COMMENTARY

Trump's "hole-in-one" and Herschel Walker's "degree": Why MAGA loves lies too big to be believed

Trump taught Republicans that the GOP base loves to hear lies — so the more ridiculous the lie, the better

By Amanda Marcotte

Published April 4, 2022 1:12PM (EDT)

Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker and former president Donald J Trump hold a Save America rally in Perry, GA, United States on September 25, 2021 (Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker and former president Donald J Trump hold a Save America rally in Perry, GA, United States on September 25, 2021 (Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

During the cold opening of the most recent "Saturday Night Live," there was an insightful joke about the nature of authoritarianism. Surprising, I know, from a show not usually known for having the most trenchant satire. During a parody of "Fox & Friends," part of a longer bit about Donald Trump confessing that he committed a coup, the desperate hosts tried to keep him on message about how January 6 was not an insurrection at all. Then suddenly Trump veers left to make an impossible claim about his golf game. 

"Did you hear this?" James Austin Johnson, portraying Trump, starts. "I got a hole-in-one. Did anybody hear that?" 

"Congrats sir! Please tell about it," exclaims Heidi Gardner, while playing one of the interchangeable blonde hosts. Her male colleagues nod eagerly, all of them competing to show how obsequious they are before this frankly impossible claim. 

RELATED: GOP congresswoman tells rally that Donald Trump "caught Osama bin Laden"

The entire bit was about the lies Fox News and Trump tell, but this throwaway joke about Trump's golf lies nailed the essence of how such lies work. It's based on a real lie Trump is telling, one so stupid he might as well be claiming he can fly: That he got a hole-in-one during a recent golf game. The lie isn't believed by Trump, his enablers, or their audience. Instead, as the skit on "Saturday Night Live" illustrates through comedy, it's a power test to see how many people will play along. Trump's hole-in-one lie echoes those of authoritarian leaders like Korea's Kim Jong Un, who tells similar lies about his athletic accomplishments. It's all about demonstrating power. It's about exhibiting the ability to get thousands, even millions, to debase themselves by pretending to believe this bullshit. 

"There's a lot of debate in progressive circles over whether or not Republicans actually believe all the crazy crap they say"

Out of the many lessons that Trump taught the GOP, this might be the most important: Lies don't need to be plausible in order to be powerful.

In MAGA land, the more ridiculous the lie, the better. For Republicans, the days of garden variety political dishonesty, like spin and cherrypicking, are over. Big, bold lies that are so over-the-top that no one can truly believe them are the order of the day. To Trump-era Republicans, truth — like liberty and democracy — is just one more American value to squash under the boot of authoritarianism. 


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Take for instance a recently released CNN report with the misleadingly soft headline "GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker has been overstating his academic achievements for years." After actually reading the article, however, one realizes the headline Salon chose to go with — "GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker lied about his college achievements" — is far more accurate. Walker did not graduate college at all, choosing — for understandable reasons! — to drop out for a lucrative career as a professional football player. But not only has he been falsely claiming that he graduated from the University of Georgia, but he's also been claiming that he was in the top 1% of his class. 

Walker clearly understands the MAGA way. It's no longer enough to merely lie — you now have to make your lies so big that no one can mistake them for the truth. How better to display power than to show that journalists, with their puny "fact checks," have no sway over you and the MAGA base? Indeed, Walker's campaign probably made a mistake in taking the lie off their website. After all, that's flinching in the face of the reality-obsessed crowd that his voters hate so much. The tacit admission is likely to be read as a sign of weakness by the redhats he's trying to woo. 

RELATED: GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker lied about his college achievements

For an example of someone who clearly understands the Trumpian "go big" philosophy of lying, witness the Saturday speech by Republican Rep. Lisa McClain, at a Trump rally in her home state of Michigan. The whole thing was a masterful display of not-even-trying-to-be-believed lies. She claimed Trump killed Osama Bin Laden, even though there's no way the crowd forgets that it was actually Barack Obama. She falsely claimed the record-low unemployment in the past year is at a 40-year high and then, with utter shamelessness, turned around and complained about a labor shortage. And, of course, she repeated the biggest lie of them all: That Joe Biden didn't actually win the 2020 election. 

"In MAGA land, the more ridiculous the lie, the better"

Liberal Twitter exploded with glee at what a dummy dum-dum McClain is. However, as historian Kevin Kruse pointed out, her background is in finance, so it's unlikely she is unaware that one cannot both have high unemployment and a labor shortage. More to the point, even if you have been living under a rock for the past 20 years, you know Obama killed bin Laden, not Trump. No, McClain wasn't trying to fool anyone. But she was successful in attracting liberal dunks and attention. She now has a story about how she's effective at "triggering" liberals, one that will be good for her fundraising. 


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There's a lot of debate in progressive circles over whether or not Republicans actually believe all the crazy crap they say. It's easy to point to someone like Ginni Thomas, who was unleashing all sorts of insane conspiracy theories in private text messages with Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows, as proof that Republicans really believe this stuff. But that's the wrong way to look at it. What's crucial to understand is that "believe" has nothing to do with it. The truth of a statement holds absolutely no value for increasingly authoritarian Republicans. All that matters is power and having the power to shape narratives, regardless of facts. Indeed, they view true power as being able to impose your narrative, even when it's so absurd that no one could really believe it. 

As right-wing disinformation researcher Melissa Ryan put it in her weekly newsletter, "The Right also doesn't care if information is real or not. If they can use something to harm their opponents they will."

RELATED: Republican voters don't actually "believe" the Big Lie about January 6 — they're in on the con

The MAGA base plays along with this because they also see it as their path to power. Republican leaders and their base are locked together in a tacit agreement to spin whatever tales they need to tell in order to justify their odious views. Truth doesn't matter. All that matters is loyalty to the cause, a willingness to set aside reality in order to advance the narrative that serves the interests of securing power. For many in the base, this rejection of truth can come at a high personal cost. Rejecting the COVID-19 vaccines was deadly for untold numbers of Republican voters. Yet they continue to risk their lives rather than admit that liberals are right — or that facts or evidence should have any power over them. All that matters is MAGA, and they will say anything, no matter how ridiculously false, if they think it serves the MAGA cause. 


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Commentary Donald Trump Gop Herschel Walker Lisa Mcclain Maga Republicans Right-wing Propoganda