Voltaire Was Right

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities,” Voltaire wrote in 1764. I give you the 20th century, and our recent presidential election.

In a fine column on Monday (“Trump Contrives His Stab-in-the-Back Myth”), New York Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens compared Donald Trump’s fraudulent claims of election fraud to the “stab-in-the-back” myth that revived right-wing German militarism after the Second Reich’s defeat in World War I.

The bogus German claim was that the German Army would have won the war but was stabbed in the back by traitorous politicians who agreed to an armistice. Fifteen years later, a certain right-wing party, promising to make Germany great again, rode that slogan into office. 

Stephens added: “(T)he nature of the myth wasn’t that it should be believable. It’s that it should be believed.”

The German myth — let’s call it fake news — required an understanding not of history, but of the people to whom the myth was peddled. “It had the double advantage of bucking up a humiliated nation’s pride and playing to its gut prejudices,” Stephens wrote. “Translated into the bigoted vernacular, ‘defeatist’ and ‘scheming’ almost always meant socialists, communists and Jews.” (Updated for today: Venezuela, China and George Soros.)

Today’s myth from the Republican Party, which has spent decades fixing elections through gerrymandering and suppressing the votes of Black, Latino, poor and elderly Americans, is that Democrats fixed this one by letting too many people vote.

In the past week alone, Trump and his minions have blamed his defeat on a Venezuelan socialist Hugo Chavez, who’s been dead for seven years; on CIA Director Gina Haspel; on a corrupt U.S. drug industry that delayed a Covid-19 vaccine to hurt him personally (and that Covid-19 isn’t really all that bad — just a way for corrupt doctors to make more money); on nonexistent computer servers in Germany; on corrupt elections officials in predominantly Black U.S. cities; on corrupt post office workers; on “the massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China” (according to Trump attorney Sidney Powell); on corrupt U.S. computer operators who sneakily switched 7 million votes from Trump to Biden; and that a hand recount of ballots in Michigan would somehow erase the more than 155,000-vote margin by which Joe Biden won the state — so long as all the votes from Detroit (which is 80% African American) are thrown out.

There it is: Trump was stabbed in the back by “a great conspiracy, a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men.” That’s from Senator Joe McCarthy’s June 14, 1951, speech to the U.S. Senate, in which he blamed the alleged communist infiltration of the United States on … wait for it … General George C. Marshall, creator of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II.

Tail-Gunner Joe added: “How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government are concerting to deliver us to disaster?”

Trump’s “they stabbed me in the back” whining already is having effect: Polls show that more than 50% of Republicans believe — or say they believe — that Trump actually won the election that he lost by more than 6.1 million votes.

It’s clear now to everyone that Trump lost, by the same margin in the Electoral College that he won in 2016, which he called “a landslide.” His baseless claims have been thrown out of court more than 30 times in the past three weeks.

Why, then, are he and his henchmen continuing to flog this dead horse, unless it’s to undermine Americans’ faith in any election at all — to undermine democracy itself?

His latest act — terminating congressionally approved $429 billion for emergency lending, (against the will of the Federal Reserve) — is a deliberate attempt to weaken the incoming Biden administration, and the entire U.S. economy. It’s the opposite of what George W. Bush did in the final days of his term, when he pushed through the $475 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program to stabilize the economy before Barack Obama took office. Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman on Monday described Trump’s and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s cancellation of the loan program as “an act of vandalism, an attempt to increase the odds of disaster under Trump’s successor.” In other words, an assault on the United States economy, intended to weaken the very nation he is supposed to be defend.

The truth about Trump’s vile assault on democracy is not that anyone’s being stabbed in the back: He is stabbing us in the front.

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