Between 1925 when Adolph Hitler was first rising in politics and 1933, when he was appointed chancellor of Germany, the nation had a population of between 62-65 million people. The US has a population 5 times greater than the Third Reich of the 1930s. Notwithstanding the magnitude of the population differences, both countries are or have been targets of destructive propaganda schemes designed to promote despotism.
Wikipedia presents a succinct definition of the “big lie” tactic that fuels despotism:
The big lie (German: grosse Lüge) is a propaganda technique, an expression coined by Adolf Hitler in his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”
The United States is no stranger to a big lie, nor is it immune from its sinister effects. With the rise of Jim Crow laws following the Civil War, a big lie entitled the Lost Cause (of the Confederacy) was invented, a conspiracy theory that at once sought to justify the war and camouflage the brutality of slavery. It is not an accident that the so-called Confederate States of America (CSA) adopted the political principle of nullification from the Articles of Confederation. Today, the grip of the Lost Cause is maintained by opponents of the removal of Confederate monuments and statutes. Perhaps worse is the statement of P45 that the persistence of the presence of CSA flags is a matter of “free speech.”
While a big lie does not require much more than an assertion of an untruth, it thrives on the absence of open discussion, especially in news media. “Fake news” is an ally of the big lie, helpful to its propagation as well as its proponents. Thus, when the big lie is challenged, retorts of “fake news” substitute for argument and analysis.
While a big lie does not require much more than an assertion of an untruth, it thrives on the absence of open discussion, especially in news media. “Fake news” is an ally of the big lie, helpful to its propagation as well as its proponents. Thus, when the big lie is challenged, retorts of “fake news” substitute for argument and analysis. Not surprisingly, this doubling of the messaging strategy has become the basis of yet another phenomenon characterized as conspiracy theory. On occasion, the big lie, fake news, and conspiracy theory transform into a confluence of messaging.
Last week, VoxFairfax highlighted (“Is the Virginia GOP Doomed?”; https://wp.me/p9wDCF-1A8) a statement by a state senator who has announced her candidacy for the GOP gubernatorial slot concerning the removal of Confederate statuary as “erasing white history.” The article primarily observed that the Commonwealth’s GOP might be spiraling into oblivion as it increasingly rushes rightward to embrace ever more extreme candidates and ideas. The Virginia experience is a microcosm of a national phenomenon.
Several historical antecedents have marked the path of the GOP as it adapts to its base of supporters and engages in strategies to win elections. In 1964, Barry Goldwater won six states in his campaign for the presidency. A memorable quote from the Arizona senator was “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” In 1980, Saint Ronald Reagan captivated Republicans and Democrats alike to win the White House. Not even the Iran-Contra scandal was sufficient to damage his presence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Sometime along the way from the Reagan era, the term Republican morphed into Conservative, eschewing the traditional “R” for a New World “C.” The 1970s and ‘80s spawned the Gingrich years, when Democrats were pilloried and slain wholesale by the Georgia representative, who pundits have credited with playing a key role in undermining political decorum in the United States and hastening political polarization and partisanship. Gingrich’s hubris consumed him into resignation in early 1999 following the surfacing of extra-marital affairs. In 2009, the Tea Party emerged to counter newly-elected President Barack Obama, leading Mitch McConnell to declare a year later his goal of making Obama a “one-term President.”
It is no artifice of history that the pejorative “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) became popularized in the 1990s as a signal of internecine warfare within the party, accelerating the movement of the GOP further rightward. The Gingrich playbook was adopted and improved during the 2016 presidential campaign and into the ensuing term of the incumbent. A CNN (July 11, 2020) article connected the dots:
Like Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, Gingrich also understood that the press would report on allegations, the accusations would stick, and rebuttals wouldn’t get as much attention. This was especially true as the accelerating speed of the news cycle greatly increased with the spread of cable television in the 1980s. Gingrich learned that the press would investigate something because he pronounced it to be true and this was enough to cause the damage he sought. Unlike McCarthy, who was pushed aside in 1954, Republicans made Gingrich their leader (House minority whip in 1989 and speaker in 1995).
The big lie, fake news, and conspiracy theory were now subject to amplification across social media, particularly P45’s use of Twitter to attack opponents, announce personnel changes, excoriate “lamestream” media (thank you Sarah Palin), issue policy declarations, and praise those who praise him. So powerful and attractive has this propaganda tool become that many in the GOP have feared to challenge P45 even as they have become targets of derision. Now the loop appears to be closing, as GOP candidates openly engage in support of conspiracy theories. The New York Times has reported (July 11, 2020) that candidates for the House of Representatives, some announcing themselves as “digital soldiers for QAnon,” are campaigning in California, Colorado, Georgia, and one for the Senate in Oregon.
Michael Flynn, awaiting sentencing, declared by way of an oath his fealty to QAnon in a video posted to Twitter over the July 4 weekend. Flynn swore the QAnon pledge: “Where We Go One, We Go All” or “WWG1WGA” in apparent homage to MAGA. The former National Security Adviser is expected to campaign for the incumbent shortly. The Times capsulized the political messaging of the conspiracy campaigners as:
to spread a core tenet of the QAnon conspiracy: that Mr. Trump, backed by the military, ran for office to save Americans from a so-called deep state filled with child-abusing, devil-worshiping bureaucrats. Backing the president’s enemies are prominent Democrats who, in some telling, extract hormones from children’s blood.
One necessary ingredient of the big lie is repetition. And that is true for messaging fake news and conspiracy theories.
One necessary ingredient of the big lie is repetition. And that is true for messaging fake news and conspiracy theories. Despite widespread repetition, the theory of the Lost Cause appears to be running out of steam. It’s not known what is in store for propaganda promoting fake news and conspiracy theory or what antidote will diminish the disease. Perhaps having come full circles from lie to conspiracy is the life span of such a virus. The November election results will communicate something about the susceptibility of voters.
Abraham Lincoln, who P45 learned was a Republican, is credited, however apocryphally, with the wisdom that has escaped his contemporary GOP legatees:
You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.