There are two reasons I’ve been preoccupied with how the majority of the Republican base has so thoroughly bought the big lie about the election being stolen: Because that lie
• is so blatantly and obviously false, that it’s weird that anyone would believe it; and
• is doing so much harm to America.
In a previous piece, I was led by my effort to understand how otherwise intelligent people can believe something so contrary to so much evidence to consider whether, for some people, “the truth” doesn’t mean what I assumed it meant.
I was brought up to regard “truth” as “what the evidence shows is true.”
But it appears that, in today’s Republican subculture, “the truth” means, instead, “whatever our group agrees to claim is true.”
Evidence, apparently, is irrelevant. Contrary evidence can be simply ignored, because the Republican world is not engaged in a quest for actual “truth,” but in concocting some “group truth” that will serve the group’s purposes.
So, what is the “purpose” of the lie of the stolen election? By providing a reason to hate the falsely accused “thief,” the lie justifies making political war against the other side (rather than working with them to make America better).
Brokenness all the way: broken in denying reality, broken in choosing conflict over cooperation, broken in disabling the nation from acting effectively to repair what’s damaged in America.
An examination of other big lies in the Republican world suggests that the starting point is the choice to make our politics into war, to intensify hostilities between groups. Then comes the lie to justify that choice.
It was stunning, for example, the way Republicans kept “misunderstanding” the message of Black Lives Matter. How could the people on the right hear Black Lives Matter as fighting words, as though they assert some special status? How could they think “all lives matter” was somehow a counter-argument? How could they fail to understand it as an appeal – based on long history – to be treated as fairly as white people are?
Likewise, with the obvious twisting of the meaning of NFL players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem: could they really believe their message involved disrespecting the flag or our troops and just ignore its plea for America to live up to its creed of justice for all.
Eventually, I realized: the lie about black protests – bought by many on the right – was not about misunderstanding. It was an expression of hostility.
The pattern is repeated: the lie is concocted to support the fundamental choice to intensify the hostility and conflict across the divide. (In this case, the racial divide.)
Christians should take note: The Spirit that drives these lies works toward the opposite of peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
That pattern is repeated also with the Republican world’s embrace of the voter fraud lie.
Abundant evidence has repeatedly shown that the number of fraudulent votes is vanishingly small, which means the Republican perpetual claim about a big voter fraud problem is a big lie.
But it serves the group’s purpose: that lie is continually used by Republicans to justify measures that pretend to be about the integrity of elections but are in fact the opposite. The lie justifies erecting obstacles to suppress how many votes will be cast by some of America’s most vulnerable citizens. Simply because most of those votes would support the Republicans’ opponents.
Voter suppression means choosing war over peace – where peace, in the context of our American covenant, means respecting the right of all citizens to have their proper voice in their government.
Believing as I do in the importance of evidence, I feel compelled by this evidence – indicating that evidence does not matter to today’s Republicans – to reconsider one of my own beliefs.
I have believed for years that the conservatives of the Shenandoah Valley – for whose values I felt genuine appreciation back in the 90s, when we had hundreds of hours of meaningful radio conversations – could be called back to “the better angels of their nature.”
That belief has inspired me to present – in columns here addressing those good conservatives – clear evidence showing that the political force they’ve been led to support represents the very opposite of the important virtues they held dear. (Patriotic and conservative virtues, Christian values, integrity of character, reverence for the Constitution.)
But now I am compelled to ask:
Is it reasonable to believe that people who believe the lie on so concrete and clear-cut a matter as whether the election was stolen – despite mountains of contrary evidence – can be moved regarding a more abstract issue, like how the Republican Party represents the opposite of the values they’ve claimed to hold dear, by any amount of good evidence?
And is there any good basis for believing that people – who consistently choose to believe lies whose purpose seems to be to fill our world with conflict – are within reach of hearing any message that would call them back to the better angels of their nature?
I really don’t know. The world unfolds in unpredictable ways.