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Successful tyrants sell big lies

Successful tyrants sell big lies

Americans may wonder what it felt like to be living in Italy or Germany when they were submitting to tyrants. Now we know. 

The evil genius in Adolf Hitler recognized that most people will more likely believe a big lie than a small one. Unwilling to tell big lies themselves, they can’t imagine that anyone else would, especially not a national leader.

Despite being willfully ignorant of history (and so much else), Donald Trump absorbed that one lesson terribly well. Having told 30,573 untruths during his presidency, according to the Washington Post’s fact-checkers, he continues to spew the biggest and most dangerous one. 

Although some 65% of all Americans believe the 2020 election was fair, the polls show, nearly three out of four Republican voters echo Trump’s Big Lie that it was stolen. He has leveraged their credulity into dominating his party with a ruthlessness reeking of European fascism.  

In party primaries — Georgia’s being a significant exception — Trump has succeeded in purging patriots like reps. Liz Cheney in Washington and Peter Meijer in Michigan for being loyal to the Constitution instead of to him. Election deniers have won more than 50 nominations for offices they could use to overturn Democratic victories in 2024. Republican candidates dare not speak the truth for fear of provoking him and his voters.

The mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to keep Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory was inspired, motivated and inflamed by the Big Lie. Like nothing else in our history, it resembled the armed mob that had brought the pioneer fascist Benito Mussolini to power in Italy in 1922. It might have succeeded but for the Secret Service agent who refused to take Trump to Capitol Hill.

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Now the Trump faithful are seething with outrage and violent threats over the warrant-authorized search that confirmed he illegally took highly classified documents to Mar-a-Lago after losing the election. “Back the Blue” has become “Defund the FBI,” egged on by the same demagogue who once provoked his audiences to chant “Lock her up!”  

There is a clear and present danger of violence if he is indicted, as he should be. But he can’t be allowed to remain above the law. As a candidate in 2016, Trump boasted “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any voters.” No wonder. His life’s entire experience had been to get away with whatever he chose to do. He still expects to. 

It may be that pathological liars believe their own deceptions. Consumed by megalomania and narcissism, Trump said he could lose the election only if it was stolen from him. Does he now believe that delusion or does he secretly know better? The difference doesn’t matter; by either explanation, he is dangerously unfit for any office, let alone the leadership of the free world.

But what is even more troubling is that that so many citizens continue to believe him despite the abundant testimony of his former attorney general and others that Biden won fairly; despite the failure of his lawyers to persuade any of more than 60 courts that there was any substance to his claims of fraud; and despite the mounting evidence of his ruthless contempt for the laws.

How can people who consider themselves good citizens support someone who inhabits such a total vacuum of virtue? 

There is a parallel and an explanation in what happened in Italy and Germany. Granted, there are also major differences. They didn’t have long traditions of nationhood, separation of powers and judicial independence. But there and then, as here and now, many people adhered to endemic bigotries that Hitler and Mussolini would inflame and exploit. Many felt alienated economically and politically. Many were beguiled by exaggerated visions of national greatness. 

There were Germans who recognized Hitler as a deplorable individual but welcomed his policies, confident that they could control him. But of course, they couldn’t.  

There are many genuinely conservative American politicians who, like Liz Cheney or Mike Pence, could govern with genuine conservative principles and respect democracy. But there is a new aspect of danger: his example seems to be contagious. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who scarcely bothers to conceal his presidential ambitions, is running the state with the same heavy hand and contempt for dissent as Louisiana’s Huey Long. His Republican legislature is as servile as Trump’s go-alongs in the Congress.

The American Conservative Political Action Conference, which flatters itself as “the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world,” recently gave a hero’s welcome in Texas to Europe’s second most dangerous authoritarian, the antisemitic and pro-Putin Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. 

I do not think that all or even the majority of Trump’s voters are bad people, or that they would want anyone with such profound emptiness of character as a neighbor, an employer, an employee or a son-in-law. But if you would not want someone like him in any of those roles, you should not want him to be running your political party and bidding once again to run — and ruin — our nation. 

(Martin A. Dyckman is a journalist living in Asheville. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Leave a comment

12 comments

  • "Despite being willfully ignorant of history (and so much else), Donald Trump absorbed that one lesson terribly well"

    That statement is classic projection. The left is the most serious problem this country faces..

    By the by, the evidence the 2020 election was fraudulent is mountainous. What the writer's supposed "65%" thinks, is irrelevant.

    posted by Quartermaster

    Monday, 08/29/2022

  • Love it. He is spot on.

    posted by Juanita Dixon

    Monday, 08/29/2022

  • We need more people to speak up against Trump and those who believe his lies. We must not let the threat of violence deter us from exposing these people for who they are!

    posted by Mary

    Sunday, 08/28/2022

  • Dick, keep spewing your liberal puke and wear your rainbow colors.

    posted by Jane Mellon

    Friday, 08/26/2022

  • Perilous times coming indeed, because of the baby killers, and tax grabbing democrats like Dick.

    posted by Jane Mellon

    Friday, 08/26/2022

  • I also strongly suspect Mr. Dick is one of God's Chosen People.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Friday, 08/26/2022

  • I've said it before and I will say it again.... Mr. Dyckman is a Dick!

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Friday, 08/26/2022

  • What a bunch of liberal pukes.

    posted by Jane Mellon

    Friday, 08/26/2022

  • It's my belief that he's conned himself into believing the bologna he's peddling. And in the universe of peoples' minds, his lies have become true.
    I once had a friend start working as a security system salesman. He learned the tricks and lines other salesmen used to scare people into wanting a security system. He even came up with some of his own. After a year or two, he bought a sidearm, then a cwp. This was all outside his old personality. Other time he had bought into his own stories.
    Say what you will about Joe Biden, but at least he doesn't have the cult following and media outlets for which he can do no wrong.

    posted by David King

    Friday, 08/26/2022

  • Excellent guest column. Thank you, Mr. Dyckman!

    posted by Chuck Zimmerman

    Friday, 08/26/2022

  • Mr. Dyckman, PLEASE keep sounding the alarm. You are right on target. We have possibly perilous times coming.

    posted by Sandy Brantly

    Thursday, 08/25/2022

  • Mr. Dyckman, PLEASE keep sounding the alarm. You are right on target. We have possibly perilous times coming.

    posted by Sandy Brantly

    Thursday, 08/25/2022

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