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Let’s call out Trump administration’s big lies


(Feb. 20, 2017) — We live in dangerous times and it is critical to understand the political and psychological warfare mounted against us in the new age of Trumpian “alternative facts.” This warfare is not new. In 1928, Edward Bernays, the father of modern public relations and author of the historic book Propaganda, wrote:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society…We are governed, our minds ruled, our tastes shaped, our ideas suggested, largely by men that we have never heard of.”[1]

The Nazis understood the power of propaganda and advanced Bernays’ methods.  Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, promoted the “Big Lie” theory.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie.”

Hermann Goering, Hitler’s 2nd in command, tied the Big Lie to the Great Fear of untrustworthy enemies.

“It’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked.”

Relentless propaganda serves a deeper purpose as expressed by the great modern-day Russian dissident, Garry Kasporov:

“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda.  It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”[2]

The formula of mass propaganda to dominate a people is simple, elegant and very dangerous. It has five key steps:

1. Conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the people;

2. Endless telling of the “Big Lies”;

3. Relentless fear mongering and denunciation of the “Enemies of the People” who are harming the “good” people;

4. Exhaust our capacity to think critically and to annihilate the truth; and

5. Do it quickly, always attack and never back down.

Relentless propaganda and scapegoating of “enemies of the German people” served Nazi Germany and its horrific crimes. To quote the great German churchman, Martin Niemoller:

“First they came for the communists, and I said nothing as I was not a communist; then they came for the socialists and I said nothing; then the trade unionists and I said nothing; then the homosexuals and I said nothing; then the Jews and I said nothing; and one day they came for me and there was no one to speak up for me.”

History is clear. The failure of a people to relentlessly fight for the truth and stand strongly with the victims of the Big Lies was disastrous for the direct victims and millions who remained too silent and failed to act.

I am not claiming we are in a pre-Nazi Germany period, but I am saying that the war on the truth today poses great risks for our nation and world. Trump and his allies are trying to intimidate and silence the courts, Congress, the press and the people in their drive for asserting their domination of our nation. We must speak up, recognize the propaganda war, and fight forward to defeat Trumpism and the “Big Lie” machine.

This history is directly relevant today. Let’s assess an ongoing 18-month example of Trumpian “Big Lies” and their implications.

Photo by Jonathan McIntoshOn July 6, 2015, Donald Trump said:

“What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”

A day earlier he stated the following in response to an earlier attack on Mexican immigrants:

“I can never apologize for the truth. I don’t mind apologizing for things. But I can’t apologize for the truth.”[3]

The seeds of thought and feelings manipulation, the Big Lie, the Big Fear, and an enemy scapegoat had been sewn and would fester throughout the election.

Three weeks after the election, his Big Lie strategy re-emerged. On Nov. 27, 2016, Trump said:

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by 2.8 million. No evidence was provided but the Big Lie and faceless enemies of our democracy emerge. If true, this claim would constitute a profound crisis for our democracy.

On December 16, 2016, The New York Times published a long article refuting this “Big Lie.” The Times reporters contacted all 50 states election officials about voter fraud and reported:

“But inquiries to all 50 states (every one but Kansas responded) found no states that reported indications of widespread fraud. And while additional allegations could surface as states wind up postelection reviews, their conclusions are unlikely to change significantly.”

On Jan. 23, 2017, Trump launched a renewed “Big Lie” campaign on alleged massive voter fraud in a White House meeting with top Democratic and Republican leaders. He named undocumented immigrants as one of the great “Enemies of the People” and our democracy. They allegedly stole the election.

“As part of the conversation, Mr. Trump asserted that three to five million unauthorized immigrants voted for Mrs. Clinton.”

The “Big Lie” grows as the evidence remains non-existent.  The formerly faceless enemy of illegal voters has been replaced by the faces of dark-skinned undocumented immigrants.

Given the level of threat alleged by the “Big Lie,” Trumpism requires new attacks.  On January 26, 2017, Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, laid out the line of attack:

“We have to understand where the problem exists, how deep it is, and then suggest some remedies…It’s a belief that he (Trump) has maintained for a while, a concern that he has about voter fraud. And that’s based on information that’s provided.”

The National Association of Secretaries of State politely countered with the following: “We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims of President Trump, but we are open to learning more about the administration’s concerns.” In short, show us the evidence.

Trump was confronted by David Muir of ABC News who repeatedly demanded verifiable proof of Trump’s claim on millions of illegal voters stealing the popular vote. Trump’s response:

“You know what is important. Millions of people agree with me when I say that.”

In essence, belief in the his unverified “Big Lie” is what is important. The truth is not important. This is the annihilation of truth coupled with attacks on our so-called enemies in an alleged defense of our country. They have no evidence yet they will persist in their attacks.

But they have an agenda intended to continue the relentless attacks on the right to vote of millions of Americans and to subvert our democracy. Vice President Peace has laid out the strategy for suppressing the right to vote by vowing:

“a full evaluation of the voting rolls in the country, the overall integrity of the voting system,…just because so many Americans share the concern that you have, that I have, the President certainly has, about people being registered in many states.”[4]

Pence’s words are telling. No one has demonstrated voter fraud of any significance. But this is irrelevant.  The Trump/Pence/Republican strategy will be to wage a years-long war to restrict the right to vote for millions of Americans in a desperate attempt to deny the people fair elections. This war will focus on non-existent voter fraud with its real goal of undermining our right to vote and voter suppression.

In 1980, Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Koch brothers-funded Heritage Foundation, captured the spirit of this new war:

“I don’t want everybody to vote… our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”[5]

Trump’s strategy of the “Big Lie” of voting fraud is clear. The big question for we, the people, is how do we expose the goals and methods of the “Big Lies” strategy and reclaim and strengthen our democracy.  We must be strong, bold and direct. Their Big Lies must be challenged by calling them “Big Lies.”

I will write more on the history of voter suppression and our fight forward at a later date.

mcdermott-markMark McDermott is an economic justice educator and writer who has been a political activist for many years working on economic, racial and social justice. Find him on Facebook or visit his website at

ALSO at The Stand — Mark McDermott workshop March 2 in Bellingham to benefit Familias Unidas


[1] Bernays, Edward, Propaganda, IG Publishing, 2005, page 37.

[2] Kasporov, Gerry, quoted by Gary Sykes, “The Right That Cried Wolf, New York Times, February 5, 2017.

[3] Lee, Michelle Ye Hee, July 8, 2015.

[4] Martin, Jonathan, “Dubious Claims,” January 27, 2017.

[5] McChesney, Robert, Digital Disconnect:  How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy, page 59.

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