Perspective 65: The Big Lie: Will It Live On?
Surveys continue to show some 70 percent of Republicans subscribing to Trump's fantasy that he won the election. The Republican National Committee condemns an investigation of the attempted coup of January 6 as "persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse." Will Trump's bloviations become a permanent fixture of American political folklore?
No. History has a dustbin to which such cockeyed notions are eventually consigned. Truth is often battered and belittled, but is usually prevails in the long run.
In perspective, it is useful sometimes to invoke the insights of past thinkers with a broad view of history and human nature. John Stuart Mill (On Liberty, 1859) defended freedom of speech, even for liars, by arguing that truth might be shoved aside temporarily but inevitably returns again and again until it is accepted. He wrote:
" The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until . . . it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it."
Trump will not be around forever to "primary" those in his party who dare to challenge his egomania. One after another, future historians will point out the lack of evidence for electoral fraud, and frenzied partisans with a vested interest in proving non-existent fraud will fade from view. Those who sacrificed their integrity to kiss the royal ring (or the hind part of the royal anatomy) will find themselves trashed by future generations (looking at you, Rudy Giuliani).
This is the moment to recognize those who braved the tide -- the Liz Cheneys and the Adam Kinzingers -- to stand for truth when it was hard to do. All Republicans should be asking themselves, while they have a chance to speak for truth when it is under assault, how they will measure up. In the long run, how will history judge them? Did they succumb to the Trumpet call or did they think for themselves?
Mill would also have something to say about the claims of the anti-vaxxers and all those who oppose public health measures to stem the pandemic. The aim of his essay was to establish how far a government can legitimately go in limiting human liberty. He concluded that "the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection."
And if vaccines and masks are not self-protection, then the word has lost all meaning. It's time to bring the venerable J.S. into the debate. Mill would certainly argue that rightful freedom does not include the right to spread disease and death.