August 25, 2022 | Reading Time: 5 minutes

Maybe Donald Trump’s Big Lie is, well, um, good for democracy?

Early signs of hardcore supporters losing hope.

Screenshot 2022-08-25 11.10.29 AM

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We all understand that the former president’s Big Lie is ruinous to democracy, the rule of law and republican government. It fueled the J6 insurrection. It inspired GOP legislators to enact draconian election laws. It drives the trend toward vigilante justice. 

But what if we turned that around? What if, and stay with me here – what if Donald Trump’s constant lying about the 2020 election being stolen by Joe Biden and the Democrats is, um, good for democracy? 

I don’t mean to sound cheeky.

Here are two items I saw Tuesday night as primary election results came in. The first came from Dave Wasserman, the Cook Political Report’s editor for House elections. There’s “lots of focus on Dems being more engaged/energetic post-Dobbs, which is undeniably true,” he said. “But to me, the GOP/Trump base appears less engaged than it was last November, which is just as big a part of the story.”

The base of the Republicans, along with the Republican Party itself, is now the greatest threat to democracy. If that threat does not show up to vote, as a consequence of losing faith, huzzah for democracy!

The second came from NBC News’ Ben Collins, who covers the paranoid-delusional fringe. He said that, “A lot of users in pro-Trump forums have fundamentally given up on voting. Shockingly, constantly saying every election bigger than a headcount is rigged has had a deleterious effect on voter turnout in national races.”

Collins cited a chat forum titled: “I’m telling you, we would win EVERY ELECTION in the country if the Democrats didn’t cheat.”

Hopeless Trump followers
See what I mean? The more Trump lies about rigged elections, the more his followers believe him. The more elections are lost to Democratic candidates, the more rigged every election seems.  

But instead of doing something about it, as you’d expect, what if they’re losing hope. (“The GOP/Trump base appears less engaged,” Wasserman said, than it was during last year’s municipal elections.) After all, what’s the point of voting if all those blood-gulping man flesh-chomping pedophiles are determining every outcome?

For everyone to the left of fascism, the problems of democracy – and there are many, hoo boy – can be addressed with more democracy. That means voting, organizing, protesting, debating and so on. 

But for the fascists who embrace Trump as the avatar of “our way of life,” democracy isn’t the answer. Democracy has always been the problem. Why vote, organize, protest and debate when it’s hopeless? 

Everybody has been rightly focused on the ascendance of political violence and apartheid regimes in (especially) southern states. But for all that election rigging to work (yes, it’s election rigging), Republican voters must show up to counter armies of Democrats maximally mobilized by the Supreme Court cutting down Roe.

The base of the Republicans, along with the Republican Party itself, is now the greatest threat to democracy. If that threat does not show up to vote, as a consequence of losing faith, huzzah for democracy!

The Big Lie gives and takes
Remember, these are the former president’s loyalest supporters, the (mostly) white men who refused to abandon their faith in him no matter how revolting his speech, how many crimes he committed in office, how often he defrauded voters or how much treason he did.

Conspiring with a foreign government? Uh-huh. 

Blackmailing foreign leaders? Yup.

Possibly extorting the US government with threats of revealing state secrets to North Korea, Russia or China? Sure, that’d be OK, too.

None of that matters. Their bond is so tight that the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago is no more legitimate, they believe, than the secret, malicious Jewish conspiracy to establish a New World Order.

At the same time, that same FBI search for secret government documents, which Trump refused to give back is slow-draining, I hope, whatever support remains among respectable white people – voters who don’t mind authoritarian creep as long as it cuts their taxes and otherwise maintains a peaceful and orderly status quo.

Their basic institutional trust in law enforcement – whether state or federal – is working against the former president as well as every copycat candidate who’s hoping to win on a platform of resentment and spite over the fact that Joe Biden unseated an incumbent. 

As the Big Lie suppresses turnout by the Republican base, the FBI’s investigation weakens support among respectable white people who regard the choice between a compromised former president and basic institutional trust in law enforcement as hardly a choice at all.

The Big Lie gives. The Big Lie takes. 

Maybe it’s now giving more than it’s taking?

Democracy is hard work
To be sure, I’m basing this argument on two views from credible observers of politics. I look forward to more reporting on low Republican turnout. I suspect we will as election season heats up.

But these observations ring true, don’t they? 

Donald Trump can do no wrong in the eyes of his followers. If he says the only way he’d lose is if dark malevolent forces – the kind trying to establish a New World Order; the kind that has sex with pure white Christian children before drinking their blood – conspired to fix elections so that Republicans (ie, Trump) can’t win, it must be true.

True, some of these loons are going to resort to violence. But the vast majority are going to throw up their hands and give up. 

When facing actual rigged elections, most Democratic voters believe they have to vote harder. When facing phony rigged elections, Trump’s hardcore followers seem to believe the opposite. There’s no point in voting harder. Anyway, voting harder takes a lot of effort.

We would do well to remember that Trump’s hardcore followers had already believed that electoral outcomes were predetermined before he ran for president. When he won, in 2016, it gave them “hope.” They couldn’t beat up on people they hated without legal consequences. But with Trump on their side, legal consequences melted into the air.

His “defeat,” however, by demoniacal Democrats in cahoots with George Soros and “the globalists” was proof that they had been right all along. Trump is in exile. Republicans keep losing. A Black woman is a heartbeat away from power. May as well go back to the La-Z-Boy.

What can we learn?
Assuming this pattern of giving up holds up, what does it tell us?

For one thing, authoritarians are fundamentally weak. They won’t bother fighting democratically unless victory is guaranteed. If not, they won’t invest the time, sweat and blood that’s necessary to win.

For another, related to the first, they don’t really believe “our way of life” is in jeopardy, because “our way of life” is precisely what they are going back to after having lost faith in democracy. Indeed, the structures of white power, which tells them every day and in every way that they are too awesome, will carry on in spite of democracy. They know they’ll be all right even if they aren’t in charge of things.

Yet another thing, there are limits to how much the rightwing media apparatus, which is global in scale, can stoke the hatreds of Trump’s hardcore followers. That limit may be Trump himself. If he says everything’s rigged against them, nothing’s “fair,” then it is so. Given that Fox amplifies everything Trump says, it and other rightwing media may end up biting out their own influence on GOP voters.

Finally, partisan politics is the solution to the country’s fascist drift. The punditariat seems united in asserting the opposite – that to turn down the heat, all sides needs to disarm themselves. That, of course, emboldens Trump’s supporters. That gives the impression that victory is guaranteed! Fighting back drains them of all such confidence. A concerted push to vote harder makes them give up.

Maybe a little
Like I said, we need more reporting on Republican turnout for this humble argument of mine to land with a satisfying thump. I could also be underestimating apartheid regimes in states bent on controlling the federal government in the interest of minority rule.

But these efforts, as frightening as they are, presume that Republican voters show up in numbers necessary to win – to counteract against an opposition more fired up than it was during the 2020 election.

If my argument is right – and yes, for now, that’s a king-sized if – we can thank (maybe a little) the very last person any of us wants to thank for creating conditions by which the rest of us can fight to defend democracy, the rule of law and republican government.

Hoo boy.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

1 Comment

  1. John Lusk on August 26, 2022 at 9:03 am

    I disagree. No matter what, a large chunk of the populace assuming our democracy is totally fake (no matter whether left or right or neo-anarchist or whatever) is bad for the country. If the trumpy base is going back to sleep with no other change, we’re just getting set up for the next iteration of this cycle.

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