GELFAND’S WORLD - In considering the year in retrospect, it's certainly the year of the January 6 Committee, which we will consider below. But as much as anything else, on a national and worldwide basis, it's the year of the liar. And the reason it's the year of the liar is that there has ceased to be any sense of shame among many of those in power and those craving power.
Consider how the character of the former president can be defined in just these few words: He continues to lie even though he's been caught in the lie, and in spite of logic and science and fact, and in spite of the fact that each lie builds upon the previous one. We've known since the first day of Trump's term in office that he had an anemic crowd at the inauguration, yet he had his press secretaries and sycophants continue to repeat the lie, and he continues to repeat the lie about each successive rally. And these are the least important of his lies -- it's just that they illustrate the Republican Party's willingness to lie in public and continue to lie in spite of being shown to be lying.
Still, it’s been a long century of lying as a mechanism of power politics.
We have the Germans of the prewar and wartime era to thank for the concept of The Big Lie, in the sense of the wholly ridiculous whopper, repeated by using modern high technology and with a centralized apparatus, and then repeated time and time again.
The 21st century has built on the concept, but now it's not just the centralized nation-state. In the present day, the multinational corporation has built its own Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda. The corporations and politicians with a stake in the big lie carry on the tradition. You can read one climate scientist's take here, where he connects corporate global warming denial with the ensuing Big Lie about the stolen election:
"With all the resources at their disposal, these companies have systematically, cynically misrepresented and suppressed the facts. Their jobs didn’t require them to do this. But they did, and in such a way as to hide the fact that they were doing it: sponsoring outside groups to spread doubt and confusion, and even supporting bogus research to create the appearance of dissent among scientists. All this is well documented and widely known by now. And they’re still doing it: perhaps not all of them, and perhaps in some cases with different tactics, but fossil fuel companies are still funding denial groups and politicians who act on the denial agenda."
and he continues:
"The shared reality no longer exists, and democracy is under direct and serious threat. Diagnosing all the causes of this will be a task for future historians, but I’m convinced that, looking back over the last few decades, climate denial was the leading edge. And today, it’s no accident that many fossil fuel companies have backed former President Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen."
On the Democratic side, Joe Manchin has a stake in coal that is millions of dollars deep. The Republican James Imhofe, The senator from Oklahoma, wrote a book to sell the denial, titled The greatest hoax: How the global warming conspiracy threatens your future.
The Big Lie of 2022 came from Vladimir Putin, who concocted an excuse to attack Ukraine -- an excuse about Neo-nazis and Ukraine politicians that nobody believes except perhaps a few of the more naive natives of the Russian Federation. But Putin and his lackeys continue to repeat the Big Lie on a weekly basis.
Here are just some of the more egregious Big Lie campaigns and their propagandists:
The anti-vaccine movement
The former president -- truly The Lyin' King
The Russian Federation
Most modern nations when they are embarrassed by some mistake
The Pentagon when a U.S. bombing raid kills 50 or 100 civilians
The modern political candidate when confronted with a premeditated lie
Governor candidate Kari Lake
(This just in) Newly elected congressman George Santos (if that really is his name)
Addendum: The Select Committee on the January 6 Attack puts on its last show
It's easy to make fun of the J6 Committee for its theatrics. The last episode involved each congressional representative reading his/her section of the script as if it were the first rehearsal of an off-Broadway play.
But that is just the way of the congress. Congressional committees have a serious purpose when they mark up the transportation bill, but it is the rare congressional committee that can take up a political question as if it were a serious fact finding expedition. In fact, we have an entire political era defined by the term "McCarthyism" based on the red-baiting senator of that name.
But the J6 Committee, as it has come to be abbreviated, seems to have been that rare instance where fact finding of a highly partisan nature was not only justified, it was accomplished.
Let's begin by noting a major difference between J6 and McCarthyism. Joe McCarthy made claims about a vast conspiracy which was said to have unknown but malign effects on American institutions and interests. In other words, we were to search not only for the perpetrators, but for their targets and goals. Communist sympathizers were allegedly identified ("naming names") but when the major element of that sympathizing involved attending meetings of Hollywood technical workers and screen writers, the main allegation came down largely to accusing people of political beliefs and political recruiting.
The J6 Committee started from precisely the opposite place. There was a known effect, defined and limited in time and place, with a well defined goal and a lot of preliminary information about a few hundred people who participated in the initial storming of the Capitol building.
In addition, there was no question that Donald Trump, as president, would have been the main beneficiary of the process ("that's motive," as they say on television detective shows) and Trump certainly was involved in the process that brought thousands of protesters to Washington, D. C. on that all important date of January 6, 2021. There also was no question that Trump sought to interject the following question into the deliberations of the House and Senate on that January 6 day: Can the Vice President rule on the acceptance of Electors from various states in terms of the final count? The Trump argument was an attempt to return us to a time when Electors were not chosen by popular vote of the citizens of each state but were determined by the legislatures of the states.
It was a difficult assertion at best. Most Constitutional scholars thought it was preposterous, but within the Trumpist universe, the view wasn't about legitimate legal reasoning, but just the hand waving claim that the Trump line of reasoning would have merit if the Vice President were to say so.
So here is one of the main accomplishments (some may think of it as an assertion) of the J6 Committee. From their standpoint as J6, as serious Constitutional actors and scholars, the assertion by Trump and his allies of a flawed legal claim was itself sedition. The badly flawed legal arguments were as seditious (because more likely to succeed) as the physical attack on the Capitol.
This legal malpractice was linked to all the other attempts at stealing the election, such as Trump's telephone call to the Governor of Georgia, and the creation of groups of fake Electors who claimed to be the real Electors in states such as Michigan and Arizona.
Thus the J6 Committee had a specific subject matter and thereby had a rational basis for interviewing and deposing hundreds of people who were involved in, linked to, or otherwise attached to the physical attack on the Capitol, along with the absurd failure by the Executive Branch to respond to the attack, the actions among congressmen and senators to stall the counting of Electoral Votes, and indirectly the many attempts to change vote counts in several swing states at a time when the votes had been counted and in some cases officially certified.
And we come full circle to "the year of the liar", because the J6 Committee ultimately had to deal with the Big Lie that Donald Trump has tried to sell for the past two years, that some mysterious but massive conspiracy served to change enough votes to cost him the election.
And just to reiterate that point that has been made so many times over the past few years -- whenever Trump makes an accusation against somebody, it is really a confession of Trump's own actions or intentions -- or to put it another way, Trump would only accuse somebody else of election stealing if that were something he had contemplated at one time or another.
The J6 Committee has managed to put everything together pretty well. They concentrated on interviewing and deposing witnesses who came from within Trump's own appointees and staff members. They were Trump loyalists. Some of the witnesses understood the rules on perjury and lying to congress well enough to answer truthfully. Others simply took the Fifth.
And in all those depositions and interviews and in the sworn testimony, the J6 has concentrated on filling in a small number of blanks in the otherwise overwhelming record of January 6, 2021. What was Donald Trump actually doing during those hours when his Constitutional responsibility was to oversee the defense of America's Capitol? We don't have a lot of direct eyewitness testimony to what Trump did and said, but we do have some, and it is through the efforts of J6 that we do. I suspect that the single most damning line coming from Trump's mouth is the remark to one lawmaker to the effect that the attacking crowds were more upset about his lost election than the congressman was. In other words, in Trump's mind, only one's loyalty to Trump's personal victory was worthy of consideration.
Did Trump conspire directly with seditious groups such as the Oath Keepers before the attack on the Capitol? There has been little or no direct testimony that I can recall on this point -- which would be what the old Watergate investigators referred to as "the smoking gun." But in the end, it doesn't seem to matter. The J6 has labeled Trump as a quasi-Mafia boss who suggests things indirectly and expects his followers to take the hint. When faced with a direct duty to safeguard the Capitol against a violent mob, his inaction was crime enough.
And by the way, Trump has reiterated his view that "the Constitution be damned" in a recent Tweet where he suggests that we set it aside to put him back in the presidency.
So we come full circle and full circle and full circle, as lying corporations and lying ideologues and lying politicians learn the lessons of the Nazi propaganda apparatus and do their best to put them to use. The year 2022 was as much the year of the Big Lie as it was the year of the Ukraine invasion or the year of Joe Biden's return.
But one last thought. As Americans, we moan and complain about inflation and gas prices and lying politicians, but we have food and gasoline (not as much or as cheap as we would like) and we have full shelves at markets and hardware stores and Target and Walmart. The Port of Los Angeles is no longer backed up in this holiday period.
And at least for one part of the nation, we have temperatures in the 60s and 70s during this holiday week.
Happy New Year.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])