[If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which appears below), I would start there. Please pardon the length of this note; I saw no obvious place to split it; and while I am tired of writing about former President Donald Trump, the inexplicable (to me) manner in which so many Congressional Republicans continue to bend to his perceived desires indicates that the dangers of Trumpism are not behind us.]
I confess that I am deeply concerned about the potential aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s almost-certain acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial beginning this week. (I put down Mr. Trump’s relative silence since leaving the White House to his desire to avoid unsettling an impeachment process clearly going his way.) I have heard commentators opine that so many Republican officials’ continued embrace of Mr. Trump will result in a Republican Party schism and reduce the party to a regional movement. Perhaps; but to me, these pronouncements sound eerily similar to predictions we heard after the 2016 election that Republican Congressional leaders would bring Mr. Trump to heal. I’m not sure that if not effectively countered, those martialing behind Mr. Trump cannot become a dominating force in this country. It cannot be forgotten that the former president garnered 74 million votes in the last election, or that political analysts are seemingly unanimous that if any candidate besides President Joe Biden had been atop the Democratic ticket, Mr. Trump – despite his obvious dictatorial tendencies and rank incompetence in addressing the COVID pandemic – would have won in the Electoral College. A late January Morning Consult/Politico poll found that 81% of Republicans reportedly still have a favorable view of Mr. Trump despite his transparent lies about the election and his obvious mob incitement that caused loss of life, injury, and desecration of our Capitol. Last week, almost 200 House Republicans refused to vote to strip U.S. GA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, obviously a QAnon conspiracist despite her protestations, of her House committee assignments. I submit that these are indicators we ignore at our peril.
It’s time to put aside the notion that Truth can take care of itself. An advantage possessed by those who believe in democracy is that we can see – like an approaching tsunami – the likely assault on Truth that will start as soon as Mr. Trump is acquitted – again. Although the Lincoln Project and like organizations have since the insurrection aimed stinging rebukes at the most heinous of Mr. Trump’s seditious cohort – close friends recently alerted me to one by the Republican Accountability Project set to run this week on Fox News’ Hannity Show — I hope that these organizations maintain a broad-scale media offensive aimed directly at the former President by, ironically, employing for Truth the premises outlined by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf and so malevolently utilized by him and by Mr. Trump. The only way to effectively counter the Big Lie is to effectively push the Big Truth.
The audience for the Big Truth is not the white nationalist fringe nor the national and state Republican Party Trump loyalists. These are beyond persuasion. It is the tens of millions of Trump voters who abhor the violence at the Capitol but, presumably due to the media outlets they follow and their own disinclination to educate themselves, tend to believe that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump and/or that he had no part in incitement of the Capitol insurrection. If these more tenuous Trump supporters can be persuaded of the Truth, I believe that the former President can be decisively discredited.
Hitler indicated 100 years ago that a program of persuasion must involve “emotion” “through a psychologically correct form” and be limited to “a very few points” involving “truth or lie.” Something not mentioned, but obviously manifest in both Hitler’s and Trump’s records: the message needs to give the target audience something to be against.
I would suggest that a positive message – i.e., that by all impartial measures, Mr. Biden won the election — will continue to be ineffective with the segments of our populace who need to be persuaded to politically cripple Mr. Trump. I would propose that what will work, if consistently and arrestingly repeated in the appropriate venues, is the dark negative: that Donald Trump lied to you about the election; that Trump incited the riot; and that cops defending the Capitol were injured and killed as a result.
In her book, How We Win, Farah Pandith, who led an initiative to counter Muslim radicalization across the W. Bush and Obama Administrations, asserts that the best way to persuade one’s target audience is to speak through “credible voices” – i.e., those that have credibility with the target audience. The Lincoln Project and like organizations should create spots, directed at persuadable conservative-leaning Americans, showcasing Republican voices that will be credible to them (not to the Trump cultists), citing Mr. Trump’s and his enablers’ lies, and run them incessantly on conservative outlets. Some potential examples:
Video of U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney’s statement after the riot: “Now we gather due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of supporters who he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was insurrection incited by the President of the United States. … The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth.”
Video of U.S. KY Sen. Mitch McConnell’s statement before the Inauguration: “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the President and other powerful people.”
Video from U.S. NE Sen. Ben Sasse’s statement last week: “January 6 … happened because the President lied to you. He lied about the election results for 60 days despite losing 60 straight court challenges … Lying that an election is stolen is not conservative. Treating politics like a religion is not conservative. … Politics isn’t about the weird worship of one dude. … We’re going to have to decide between conservatism and madness.”
Spots simply highlighting Mr. Trump’s incendiary tweets before January 6 and video his speech of incitement, contrasted with video of the ensuing riot, clips of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick’s memorial service, and references to Capitol Police officer suicides, brain injuries, smashed spinal cord discs, eye damage, stabbings and cracked ribs.
Contrasted with riot video, video of Georgia Election Official Gabriel Sterling’s remarks, a month before the riot: “Mr. President … stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone’s gonna get hurt, someone’s gonna get shot, someone’s gonna get killed.”
At a later date, creating spots including actual rioters stating – as their lawyers are claiming — that they were inspired by Mr. Trump.
Run them over … and over … and over … and over.
The suggestion in this note is certainly not uplifting. Prior to the election, I expected the frenzy to subside if Mr. Biden won the presidency. Given the majority of Republicans’ apparent continued allegiance to a defeated and disgraced would-be dictator, and despite the Capitol riot and the inauguration, that hasn’t happened. In his book, Bear Attacks, Stephen Herrero tells of an Alaskan Athabascan, Alexie Pitka, who believed that he had dropped a black bear. After waiting a bit, Mr. Pitka approached the bear without ensuring that it was no longer a threat. When he was only a few yards away, the bear rolled to its feet and jumped on him. Mr. Pitka suffered terrible injuries because he had let his guard down too soon. We risk a similar fate if we discount Mr. Trump’s ability, despite his election defeat, to overwhelm Truth. It’s possible that the evidence Democrats present at the Senate impeachment trial will be so damning that it forever sways public opinion against Mr. Trump no matter the verdict … but I doubt it. The disinformation salvo likely to attend his Senate acquittal has the potential to be every bit as dangerous to our nation as an act of war committed against us by a foreign adversary. (What will you wager that Ms. Greene, freed of House committee assignments, will now travel the country, funded by the Trump war chest, riling up Republicans in support of Mr. Trump?) This salvo will require an equally forceful response. The enemy – the Big Lie – needs to be vanquished.
The dark impulses manipulated by Mr. Trump are real, and not going away. That said, he provides the charismatic focal point and sanction for overt expression of grievance and outrage that these untoward elements previously lacked. I am hoping that if the former president can be discredited among the main body of non-cult conservatives, the remaining malign groups can be systematically addressed. In accord with the premises that Hitler posed in the 1920s, the message to persuadable Trump supporters must be simple, and run in venues where they will see it: Mr. Trump lied to you about winning the election. It is he who got these officers hurt, and killed; our Capitol ransacked; our Congress endangered. It is he who defiled our Constitution.
It is he who is the enemy.
Over, and over, and over.