Boomer Opinion: Are Americans going to believe lying eyes?

No one, save perhaps the president himself, knows when the polarizing conflict over the presidential election will end. It could be tomorrow, it could take until inauguration day next year. In this Boomer Opinion piece, BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs says, some new definition of truth is at the heart of the conflict.

Watching the President of the United States and his sycophants struggling to stay salient reminds me of the sardonic line in the movie Duck Soup when Chico Marx is caught in an untruth: “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”

If you’re Donald Trump, we now see with conspicuous clarity, the answer is, “me.”

But the truth is, he is the one who’s been caught in a lie. A big lie. A lie contrived to convince the country that counting every legally-cast vote is fraud.

It’s not. It’s democracy. As columnist Greg Sargent put it, “The fraud in question is the counting of your votes.” That was shockingly reinforced by Thursday’s stunning announcement from the Department of Homeland Security that in this election, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” It was, the statement said, “the most secure in American history.”

The defense rests.

If Trump were the only one to get hurt by his malicious whoppers, no matter. In fact, good riddance. But he’s not. Because as Tom Friedman wrote unerringly if despairingly last week, lying has been normalized at a scale without precedent, “the worst legacy of the Trump presidency.”

Remember when we all were younger (which these days feels like about a century ago)? We thought we knew the difference between good and bad, between right and wrong, between truth and a lie. But today, thanks in part to polarization in politics, we can’t always tell. We now live in a world where curious citizens get contradictory accounts from conflicting news organizations. A world where voices and images are so manipulated that maybe the sun really does come up in the west. A world, since Trump walked into the White House, with “alternative facts.”

In other words, lying is the new normal.

Which makes Trump’s big lie an assault on our culture, an attack on our republic. It is an act of sabotage to diminish our faith in democracy. And maybe, too, another nail in the coffin of our country’s once luminous image overseas. Trump has taken a blowtorch to the bedrock of what we’ve long treasured, and given comfort to adversaries overseas who crave American chaos. His big lie is the match that can burn down as much of our dependable democracy, and our national security, as this wannabe despot is willing to sacrifice, to salvage his pride, perhaps to stay out of penury and prison.

So he tells the big lie— “We did win this election,” despite every tenable sign that he didn’t— then amplifies it, while his lovers and lawyers labor to prolong it, filing frivolous lawsuits that Don Quixote himself would never touch. It is what presidential historian Michael Beschloss calls “the abuse of presidential power to keep himself in office.” As television comedian Jimmy Kimmel said, “Trump’s like the guy who knows he’s broke and still has the waiter run his credit card ten more times.” Funny, if it weren’t so true. Funny, if it weren’t so evil. Funny, if it weren’t so dangerous.

But it is. Donald Trump’s big lie hurts us all. Big time.

There’s also an axiom behind it that hurts us just as much, and ought to scare us even more. To quote David Shipler of The New York Times, “Lies don’t work unless they’re believed.” As the paper’s Moscow bureau chief in the Cold War days, he would know. Trump’s lies work. They are believed by an astounding slice of the American pie, and bolstered by leading lights of his party. Isn’t it ironic, that people who have made a show of flying the American flag now are untroubled to trample on it.

What confounds a lot of us is, why? Personally, I’ve stopped trying to figure it out. Nature or nurture, maybe some of both. But if you look back in history, you’ll see it’s not the first time that a deviant, destructive, delusional leader is empowered by deviant, destructive, delusional disciples. Do the names Goebbels, Goring, Himmler, Hess, Eichmann, and Speer ring a bell? They supported a wicked man who acted not just odiously but insanely. But without them, he couldn’t have acted at all.

The Nuremberg Trials after World War 2.

So it is with those behind Trump. Unless they have actively tried to disable his madness, they have enabled it. For four years he has undermined the confidence in and credibility of certain cornerstones of our society, from judges to law enforcement leaders to intelligence divisions to public health agencies to the news media and now, to our whole election process. Unless they’ve tried to extinguish it, his henchmen have helped hold that blowtorch with which Trump threatens America. Some leaders in his party have been silent at best. But that’s not enough. Because if they don’t try to tame the autocratic compulsions of this president, they are nearly as bad as the autocrat himself.

Eventually, they might have to make a choice: Do they want to be listed in the company of authoritarian nations like Congo and Chad, Laos and Libya, Iran and Belarus, North Korea and Russia, or do they want to underpin the proud legacy of the United States of America? Which means, they’ll have to make this choice: Donald Trump, or American Democracy? This pathetic president has left no middle ground.

I’ll make a prediction here: Donald Trump will never concede. That would be to admit that he is a loser, and a staggeringly sore loser at that. The man is too selfish for such a state of grace. He will walk out of the White House on January 20th— with or without a military escort— but he will not concede that it is the voters’ will. Instead he will do what he has done since the first day he walked into that hallowed house: he will lie, he will rant, he will insist that the election was rigged, his ouster illegal.

He will continue to subvert our democracy, and many Americans’ faith in it. Because, as we have learned painfully by now, millions will believe him, and not their lying eyes.

That’s what we’re up against. Heaven help us.

8 Comments

  1. Greg,

    Excellent piece. Captures the “1984 meets Alice in Wonderland” quality of public discourse these days.

    What bothers me most is what you observed: the legion of enablers who stood behind him no matter what crazy lie he told (and continues to tell). It is also terrifying how many people, including almost every Republican member of the Senate, have stood by and allowed this to go unchecked. The founding fathers wired up this democracy to prevent dictator-like behavior from getting a foothold in our institutions – especially in the White House. We can only hope that the Biden presidency pushes us back to a nation that can rejoin the community of nations and stands for something greater than what we have seen for the past four years.

    Finally, if you want to see the origin of the “president’s” behavior, watch the Netflix four episode “Donald Trump: An American Dream”. Have an airsick bag handy, but you can see how his approach to life and business has not changed since he was in his 20s. It is no surprise that things have turned out the way they have now that his dream has been realized.

  2. I enjoyed this opinion so much. From your suggestion for us to look back on history to Kimmel bringing it home with a great laugh, and of course to the flag waivers/burners, you conveyed, so well, the crazy chaos that seems to never end. Trump is throwing an annoying and very long “fit,” again. Hoping for better times across the board.

      1. When they count votes received after the deadline set by the state law, or without postmarks as required by state law, what do you call it but illegal?

  3. “Donald Trump, or American Democracy? This pathetic president has left no middle ground.” This sentence says it all. I made the wise choice in 1967 the first time I voted and am still holding onto it, “American Democracy”, and may it continue forever for us, our grandchildren, great grandchildren and all people in the United States of America.

  4. Great column, Greg. Here’s hoping Republicans in Congress find their backbone and make the right choice.

    Senate reform, anyone? Redistricting reform in the House? Top-two Jungle Primaries? We need to change the incentives for these career politicians who get in office and the only thing they have to fear is being primaried!

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