Watching “The Plan to Overturn the Election” on American public TV’s Frontline the other evening, I was once again amazed by how many people can believe a lie that is so big and so wrong. The believers, that the 2020 election was stolen by Joe Biden, make up a large majority of the Republican Party, even though many of the vote counters and judges who rejected lawsuits against the election results were fellow Republicans, some even appointed by ex-president Donald Trump, liar-in-chief.
And then I remembered that Americans have been telling themselves big lies since the very beginning of their nation. In the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, their founding fathers declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ….” And then they blithely continued to practice slavery. As did their heirs for another 90 years. One can scarcely imagine a greater hypocrisy. A founding lie one might say.
After ending the “peculiar institution” with a horrific civil war, Americans then created in much of the country a brutal system of racial segregation which maintained the great lie. Segregation was enforced by terrorism practiced both officially and informally by everyone from dirt-poor white sharecroppers to state governors, all the while the perpetrators claiming belief in a constitution that guaranteed freedoms the system suppressed. The system lasted for yet another century. Only in modern times has the promise in the founding document been pursued fully, although the lie lingers.
To be fair, Americans have also believed in some big truths. Their constitution, with its commitment to basic freedoms, is one of the world’s great documents. While they have at times betrayed its principles, they have stubbornly clung to them. Their democracy may be threadbare, but the U.S. is nonetheless arguably the world’s freest country, a freedom that has consistently allowed their better selves to correct their more egregious errors. One might also argue that the U.S. is the most consequential country if freedom is to prevail in the world against its powerful enemies.
And, let’s be honest, all of us have a tendency to believe what we want to believe, what satisfies our intrinsic biases, rather than accepting the truth.
Nonetheless, that the 2020 U.S. election was stolen is a granddaddy of lies. A defining lie. One dreads to think where the capacity to believe such a lie may lead.