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The Cost of a Lie

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Police officers stand guard as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Every significant lie comes with a significant cost: usually to the liar (who’s often exposed and disgraced) and always to anyone who hears and believes the lie (and whose view of the world is dangerously distorted).

Consider two gigantic lies that cost untold suffering.

For at least 200 years, many Americans accepted the obscene falsehood that slavery amounted to a benign institution, conferring benefits on both masters and the enslaved, while enriching the society at large. In the southern United States, where the great majority of white people never personally owned slaves, this ceaselessly promulgated lie caused most of the populace to ignore the real suffering of their neighbors and to defend an oppressive economic system that was both cruel and dysfunctional.

Or think for a moment about the greatest lie of the twentieth century: that Communism provided fair, productive, utopian, idealistic societies, allowing every proletarian comrade to flourish in a “workers paradise.” From 1917 till the collapse of the Evil Empire in 1989, hundreds of millions embraced this twisted version of reality – and some leftist intellectuals still do.

These determined efforts to disfigure the truth, to erase or obscure basic, incontestable facts about the world around us, foster both helplessness and hopelessness.

A more recent example concerns the pernicious fiction that Barack Obama was secretly born in Kenya and therefore had no legal right to win the presidency. No one ever presented even the smallest scrap of evidence to prove this preposterous notion, but sleazy operators got famous and rich promoting the illogical fiction until even Donald Trump, in order to secure his presidential victory, had to admit he’d been wrong all along.

At the moment, the most damaging lie in America is equally illogical and groundless: the notion that President Trump actually won a landslide victory on November 3rd, but malevolent and fraudulent forces somehow miscounted the votes and changed the result.

In order to believe this lie, let alone to embrace it, you must also accept a succession of ridiculous falsehoods.

You must first believe that vote counters in at least three states, many of them lifelong Republicans, deliberately, inexplicably erased millions of votes for Trump or else manufactured millions of invalid votes for Biden. You must believe that Republican controlled state legislatures in all the major swing states – Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona – inexplicably went along with the steal. More than 60 prominent judges also acquiesced, including all nine members of the Supreme Court, three of whom Trump himself recently appointed. Moreover, to accept the foundational lie of the “Stop the Steal!” campaign you must also believe that cunning conspirators simultaneously rigged the election for Joe Biden and for some of the most conservative Congressmen out there. The November ballots challenged as illegal frauds by the likes of Mo Brooks, Paul Gosar , Matt Gaetz and Andy Biggs, are the very same ballots that re-elected said Brooks, Gosar, Gaetz and Biggs. How do you invalidate Joe Biden’s victory without tearing up or casting aside the simultaneous victories of GOP Congressmen in the states whose count you now seek to discard?



Moreover, think about the consequences if the president and his minions had managed to succeed in the disreputable course of action they ardently pursued. “So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” the Leader of the Free World told the Secretary of State of Georgia (a life-long Republican of Georgia, of course). Please remember that even with those 11,780 extra votes, and winning the Peach State by a single ballot, Trump would still fall short of winning the presidency by 22 electoral votes.

And even if, after countless recounts and audits in the two other states that were genuinely close, he managed to shake loose official, certified tallies in Wisconsin to turn up an extra 20,610 votes, and then managed somehow to manufacture a new batch of 10,458 fresh-minted Arizona ballots, what, exactly, would he have won?

Under the ridiculous scenario described above (and apparently pursued in all earnestness by Team Trump), the incumbent would have flipped three different states with a margin of one vote each, allowing him to rack up 269 Electoral Votes, guaranteeing only a TIE with Biden (269 to 269), and sending the whole tumultuous mess to the House of Representatives and Constitutional chaos.

And if, somehow, the President managed to succeed in these devious manipulations, through some magical, mystical combination of bullying, bribery, public pressure and advanced sorcery unknown to mere muggles, he would still trail his opponent by more than 7 MILLION votes in the popular count. Does anyone actually believe that Democratic Senators, House Members, Governors or state legislators, let alone impartial members of the judiciary, would cheerly accept such reverses with good natured equanimity? Do even the most fanatically committed conservatives actually suppose that Democrats are, by nature, so much more gracious, accepting, reasonable and law abiding than we are that they would passively accommodate this obvious, outrageous, baseless, after-the-final-buzzer rearrangement of the score?

The costs of believing – and promoting – such arrant nonsense not only damage our prospects for the new year but block any progress toward national reconciliation or collaboration.

Those costs include a needless (and largely pointless) impeachment, a prevailing paranoia that poisons relationships and wrecks careers, along with millions of shattered lives. The stories of tens of thousands of well-intentioned American victims can hurt the heart: sincere, hard-working people who believed a Pinocchio president when he summoned them to Washington on January 6th (“It’s going to be wild!”) and then ordered them, repeatedly, to march up Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol. The press has now recovered tape in which the chief executive’s dauntless myrmidons force their way into the sacred center of representative Democracy by yelling, at full force: “WE WERE INVITED TO COME HERE BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!” They were telling the truth about that, weren’t they?

Yet the underlying lie behind that shameful truth has inflicted only pain on the loyalists who trusted him most – the pain of wasted money on a pointless trip, of public humiliation, lost jobs, physical injury, arrest, imprisonment, even death.



At this point, the only remaining question is how to bring the nation, united, into a liberating realization of the truth. It might help if the president acknowledged that he lost, and that evidence and court decisions had, at long last, convinced him that no path toward legitimate victory remained. In lieu of such an obvious and appropriate public acceptance of an incontestable result, Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan suggested that rather than a meaningless battle to impeach a humiliated loser ex-president who has already been bounced from office, that the leaders of both parties draft a joint Congressional resolution that simply declares ”that according to all legal and scientific standards, reflecting best efforts in every state to count, recount, audit, verify, certify every legal vote in the Presidential Election, that Joe Biden is the clear winner with a decisive majority of both popular and electoral votes.”

Such a resolution could provide the best resolution to the current confusion since even if Trump loses on the impeachment vote he’ll describe it as only one more rigged election. No one expects a majority of Republicans to vote to convict Trump on the incitement-to-insurrection Article of Impeachment, though the Democrats might find 17 GOP Senators (of 50) who’d vote with them to block Trump from ever again holding public office.

But on the separate, core question of Joe Biden’s indisputable victory, the majority of Republicans would gladly go along, leaving a few die-hard Trumpers (check your phone, Josh Hawley) to earn gold stars for loyalty by voting to repeal reality.

Nevertheless, a decisive bi-partisan resolution vote heralding the incontestable conclusion of a seemingly endless dispute could help even reluctant and resentful Americans come to a healthier, more mature relationship with the world as it is, however tardy or uncomfortable that accommodation might seem at first. Yes, there are still some benighted souls who insist on describing slavery as a kindly and beneficial institution, and a handful of grizzled true believers who consider Communism a just and idyllic system. For the most part, however, humanity has emerged from the dungeons of deception. It’s past time that Americans now emerge toward the light of our current situation, however painful it may seem to do so, and liberate the nation from the costly lie that insists Trump really won.

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