and deluded thinking have been with us for years. He just accelerated it. This last one, however, culminated with the seditious acts of Jan. 6, 2021, and the tragic deaths of six people.
Conspiracy theories and deception have been part of the American experiment since it began, and dishonest politicians like Trump have used them to instigate violence and court voters. They use issues such as race and socio-economic grievances to entice and anger people.
But how? That’s the question that has puzzled sociologists, psychiatrists and professors. What makes people so willing to suspend rational beliefs for the most ludicrous notions almost never endorsed by experts in their respective fields.
“We believe that the government and its co-conspirators are hiding all sorts of monstrous and shocking truths from us,” said Kurt Anderson of The Atlantic.
Anderson argues the American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, whereby every individual is welcome to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control.
This idea of freedom, and what it means to be living in a free society, has long plagued America. If you can believe anything you wish, it leads directly to fantastical and unrealistic thinking.
“We didn’t just have an attempted coup but also a mass-delusion on Jan. 6th, not something that can be explained adequately through the prism of politics,” explained The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.
If we don’t address this phenomenon critically, and analyze the reasons related to these conspiracies, be it changing demographics, globalization, socio-economic and racial inequality, we are doomed as a nation.
“Either we shut down the disinformation or we give up on democracy, because at some point, someone competent and terrible will arise. Trump is at the heart of this. But he is ringed by mass complicity,” said Anand Giridharadas, author of "Winners Take All," "The True American," and "India Calling."
That means accountability. We cannot just focus on healing the nation right now. We are under threat. If we don’t bring Trump and his enablers to justice, it will once again keep the door open for other lawless, authoritarian leaders to surface.
The saddest part about this threat to our democracy is that it could have been avoided just by telling the truth.
According to Yale University history professor and author Timothy Snyder, the cure for Trump's big election dupe is simply that our elected representatives level with their constituents about the results of the 2020 election.
There is no other solution. This is it. This is what we must demand right now. To live in the truth or die in the lie.
If we don’t, we will become a cautionary tale of how easily a once-great nation can cease to exist.