Trump & the Big Lie must be exposed and cast out
The GOP’s Big Lie is tearing America apart, as Trump expanded it to assault American democracy.
A 40-year Republican Big Lie brought us to this crisis point in America.
When Ronald Reagan was running for president in 1980, one of his biggest boosters was the political heavy hitter Paul Weyrich, who was also a cofounder of the Heritage Foundation and multiple other rightwing think tanks and operations.
Weyrich told a group of political activists in a church in Dallas that the GOP was changing their strategy to win elections.
No longer would the Republican Party try to win elections through high-minded policy goals or wonky speeches about the importance of fiscal austerity, like Barry Goldwater had tried to do in 1964.
No longer would the GOP embrace the goal that as many eligible people vote as possible, and the GOP would no longer support widespread voter registration drives like Nixon had done in 1968 and 1972, cooperating with the League of Women Voters.
“I don’t want everyone to vote,” Weyrich bluntly told the assembled Republican operatives. “Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populous goes down.”
The job going forward for the Republican Party, Weyrich announced, would be to make it harder for people to vote rather than easier, particularly people who typically vote Democratic.
But to justify suppressing the vote, they had to create the Big Lie of the fraudulent voter. It was an absolutely necessary excuse, because without it voter suppression efforts would seem totally partisan and thus be less effective.
“Voter fraud” had never been an issue or a reality in American elections. While our history has a few instances of scattered ballot-box stuffing in the past (what could be called “election fraud”), no national election had ever been altered or changed as a result of people voting twice or non-citizens voting. It had never happened in any meaningful way.
As the Washington Post notes, multiple investigations, including ones run by the George W. Bush and Donald Trump White Houses, searched over a billion votes over decades and found fewer than 35 instances of illegal voting, nationwide. Fewer than 35 out of a billion votes. “Voter fraud” literally is an imaginary construct.
But for Republicans to successfully suppress the Democratic vote, they needed this “voter fraud” excuse. Merging Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy of bringing white racists into the GOP (after Democrats pushed the 1960s Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts through Congress) with this new electoral strategy, in 1980 Republicans began saying that Black people were voting multiple times and Hispanics who were not citizens were voting in huge numbers.
They knew it wasn’t true, but it justified passing laws in state after state to make it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote.
Low-income people who lived in cities and used public transportation often never spent the time and money to get a driver’s license, because they couldn’t afford a car to drive.
Elderly people, who tended to vote Democratic because Democrats brought them Social Security and Medicare, often had to let their driver’s licenses expire because they could no longer drive.
Requiring current, unexpired driver’s licenses, therefore, would be a great way to prevent big-city Black people and older Social Security voters from casting their ballots. The GOP went all in.
It wasn’t always done this way. For most of the 20th century, the way the identity of eligible voters had been authenticated when they registered to vote was with biometrics.
My mom used to volunteer every election to work the polls, and I remember being seven years old and sitting next to her as she compared voters’ signatures with the signatures she had on file from when they first had proven their identity and residency and registered to vote.
It was a system that worked well for decades. While it’s fairly easy to buy a phony driver’s license or birth certificate, it’s almost impossible to fake a signature. This biometric authentication was extremely effective and the system worked for most of the entire 20th century.
But to pass laws in state after state requiring a driver’s license, and in many cases even require multiple other pieces of ID to vote, the GOP had to amplify their Big Lie. They claimed that massive numbers of undocumented immigrants and formerly felonious African-Americans were illegally voting, and that the “Souls to the Polls” campaign within the Black church was a cover for multiple voting (a charge Donald Trump made again after the New Hampshire primary).
Using this Big Lie, they tightened the screws on voters in mostly Democratic-leaning cities and succeeded in preventing many elderly citizens from voting.
They brought back post-Reconstruction Jim Crow strategies of closing polling places in African-American and Hispanic communities, and stripping people off the voting rolls.
One of the most effective strategies for this was a new system called “caging“ that Karl Rove pioneered in the 1980s, mailing a postcard into targeted neighborhoods and when the postcard wasn’t returned with an affirmation that the person was legally registered, or was bounced back, pulling their name off the voting rolls.
Democrats got a court order preventing Republicans from caging, and that restraining order lasted for about 30 years, only being struck down when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act with their Shelby County decision in 2013.
Recently in another case involving Ohio, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court voted to legalize caging, and the GOP has again cranked up the postcard/letter machine.
But justifying caging requires the Big Lie of “voter fraud”: Rove’s argument was that people were not only voting multiple times in the same place, but that they were also voting multiple times in different states!
It’s true that many people are registered to vote in multiple states, because most people don’t bother to notify states when they move. What’s not true is that any of those people vote in those multiple states. It just doesn’t happen.
Of course this new variation on the Big Lie wasn’t true, but it made it very convenient for Republican Secretaries of State to “clean” their voting rolls, particularly in states with large urban populations. Massive voter registration roll purges were birthed.
The nation is in a crisis right now large because Donald Trump took this 40-year GOP Big Lie and extended it all the way out to its logical end-point that elections themselves, overall, were fraudulent in America.
Trump argued that even though the official result from state after state indicated that he had lost the national election by 7 million votes and lost the Electoral College by the same margin Hillary Clinton had four years earlier, the corruption of our voter system extended all the way into the offices of state election officials and Secretaries of State. Voter fraud, he said, was rampant, particularly in the swing states.
Republican voters have been primed by 40 years of the “voter fraud” Big Lie to believe this final, massive extension of that Big Lie. Therefore, Trump could successfully tell them over and over that he didn’t actually lose the election, but “won it by a landslide.”
This new variation on the older Republican Big Lie was echoed across the right-wing media landscape and by Republican politicians, particularly at the federal level.
To this day, most elected Republicans refused to acknowledge that Joe Biden was selected in a free and fair election. They continue to cling to the Republican Big Lie of “voter fraud,” because without massive suppression of Democratic voters in their own states many will never get elected again.
Repeatedly, yesterday, during the House Rules Committee debate to bring a resolution forward asking Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, Democrats begged their Republican colleagues to simply say, “The election was not stolen.” Republicans repeatedly refused. They are desperate to keep their “voter fraud” lie alive, so they can continue to run the scam to knock Democratic-leaning voters off the rolls.
Similarly, across the board rightwing media stars on radio and TV refuse to acknowledge the GOP Big Lie, even as a few of them will acknowledge that Joe Biden will be the next president.
The Republican Big Lie is now tearing America apart, as Donald Trump has picked it up and used it as a club to try to beat democracy to death.
If our American democracy is to survive and move forward, Republicans must admit to and repudiate their Big Lie. It’s been very useful and productive for them for over 40 years, but it must now come to an end.