It is said that we live in the age of post-truth politics. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that we live in the age of brazen lies; the age of lying as a political strategy; the age of lies as the cheapest rhetorical device. The real problem is not living in a society that accepts lies, but in one that rejects the truth.
Former president Barack Obama recently said that the now outgoing Trump administration had neglected US institutional norms along with the expectations one had of a president, and that both Democrats and Republicans had previously observed. Obama said that we have witnessed “what some people call truth decay”. The moment when truth decays, it rots. This is a moment when “not only do we not have to tell the truth, but the truth doesn’t even matter”. An accurate and painful observation.
But perhaps it is easier to understand someone who opts to use lies, than the reasons behind those who willingly accepts them and then spread them enthusiastically. Winston Churchill said that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”. In the age of social media this fact is truer than ever. But the most serious damage of lying is not its speed but its stickiness.
Trump is lying when he says a fraud occurred in the recent US presidential election. The Secretaries of State of all key battleground states -Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona- certified election results without hesitation. Some of them are Republicans. Also, the former director of cyber-security for the Department of Homeland Security, Chris Krebs, -a Trump appointee and a lifelong Republican- claimed that the election had been the safest one in US history. Trump fired him for saying it. Krebs found that in the states where millions of ballots were manually counted, the result was identical to the result tallied by machines. There were simply no algorithms that changed votes, as Trump originally alleged. US Attorney General, Bill Barr -a loyal Trump ally- also rejected fraud allegations. US federal judges, many of them Republican have dismissed 38 electoral lawsuits for lack of evidence. And despite all the above, more than 70 percent of Republicans still believe Trump’s allegation of fraud.
Trump decided to blow up US democracy because it suits him. He prefers to be remembered as the victim of fraud than as a president who lost reelection. Trump will be only the fifth incumbent not re-elected in 125 years. Trump’s “fraud” narrative will allow him to keep his base loyal to him and, incidentally, avoid a series of legal inquiries that will come against him, his children and his business the moment he leaves power. If they come after him, he will say that it is the revenge of the so-called “Deep State” (In Mexico, president Andrés Manuel López Obrador would refer to it as the “Mafia of Power”). The cost of Trump’s actions will not only be the loss of legitimacy of Biden’s presidency, even when he won the popular vote by over 7 million votes. Many lives will be at risk including those of officials who validated the election. Krebs has received death threats, as has Dr. Anthony Fauci, for insisting on the seriousness of what some have labeled as a “fictitious” pandemic. Lies sometimes kill.
American democracy was saved not only by the 81 million voters who voted for Biden, but also by a handful of Republican civil servants at state level. They took the high cost of drawing a line in the sand against Trump. Democracy was also saved by those media outlets that refused to repeat Trump’s blatant lies and false information. This included Fox News, the most right-wing and unconditional Trump network.
What about Mexico? Who among his advisors will tell López Obrador that he is lying? Who will oppose him for blowing up Mexican democracy? Who will put Mexico ahead of his political career? When will Mexican TV networks interrupt one of AMLO’s daily press conferences arguing that is full of lies?
Dante said that “the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.” The Mexico that our children will inherit depends not on opposing López Obrador but on whether those who support him are willing to stop being neutral with Mexico in mind.
* Jorge Suárez-Vélez is an economic and political analyst He is the author of The Coming Downturn of the World Economy (Random House 2011). A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @jorgesuarezv