The Big Lie, Big Liar are shameless

Published 12:09 am Sunday, March 12, 2017

As a propaganda technique, “the Big Lie” has been around for generations. It begins by distinguishing between small lies (plausible fibs, the sort that everyone tells from time to time), and Big Lies. These are fantastical, wholly unsubstantiated assertions about serious issues, and therefore, are the sort that most people would be too ashamed to speak. But that’s why, propagandists assume, ordinary people will believe a big lie more quickly than a small lie. Because they would never lie so brazenly themselves, they’re reluctant to believe anyone else would have the gall to mangle truth so disgracefully. To boil it down to its essence, the Big Lie works precisely because it is shameless.

And shamelessness, thy name is Donald Trump. I’m sure he hasn’t studied the history of the Big Lie, though. In this art, he’s an untutored idiot savant. To list a few of his whoppers, he hyped the racist birtherism fantasy for years, then several election fraud delusions, and now, the Obama wiretapping libel. All repeated ad nauseum. All without an iota of proof. All, in a word, pathetic. And nevertheless, the more shamelessly he lies, the more his disciples believe him to be a fearless truth-teller. The more proofs are presented to counter the untruths of the Big Liar, the more the fact-checkers are discredited as “liars.”

Not everyone will be mesmerized by the Big Lie, of course. Still, the immense locust swarm of Trump’s lies, and particularly his relentless lying about the level of the media’s dishonesty, is not simple pathology. There’s perverse method to the madness. Its purpose is to exasperate and exhaust, to discredit not just the free press, but the bedrock ideas of objective truth, evidence, credible sources and reason. And thereby, to normalize the cancerous cynicism that increasingly characterizes the day. The cynicism that usually clots into the phrase, “They all lie.”

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This sentiment, a pretense to offended idealism, is actually only the lazy man’s excuse to shirk the hard work of citizenship. Because, yes, all politicians lie, some more, some less. But that has always been true, and that’s because politicians are human and all humans lie. In the real world in all its errant glory, there is no perfection. If we surrender to cheap cynicism upon receiving that revelation, though, we’ll be incapable of judging among the greater and lesser degrees of imperfection that populate that world. The inability of Trump and his mindless minions to distinguish between the plentiful-enough failings of American leaders, and the homicidal tactics of the gangster, Vladimir Putin, is a classic illustration.

And if Trump can’t tell the ethical difference between Putin and Obama, Reagan, Gerald Ford, et. al., then he is morally bankrupt. As a result, we can expect abuses of power and corruption to be the norm. Which is particularly worrisome, since his entire philosophy of governance consists of, “I won.” For him, might makes right. He won the power so whatever he does or says is, by definition, right. “Speaking truth to power” becomes redundant. Power is truth. What he ominously identifies as the “deep state” out to destroy him, is actually only our system of constitutional checks and balances out to restrain his megalomania. Of course, having the constitutional sophistication of an eight year old, he’s oblivious to the distinction.

And this combination of elemental deceit and adolescent pomposity, not immigrants or jihadis, truly endangers our constitutional system. No loss of ethnic “purity,” no bomb will bring it down. Institutionalized cynicism and sleaze, though, will hollow it out, rot it away. This transcends the numerous disputes over which Americans of the Left and Right constantly argue. It is about principle, and there are many good, intelligent Conservatives out there who know this as well as I do. Some have already spoken out. We wait for others.

Alternately, there’ll surely be compensations for silent submission to the Big Liar. A tax cut will soothe a guilty conscience for shredding the Constitution, won’t it? And besides, if Donald (“only I can fix it”) Trump really rebuilds our infrastructure, I bet he’ll make the trains run on time, too.
Jim Wiggins is  a Natchez resident and retired history instructor.