Donald Trump's Big Lies: How millions of Americans were radicalized

Trump isn't Hitler, but he used a similar strategy to try to poison democracy. Republicans must reject his lies

Published January 28, 2021 7:00AM (EST)

Donald Trump (Getty Images/Salon)
Donald Trump (Getty Images/Salon)

Adolf Hitler used the "Big Lie" strategy to help kill democracy in his country. He had one Big Lie after another. Hitler used a Big Lie to explain away Germany's defeat in World War I and it set the stage for his meteoric rise in power.  He blamed the Jews for Germany's loss, which was patently untrue. He promulgated that lie over and over. And it led to the biggest, and deadliest, lie in history — that Jews had to be exterminated.

Donald Trump used multiple Big Lies during his presidency. It was his propaganda technique. He took a page right out of Hitler's playbook — and it almost destroyed American democracy. The sad truth is that many Trump surrogates who remain within our government continue to stoke the remaining embers of the Big Lies. The goal of Trump's lies was to establish him as a dictator devoid of laws, rules or norms. He wanted absolute power. He wanted to amass greed with impunity. He wanted to be as corrupt and criminal as he wished. 

Trump wanted to overturn our democratic way of life. He had no interest in public service. He had no desire to serve and protect the public. In fact, he wanted the public to serve him by acknowledging and accepting his absolute power.

Trump's biggest lie was that the national election was rigged and stolen from him; a lie he telegraphed in 2016. This was totally false, and he knew it. Trump lost fair and square. It was the most open and transparent election in history. There were recounts and more than 60 adjudicated lawsuits. No legitimate claims of voter fraud were ever presented by Trump or his allies. But it was this Big Lie that Trump hoped to ride to overthrow our democracy in order to remain in power. His incitement of the insurrection at the Capitol was a direct outgrowth of this Big Lie.

Another Big Lie was that the coronavirus pandemic was a hoax — or was overblown or exaggerated or was totally contained. Trump minimized and denied its severity from the beginning. His federal response was weak and passive. Despite the deaths of nearly 400,000 Americans, Trump continued the Big Lie and did almost nothing. For months he didn't even mention the pandemic or the thousands of deaths. Trump did not want the pandemic to ruin his re-election chances. All he cared about was maintaining power. He was cruel and callous about the mounting numbers of cases and deaths. His Big Lie successfully muzzled our nation's experts on infectious disease and epidemiology

A third Big Lie was that the free press is the "enemy of the people" because it produces "fake news." This lie was long-lasting yet completely false. Trump wanted no oversight and no accountability, and viewed the press as a threat to the continuation of his power. Let us be clear: The free press is protected by the Constitution and is a defining feature of our representative democracy. Trump's Big Lie here was completely self-serving, disingenuous and false.

So Trump's three Big Lies — individually and in combination — defined his presidency. His idea of governing was to use propaganda to solidify his grip on power. But more than that, his "Big Lies" reflected his anti-democratic and anti-American beliefs. Trump does not love democracy and does not love our country.

There were many Big Lies spread by Trump during his tenure. His claims that Robert Mueller's investigation was a hoax was a Big Lie. His "perfect" call with the Ukrainian president was a Big Lie. His claim that he would save protections for pre-existing conditions in health care coverage was a Big Lie. In fact, it has been shown that Trump lied more than 30,000 times in four years.

It is undeniable that Trump's plan was to ride his Big Lies into a dictatorship. He is an authoritarian at heart. He is a fascist in his thinking and in his impulses. 

Trump's plan was to activate an anti-democratic movement in the country. The way he connected with millions of supporters was through his Big Lies. That was his hook to capture the attention and irrational passion of his supporters. He was the pied piper of Big Lies.

The Republican Party has been complicit with Donald Trump for four years and counting. They have supported his anti-democratic and anti-American Big Lies. Until and unless the party extricates itself from Trump, millions of Americans will continue to believe in their cult leader and his Big Lies.  

Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and many others must change course and condemn Donald Trump. They must correct the Big Lies — and to this point there is no sign they will do so. If they don't, they will take the Republican Party down a rabbit hole of darkness, doom and failure. 

Here is what should be verbalized by every single Republican: "I condemn Donald Trump. The election was not stolen. He completely botched the response to the pandemic. The free press is crucial to our democracy. The Republican Party needs new leadership to maintain our democracy." Members of Congress who cannot make this statement openly and loudly should be expelled. Yes, this should be a litmus test for our democracy. Democracy cannot truly prevail until Trump and his Big Lies are renounced and defeated. His anti-democratic rhetoric, behavior and intentions cannot continue to circulate like a metastasizing cancer. Trump's propaganda agenda is still alive. His Big Lies must be repudiated before any healing and unity are even possible. 

This is urgent and necessary. Our democratic experiment hangs in the balance.

By Alan D. Blotcky

Alan D. Blotcky, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Birmingham, Alabama, and a clinical associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

MORE FROM Alan D. Blotcky

By Seth D. Norrholm

Seth D. Norrholm is an associate professor of psychiatry in the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.

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