September 13, 2022
PBS’s recent Frontline documentary, Lies, Politics and Democracy, I thought would just be old hat. Instead it was a compelling and revealing eye-opener.
For six years my hair’s been on fire. But maybe I’ve been too mild.
The film began with clips from every presidential election concession speech, back to 1940. Every loser graciously congratulating the winner and wishing him well. The contrast with 2020 unspoken.
The main theme was the Republican party’s moral collapse as Trump’s accomplice. Its base consumed by extremist true believers, with its politicians recoiling in horror but lacking the intestinal fortitude to resist. Realizing their political futures required posing as Trumpist cheerleaders. Some also saw it as a faustian bargain to get legislation and judicial appointments they wanted. Mitch McConnell explicitly made that deal with Trump.
Particularly profiled was Ted Cruz, who sought the 2016 nomination. Cruz won in Iowa. Trump insisted that result was a fraud — something, Frontline pointed out, he’s claimed regarding every bauble he’s ever failed to win. Trump also viciously smeared Cruz and even his wife, which Cruz deemed unforgivable.
Come the national convention, Cruz had to decide whether his speech would endorse Trump. Depicted as a crisis of conscience (as if Cruz actually has one). His speech described what an ideal leader should be like — a thinly veiled indictment of Trump, who flouts all that. The room roundly booed Cruz, shouting “Get off the stage!” or to have his mike turned off. No longer your father’s Republican party.
Later, Cruz did suck it up and campaigned for Trump.
The film’s every scene noted how many years, months, and days, until January 6, 2021. Giving that event its due salience. Recently I answered a telephone poll, being asked what issue is most important to me. About ten choices were offered — notincluding January 6 and the ongoing threat to our democracy.
Indeed, voters fix on issues like inflation, immigration, abortion, crime, etc. Not democracy, which ought to be a supervening concern, trumping all those others. If we lose our democracy, you can stick all those others up your butt.
Interestingly, despite claiming fraud, Trump was portrayed, right after the 2020 election, as more or less giving up; and it was Giuliani who pushed the coup plot. What a case study he is, squandering a once heroic reputation. Why? One of so many who, like moths to Trump’s flame, destroyed themselves.
The film highlighted successive hinge points where a responsible core of the GOP might have finally declared, “enough is enough.” One was Charlottesville of course. Many Republican officials did tut-tut, but that was all. Nothing changed.
Then came January 6. And right after, “enough is enough” did seem to take hold at last, even for the likes of Lindsay Graham and Kevin McCarthy. But that swiftly melted away, despite Trump leaving office. McCarthy pilgrimaged to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring. Which, says Frontline, brought the monster back from the dead.
And so, few GOP lawmakers voted for the second impeachment. A majority had already voted against certifying the 2020 election, on the night of January 6 itself.
This, Frontlineindicates, was not mere political cowardice, it was physical cowardice. Many of them feared for their lives. One of the film’s most powerful takeaways is the frightening depth of vicious extremism among MAGA maggots. Proliferating threats of death (and, for women, rape) directed at anyone seen as a traitor against Trump. They really did try to hang Mike Pence.
As much as sane people decry them, they double the contempt in return. “Basket of deplorables?” We’ll show you, you sons of . . . .
And thus did the stolen election lie become a matter of faith unto death. Of course it was just made up, because Trump’s psychosis couldn’t accept losing. Frontline noted that while practically all Republican office seekers mouth the lie, practically none really believes it. The whole party is one big fraud built atop a fraud.
It’s horribly damaging to our democracy. A core element of a democratic society is acceptance of majority rule. We no longer have that. Too many have lost trust in the election process. Too many Republicans consider it legitimate only if their side wins.