When I was in grammar school, our monsignor used a powerful metaphor to illustrate the reach and impact of malicious gossip. He compared spreading untruths to ripping open a pillowcase filled with feathers on a breezy day. The wind would catch and swirl the feathers all about the neighborhood, making it impossible to return them to the pillowcase. Gossip, like feathers, has a way of landing somewhere and with someone whom we might not even know personally, and still damaging the reputation of the subject of the gossip. Monsignor warned that’s why gossip, slander, and calumny were such serious sins.
I was reminded of this sermon when I read a recent Quinnipiac poll that 72% of likely Republican voters continue to question the presidential election results, as do 42% of independents. For the world’s greatest democratic republic, this is damaging news since free and fair elections are two of our primary civic pillars. These serious doubts began last spring when poll after poll had our former president trailing Joe Biden. To counter the growing likelihood of his defeat, the former prez rolled out the Big Lie that the only way he could lose to Biden was if the election were rigged.
Last week, the Republican Party could have taken a major step in negating the Big Lie by convicting the Big Liar in his Senate impeachment trial but chose instead to use tortured reasoning to acquit him. Even though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the inciter-in-chief “morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 insurrection and accused him of showing a “disgraceful dereliction of duty,” the prez’s diehard base will twist the verdict into his vindication.
Big lies, once launched and amplified by friendly media, are exceedingly difficult to stamp out and can have history-rattling repercussions. After Germany sued for peace with the allies in the first World War, there were Germans who could not accept that their powerful army and navy, backed by their country’s industrial might, had capitulated. Was all the carnage and destruction for naught? German military leadership launched a big lie to explain it. Today historians call it the stab-in-the-back legend. The generals, unwilling to take responsibility for how they conducted the war, blamed their defeat on internal traitors working with foreign interests, specifically Jewish financiers, and communists.
After the war, that big lHie festered, infecting Germany’s new constitutional democracy. When the economy, hobbled by reparations to the allies, began to fail, Adolf Hitler rose to exploit the sick social and financial milieu. His National Socialist Party came to power by spreading new permutations of the big lie, such as it was really the Jews who started the war to gain world domination and enrich themselves. This embellishing of the lie helped cultivate a powerful strain of antisemitism that ultimately led to the Holocaust and World War II.
No, I’m not playing the Nazi card, even though the militaristic Proud Boys and other white supremacists have a penchant for swastikas as fashion accessories. I am saying that big lies can have serious, unforeseen consequences that might make the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol look like a pleasant night at a fireman’s carnival. With gun sales soaring, rhetoric rising, and Republicans fearful of repudiating the Big Liar himself, conditions are ripe for more violent upheaval. Last week, Rep. Jamie Raskin reminded us of how “rare and fragile and transitory” democracies are and how important it is to protect our elections and the peaceful transfer of power.
That’s why we must stamp out our own Big Lie. Lawsuits appear to be one potent weapon. Dominion Voting Systems is suing Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell for $1.3 billion, and the voting technology company Smartmatic USA is suing Fox News, its hosts Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, and Jeanine Pirro, and commentators Giuliani and Powell for $2.7 billion. Both lawsuits charge the parties with making baseless claims about systematic and fraudulent efforts to “steal” the election for Biden.
Dobbs has already lost his job at Fox, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some talk radio hosts were the next perpetrators getting sued. Unsurprisingly, they also aided and abetted the Big Lie.
Another weapon is the banning of disinformation from social media where the Big Lie has flourished. Granted, this is a slippery slope for First Amendment rights, but we simply can’t have anyone, especially the former president, continue to tweet or post falsehoods if we wish to consign the Big Lie to history’s dustbin.
A deluge of lies has engulfed the country over the last five years, beginning with 45′s slander about President Obama’s birth certificate and ending with his deceptions concerning COVID-19′s threat, Biden’s cognitive abilities, and a “stolen” election. So many feathers left swirling in the wind.
Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears every other Friday. Email him at email@example.com.