Their Superpower


Paul Waldman writes,

Let us be clear: It’s not as though Republicans were hesitant to lie before Trump came along. Tax cuts for the rich pay for themselves, Saddam Hussein is going to attack us with his weapons of mass destruction, we’ll protect Medicare, voter fraud is rampant, etc.

But they put some effort into their lies, building them off pieces of reality and providing ballast for them with (frequently bogus) supporting evidence. Though they were willing to deceive the public, they hadn’t completely given up on the idea that it’s better to pay lip service to honesty, to retain a reputation as a reasonable participant in public debate even when you’re not being reasonable. They still had some glimmer of shame.

But Trump taught them that shamelessness can be a kind of superpower. If you don’t care whether journalists (let alone your political opponents) point out your lies, then you have been liberated.

And if you stop caring what anyone except your most committed supporters believes, then not only can you ignore the truth, in Republicans’ case, you have to.

When Republicans say the I.G. report has proven their conspiracy theories right or that Trump only pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden because he is deeply committed to fighting corruption, they know they’re lying. But they also know they have to lie, because it’s what their conservative constituents demand.

Every Trump lie comes with its own warning to Republicans: Back this up, or else. They know his lie will quickly be echoed by conservative news outlets. If you’re a Republican member of Congress, you turn on Fox every day and say, “This is what my constituents are hearing.” You know that if you contradict the Trump/Fox narrative, you’ll be attacked as a traitor and your political survival will be at risk.

Even if Trump loses reelection, that media system and the voters Republican officeholders represent will remain. The patterns of behavior that have been built up over the years will be difficult to undo, as they keep insisting every Republican defeat is a victory and everything a Democratic president does is a horrific crime. They will keep lying and keep insisting that to question their lies is to betray their cause.

They will be Trumpists without Trump, knowing that their audience and constituents expect nothing less. And their poison will continue to infect our democracy.

Have a nice day, everyone.