GOP Lies Assert Power Over Truth And Threaten Our Democracy
Last December, Masha Gessen wrote one of her insightful articles remarking on the similarities between Trump and Putin. In that article, she states, “Lying is the message. It’s not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself…Trump has exhibited similar behavior, apparently for the same reason: when he claims that he didn’t make statements that he is on record as making, or when he claims that millions of people voting illegally cost him the popular vote, he is not making easily disprovable factual claims: he is claiming control over reality itself…Both Trump and Putin use language primarily to communicate not facts or opinions but power: it’s not what the words mean that matters but who says them and when.”
As she predicted, Trump has continued this tactic of trying to assert power over truth in his short time as President. The Washington Post kindly keeps a database of Trump’s false and misleading statements so that we can all track them. And in just the first five months, Trump has managed to rack up an amazing 669 statements that are at odds with documented facts and the truth, repeating many of his lies multiple times for extra effect. At his rally the other day, Trump managed to add a few more whoppers, including the claim the Democrats were obstructing the Senate healthcare bill which, of course, they hadn’t even seen because Republicans were crafting it in secret.
Apparently, this has proven so effective for Trump that his administration and the Republican party itself is taking the same tack. Sean Spicer spent the first few months of his tenure as press secretary spouting almost as many lies as Trump himself. Recently, he’s taken a new approach by saying he hasn’t talked to the President about a particular issue or has no knowledge of this issue at hand but promising to get back to the reporter with an answer. ABC News has compiled its own list of 25 questions just since May 1st that Spicer or Sarah Huckabee has promised to get back on and reporters are still waiting.
Or take Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, in his interviews on the Sunday talk shows. In the span of just a few seconds on multiple shows Sekulow declared that the President is not under investigation and then immediately contradicted himself by saying that the President was under investigation by the very people in the Justice Department who recommended that Trump fire Comey and then appointed Mueller as an special counsel. In his Fox interview Sekulow said, “So he’s [Trump’s] being investigated for taking the action that the attorney general and deputy attorney general recommended him to take by the agency who recommended the termination.” When confronted by Chris Wallace that Sekulow’s statement contradicted his earlier statement that Trump was not being investigated, Sekulow responded, “No, he’s not being investigated!”
The entire Congressional Republican party has also taken the same approach with their attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. Paul Ryan in particular has been especially egregious with his lies, saying that the AHCA will lower premiums, increase access to health care, still protect pre-existing conditions, and not cut Medicaid while at the same time claiming Obamacare is failing. And Senator John Cornyn laughably described the Senate’s secret plan for their own version of the AHCA by saying, “There’s nothing being done in secret here.”
These are but a sampling of the lies Republicans have been telling just in the past few months. But this process began many years ago and Trump is just the culmination of years of Republicans succeeding because of, rather than in spite of, the lies they tell not only to their own supporters but to the public as a whole.
David Frum has a remarkable piece in the Atlantic about how democracies fail where he identifies the root issue with today’s Republican party in a way that most reporters or pundits are afraid to articulate, but which I have been stressing since I began this blog over a year ago. According to Frum, “It’s a striking feature of American politics since 2008 that the Republican right has combined extraordinary down-ballot electoral success with an ever-intensifying pessimism about American society. If you listen to conservative discussion and debate, it’s hard to miss the rising tone of skepticism about democracy—and increasing impatience with the claim that everybody should have convenient access to the ballot. The pessimism about the society and the weakness of the party have left Republicans vulnerable to an authoritarian populist like Donald Trump. Party rules that would once have screened out a Trump have given way to partisan antagonisms that empower him.
Some conservative intellectuals attribute Trump’s ascendancy to a betrayal of conservative ideals. That’s true so far as it goes. But the more relevant truth…is that Trump arose because of the hollowing out of conservative institutions. The Republican party could not stop him. Now it cannot restrain him. And this weakness of the Republican party—and its craven subordination to the ego, ambition, and will-to-power of one man—now stands as the gravest immediate threat to American democracy.”
Truer words have not been spoken. But the Republican party is not as distinct from Trump as Frum seems to imply. They, are in fact, different manifestations of the same creature. But Frum is correct that the autocratic tendencies and quest for power at all cost that exemplifies today’s Republican party, and Donald Trump in particular, is, to use Frum’s own words, “the gravest immediate threat to American democracy.”