When you see something in real life and say “it looks like something out of a movie,” it’s never a good thing.
That’s how it felt last week, watching in horror as a mob, incited by the sitting U.S. President, rampaged through the U.S. Capitol while members of Congress were shuttled into hiding by a vanishingly small contingent of police.
How did this brutal blend of a zombie B movie and dystopian Batman blockbuster come to life?
It’s not that hard to explain: although it really happened, it was based on pure fiction.
In the weeks and months after the presidential election, Donald Trump refused to concede, baselessly claiming voter fraud and that the election had been stolen from him in swing states and predominantly Black cities.
Dozens of lawsuits filed by Trump or his allies ensued were lost or dismissed in every case but one. The single successful lawsuit challenged a deadline-extension in Pennsylvania regarding mailed ballots and affected a small number of votes.
Still, it didn’t matter. With the lawsuits, his allies, enablers, and the megaphone of Twitter, Trump ceaselessly kept feeding the lie.
Why not? Millions believed his other falsehoods, which started long before his campaign and continued from his first day in office until now.
The lies got bigger as time went on, and then came COVID-19, with more Trump lies: It would go away, like magic. Masks were a sign of weakness. The numbers were overblown. Injecting Lysol might cure the disease.
Now we see how all those lies, escalating in their egregiousness, led to the big one.
In his 2017 book, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” the esteemed author and historian Timothy Snyder warned about America’s turn towards authoritarianism.
He wrote that an essential part of this turn, throughout history, is the widespread belief in a “big lie” — a propaganda tool used by Stalin, Hitler and other 20th century despots that convinces people to believe that fiction is fact.
In the wake of the violent, racist, Trump-provoked insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week, Synder took to Twitter himself, to succinctly describe the “big lie” that prompted the anti-democratic insurrection.
According to Synder:
“The claim that Trump won the election is a big lie.
“A big lie changes reality. To believe it, people must disbelieve their senses, distrust their fellow citizens, and live in a world of faith.
“A big lie demands conspiracy thinking, since all who doubt it are seen as traitors.
“A big lie undoes a society since it divides citizens into believers and unbelievers.
“A big lie destroys democracy, since people who are convinced that nothing is true but the utterances of their leader ignore voting and its results.
“A big lie must bring violence, as it has.
“A big lie can never be told just by one person. Trump is the originator of this big lie, but it could never have flourished without his allies on Capitol Hill.
“Political futures now depend on this big lie. Senators John Hawley and Ted Cruz are running for president on the basis of this big lie.
“There is a cure for the big lie. Our elected representatives should tell the truth, without dissimulation, about the results of the 2020 election.
“Politicians who do not tell the simple truth perpetuate the big lie, further an alternative reality, support conspiracy theories, weaken democracy, and foment violence far worse than that of Jan. 6, 2021.”
These are deeply sobering words in light of increasing threats of more domestic terrorism to come, yet there is still reason to have hope.
Trump, in addition to all his other failures, is also responsible for the fact that his party of enablers has now lost the Presidency, the Senate and the House. Millions more in our country believe in the truth than the lie.
And he is now on track to cement his infamy by being the first president of the United States to be impeached twice, likely by the time you hold this newspaper in your hands.
These are dangerous times, and we do not know what will happen next. But the first thing we must do is continue to stand in the bright light of the truth.