January 13th, 2021 by Zachary Shahan
Clearly, anyone who has followed the facts and US politics in recent months knows what The Big Lie of this era is — the lie that the US presidential race was decided by some kind of fraud that somehow could not be proven in 62 court cases (cases which Trump’s team lost or had thrown out many times from the hands of judges appointed by Trump). The lie assumes that this happened despite Trump being in power and working hard to make the election go in his favor; that this happened even in states with Republican governors, Republican secretaries of state, and Republican election officials who strongly supported Donald Trump; that this happened despite Republican politicians being pressured by Trump to “find the fraud” and repeatedly threatened after they didn’t. However, this article is not about all of that — not until the end. This article is about a strategy of obsessive lying that led to this point in US history, and how The Big Lie has previously been targeted at cleantech, climate, regulatory, and economic matters.
There’s a long history of lies, big lies, consistent lies, that have dominated much of political discussion in the United States. Some like to say that lies are made on both sides. That ignores matters of scale and importance. If my neighborhood basketball buddies and I played the Golden State Warriors, we’d score some points, but the score would be immensely unbalanced and the game would not look equal just because both teams scored points. The lies I have seen building in the political sphere for decades, similarly, have been heavily unbalanced. There are many culprits, including soulless entities such as “the invisible hand” and the internet. However, in my opinion, there’s been a clear stream of lies from one political party and one segment of the media that has grown year after year around these lies, and I believe this ecosystem of Big Lies has led to the sad, heartbreaking, almost unbelievable events of last week. (Almost unbelievable.)
You can go back a month or two, you can go back a year or two, or you can go back decades — in any of those cases, you can find a “starting point” for what led to last week. Heck, you can even go back centuries. However, while you can trace lies and logical inconsistencies back centuries, we’re in a particular political era that I think is core to what led to January 6th, the biggest core to it aside from our history of slavery and racism, and it is an economic matter.
Joe Scarborough, a longtime Republican and even former Republican Congressman, summarized the history of this very briefly this week while discussing the new book Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America, by Kurt Andersen. Discussing the book with the author, Scarborough noted that this problem extends back to the post–New Deal era and Milton Friedman steering the country, via the corporate world and political right, to a reverence for and commitment to corporate profits above all else at any cost. Scarborough notes, “At the end of the day, it was money above all things. As you said, ‘profits are essential’ turned into ‘profits are everything.’”
Kurt Andersen said that it was at that time that “Milton Friedman-ism became this extreme article of faith for the Republican Party, including that all regulation was bad, taxes should effectively be eliminated and that’s really all we care about, and on and on and on. And discrediting government! You know, that has been part of the gameplay — certainly through the ’70s and the ’80s. What was last Wednesday but the right’s anti-government feeling whipped up into this hideous, violent, anarchic apotheosis? That’s what you get.“
We’ve seen that ideology extend into several matters that affect a large portion of society where there’s bipartisan support for common sense but then Republican Party policies go against that bipartisan support consistently and vigorously.
We’ve seen it with support for climate action — which Republicans consistently block. We’ve seen it with serious cleantech support at the federal level and in some states — support for stronger clean energy policies, stronger electric vehicle policies, and stronger energy efficiency policies. We’ve seen this because the Republican Party has decided to make itself beholden to the fossil fuel industry and unchecked pollution, because the party has chosen to make itself beholden to corporate America and the richest of the rich above all else. This is not historically an American ideal, a conservative ideal, or a Christian ideal — quite the opposite — but it is the core of the modern Republican Party. And we’ve seen this despite the fact that most Republican voters support clean energy, electric vehicles, regulation on deadly pollution, and common sense.
I’ve seen this for years while covering wind power, solar power, and electric vehicles. But it started long before that.
In fact, the whole modern Republican Party, whose prime policy aim has been reducing taxes on the rich and corporations ever since Ronald Reagan was president, has been focused on a Big Lie on that topic for decades. The Big Lie is the lie that trickle-down economics works and helps the economy. To the contrary, helping billionaires and corporations to hoard money has been hurting the working class and middle class for a long time, yet the working class and middle class have continued to get tricked into voting for people who push these polices above all else. That has led to many people in the working class and middle class getting disillusioned, distraught, and furious at elected officials. Unfortunately, while many have understood that they’ve been lied to, they haven’t correctly identified the source of the lies or the Big Economic Lie itself. They have continued to vote for people who implement economic policies that hurt them while helping billionaires and multi-millionaires to extent their separation from the broader public to astronomical levels.
Overall, once people are thoroughly embedded in a culture and media/information ecosystem that consistently prioritizes myths and propaganda over science, scientific facts, proven policy ramifications, and reality, it is clear that those people can be fed enormous lies, often even self-contradictory narratives and complete hypocrisy, and they will be conditioned to absorb them and repeat them. Many wonder how it got to the point that so many Republican voters actually believe the election was stolen — something that very obviously and clearly is not the case. Many are confused about how out of touch with reality much of the party now sits. However, for those of us who have seen clear misinformation dominate the party’s ideology and talking points for years or even decades, it is, unfortunately, a logical endpoint. Well, hopefully it is an endpoint that rebounds voters toward reality. It depends on how people respond to this absurd moment we’re in.
More people need to start respecting facts, science, reality, and policies that are proven to help society as a whole. Otherwise, much of the country remains super susceptible to absurd conspiracy theories and remains embedded in a culture of not believing experts, not believing the independent media, not believing facts, and not even respecting the basic foundation of our democratic republic.
I majored in sociology as an undergraduate a couple of decades ago. One of my core takeaways in that time was that both democracy and a free market are built on two critical foundations: 1) widespread access to information (ideally, complete information, but realistically, as much useful and accurate information as possible), and 2) political engagement. As we’ve seen for years, lacking these to a very large extent leads the country down a poor path. As we’ve seen recently, lacking or warping the former while stimulating the latter is dangerous — but it does not come out of the blue.
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