Living the Big Lie
In the more insular areas of the red states, of all the states, some have been saying, thinking, and believing like Marjorie Taylor Greene since forever. In these areas, this narrative of Marjorie’s wasn’t unusual to the local ear; neither was what Trump was saying. Trump’s election in 2016, accorded the narrative the presidential seal of approval. Henceforth his election, Marjorie felt free to say these things to the world without resorting to the slick code words still being used by some of her contemporaries.
The ‘Big Lie’, embraced long before and long after the Civil War by both elite and working-class white southerners, was a construct meant to obscure the truth, to counter the facts; is still very much ingrained in southern white culture. In 1960, in Philadelphia, PA, the young sailor from Tennessee with a confederate flag plate on the front of his 1954 Mercury believed that Abraham Lincoln was the worst president in history, that Yankees should stay out of the South’s business, that the South would rise again, that blacks were inferior; and, didn’t mind telling you so. He believed the ‘Big Lie’. Some of the South has changed a lot since the 1960s; seems some of its rural areas have hardly at all.
In most of the precincts in Marjorie Taylor Greene’s congressional district, Republicans (as in southern white Christian Republicans) outnumber Democrats four to one. The same can be said for much of the rest of rural Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and for several other red states. An emboldened Marjorie thought that she could now say these things anywhere. She was now saying to the world what she, her friends, and other small-minded people had been saying to each other for generations.
As long as such thinking and talk stayed in amongst the community, it was as good as the gospel; as good as ever. Brought out into the larger world, reality itself became the challenge. The Big Lie was the very antithesis of truth, the anti-truth. The Big Lie was, in fact, invented to cover up the truth, to counter reality.
The ‘Big Lie’ is alive and well throughout the South and other red states. The PBS documentary Meltdown in Dixie takes a look at Confederate symbolism in the 21st Century. In the video, a couple from Maryland buy an ice cream shop in Orangeburg, South Carolina with a Confederate battle flag being flown from atop a flagpole at the front of the shop’s parking lot. Turns out, the flag pole is on a very small strip of the parking lot that the former owner, an avowed segregationist, had ceded to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. After the 2015 Charleston Church Massacre, local blacks began to boycott the shop because of the flag’s racist symbolism. The business couldn’t survive without their trade. The owners, who aren’t racist, tried valiantly to get the flag removed. Unsuccessful in their efforts, they wound up putting the shop up for sale and returning to Maryland.
In the video, the leader of the local Sons desperately wants us to believe that the Sons’ forebearers did not leave the warmth and comfort of their homes to bleed and die for slavery on the battlefields of the Civil War; that they had believed in a nobler cause (didn’t say what that might be); by implication, a cause somehow represented by the Confederate battle flag. Thus the flag must remain. Sure they did. Just as had those who fought and died in the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, The Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Invasion of Iraq. The soldiers in all these wars believed in whatever they had been taught to believe in. In all these wars, they all believed the Big Lie. But for 160 years? Tell us, leader of the Sons of the Confederacy; what is this nobler cause? Perchance, would it be the same one that Strom Thurmond, the Ku Klux Klan, the lynch mobs, the Police Chief who blinded Sgt Isaac Woodward, …, believed in?
The enslavement of millions of black people for more than 200 years and the bloody American Civil War, were consequences of the ‘Big Lie’. So were the massacres of black Americans after the Civil War in Colfax, LA, Clinton, MS, Wilmington, NC, Slocum, TX, Elaine, AR, Tulsa, OK, …. (some of which have only recently come into the light), the lynchings of blacks in the South from 1877 until 1950, of Emmett Till in 1955. So was the peonage legally practiced from Reconstruction until the 1940s (that is still existent in somewhat milder forms). So are the Marjorie Taylor Greenes, Marsha Blackburns, Cindy Hyde-Smiths, et al. So, too, Shelby v. Holder and the legislation written by the Heritage Foundation being pushed by Republicans through red state legislatures.
It all could have been different. After WWII, Germans sought to understand what it was that was inherent in their culture, their souls, that permitted the Nazi rise to power, the Holocaust. For the ex-Confederate states, the period just after the Civil War should have been such a time for introspection. Their not coming to grips with the truth, the consequences of the Big Lie, then, lead to all the atrocities that followed. Beyond the South, too many Americans have yet to come to grips with this darkness of the soul. How can it be that so many were so screwed up? Is it attributable to some engendered European sense of white supremacy? To a Scots-Irish ancestry? How did those who called themselves Christians commit and abide such atrocities?
For more than 75 years now, we’ve heard, “What could have, should have been done to stop Hitler?” “What should have, could have been done to put an end to the Big Lie of the American south,” before all these atrocities? “ How is that we still hear the Big Lie? Why wasn’t it exposed, denied, long ago?
The bishop told the reporter that he and his fellow bishops think that President Biden should not receive communion because he supports abortion. Biden supports a woman’s right of choice; that’s quite different. The bishop was lying; lying in order to obscure the truth. The bishop, a man, would deny any woman her right of choice. The bishop would impose his beliefs, the beliefs of the church, on all women of all faiths; would deny them the right to choose. Would do so on the basis of an interpretation of a 2,000 (and more) year-old scripture. That is the truth the bishop would obscure.
Fundamentalists of all faiths (those that hold that those of 1,500, 2,000, 5,000 years ago got it right and that was that) haven’t, have never had, much use for science. To them, there is nothing about alternate reality. When the pandemic hit in 2020, they looked to their scriptures, their religious leaders, not to science, for advice. To fundamentalists, anything, or anyone, that questioned their beliefs was heretical, was an enemy. Things have changed a lot in the 5,000, 2,000, 1,500 years since the Bible and the Koran were written. Science, a relatively new kid on the block (not infallible by any means) is all about getting a hold of needed information (facts) and seeking to find answers (thinking). The fundamentalists saw science as a challenge to their faith. Seems, sometimes, science was in conflict with, came up with a different answer, than the one interpreted from their scriptures.
It would undoubtedly be heretical to call the Holy Scriptures a Big Lie. It would be less than accurate to call them the big truth. It would be fair to say that The Holy Scriptures are a collection of oft told tales from time immemorial; tales meant to preserve history, to inculcate social standards, to answer questions. For this, their role in advancing civilization, they deserve to be revered. Unfortunately, from the beginning, and until this day, they have been used as an excuse to commit horrible atrocities (some of the scriptures themselves are extremely violent). The white southern planters thought of themselves as Christians. Father Junipero Serra believed that he was doing the lord’s work. Marjorie Taylor Greene thinks herself to be a Christian. Fair to say, that throughout history, and today, the Holy Scriptures have been a force for both good and evil. Something that can not be said for Nazism, nor for the ‘Big Lie’ of the American south. Nothing good came out of the ‘Big Lie’; yet, it still alive and well. In fact, these days, it is resurgent.
From the ‘Big Lie’ of the American South, from fundamentalism, from Evangelicalism, to QAnon is not so very far (alternate reality was not new to any of them). It is but a short piece from accepting tales taught and told as gospel and Big Lies long engendered into one’s culture (many of which were invented to obscure the truth) to believing far out conspiracies. When such believers are combined with a charismatic leader, you have a cult. Many fundamentalists, Evangelicals, subscribers to the southern ”Big Lie”, …, found such a leader in Trump. Together, they have formed into an American political cult. A cult that does not wish to accept reality; has little use for the facts, the truth. How much longer can such a dichotomy between what so many believe, and reality and the truth, continue to exist?
When Truth is the Enemy
We humans seem inherently to want, to need, to know. For us, to ‘know’ something is to believe that it is true. How do we come to believe something is true? Some might simply believe or accept what they see or hear as truth, as fact, i.e., trust others. Others might need to understand before believing. Accepting, or memorizing, is the easier. Understanding requires significant effort. Thinking passeth understanding. Thinking, may be the hardest work of all, requires a lot of rigor, discipline; takes up a lot of time.
In an effort to thwart the will of the majority of Americans, to ward off change; a grouping of minorities (each of which is a practitioner of one or another Big Lie) that include white southern Christians, fundamentalists, Evangelicals, the Trumps of the world, and Republicans, have coalesced into today’s Republican Party. Into a very cult like Republican party.
They probably have a constitutional or god given right to their own alternate reality. Even if so, do they have the right bring it into governance of the Nation? To impose it on the rest of us? Is letting them go on saying and believing their Big Lies in the halls of Congress, in the White House, an option? Is it possible for two or versions of reality (reality and an alternate reality) to coexist? In a script for a TV show, maybe, but not in the real world. Letting 500,000 die needlessly might be OK in movies or TV shows, but it is not OK in any real world.
To the minister of the Evangelical Mega-Church who tells his congregants: That he believes that Donald Trump is a Christian. That they should vote for Trump. That they should follow the teachings of the scriptures, his teachings and Trump’s lies, and ignore science. That they don’t need a vaccine, that god will protect them from COVID. That truth is the enemy. — These ministers, like the bishop, are liars using religion and their role therein to gain power over their congregants, and perhaps (likely), to gain personal wealth. For these ministers, truth is the enemy.
Truth is the enemy for an incompetent, pathological liar running for President; for an incompetent, pathological President. Truth is the enemy of the Majorie Tayor Greenes, the Jim Jordans, the Ted Cruzs, the Marsha Blackburns, the Cindy Hyde-Smiths, the Mo Brooks, the Vladymir Putins, the Recep Tayyip Erdoğans, the Lindsey Grahams, the Mitch McConnells, …; for all practitioners of the Big Lie.
The South’s original Big Lie was a deliberate construct meant to cover up the truth about slavery. Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election was a construct meant to counter reality and obscure the truth about the election. Just as slavery and the Civil War were consequences of the south’s ‘Big Lie’; January 6, 2021, was a consequence of Trump’s Big Lie about the election being stolen, There are, in all probability, more consequences to Trump’s Big Lie yet to come. We need to, the Nation needs to, find a way to expose, dispose, these Big Lies before they destroy America.
It is hard to ascertain whether or not Marjorie Taylor Greene understands that the Big Lie she is repeating, spreading, is a lie. It is quite clear that Mitch McConnell does. Day after day, on our TV screens we see McConnell willfully, knowingly, purposefully, lying to us from the floor of the US Senate Chambers, from a TV studio; doing so to obfuscate the facts, the truth. Fellow congressional practitioners of the Big Lie include: Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Louis Gohmert, John Kennedy, Susan Collins, John Cornyn, … . These people are purposefully lying in the interests of their wealthy benefactors, in the interest of keeping their seats.
Mitch McConnell is a true son of the South. The very same South that has never been right about anything. There is no known record that Mitch McConnell has ever been right about anything. Yet they both persist in doing the wrong things; in attempting to impose their wrongs on the nation, on us, the people. Today, we see McConnell use all his political power to put the interest of his benefactors ahead of those of the Nation, to again steer the Nation back to the past before 1965, 1950. The Republican Party of the 1960s is long gone. Today’s Republican Party is the party of white southern Christians, nee Dixiecrats. The capture is long since complete — in toto. One only needs to listen to even their most moderate politicians to see that the modus operandi of today’s Republican Party is the Big Lie; with Mitch McConnell being the very personification of the Big Lie.
In opposition to proposed legislation to protect voting rights against an onslaught of legislation in red states to suppress voter participation by those other than Republican, one Republican Senator after another has risen to protest that the proposed legislation threatens states’ rights. That would be the very same states’ rights that enabled slavery to continue for those ‘four score and ten’ more? That enabled the disenfranchisement of black voters for 100 years after the Civil War? That enabled sharecropping? That enabled all the lynchings of black men? That enabled the Jim Crow Laws following Reconstruction? That enabled peonage? That enabled segregation for 100 years? That enabled the burning of black communities and the massacre of the residents? That was both a cause and a consequence of one of the original flaws in the Constitution?
Republican Senators! Instead of being the answer to anything, ‘states’ rights’ is the problem. The very thing itself is concocted. To the extent it might be real, it is a mistake. The claim of states’ rights have inflicted great harm on the nation’s citizens; was always all about white supremacy. States’ rights have never been the solution to any real problem. Sure as hell aren’t now. The states’ right to control elections is what gave us the disenfranchisement of black voters, that allowed for Jim Crow, the lynching, the segregation, …. ‘States’ rights’ is but another Big Lie. How can any of you in this day and time stand on the floor of the US Senate and demand your state’s states’ rights? Is it that you do not, or think that we do not, know our history? Please, for the sake of the Nation, stop forever this use of Big Lies to counter the facts, obscure the truth.
My sister spent a couple of years in Germany in the early 60s. She came away with one thought, if they could do it again they would.
There are historians who would say it was surprising that it all started in Germany and not in France.
Ultimately, all of us could be Nazis. Don’t trust anyone who says they could never be a Nazi. Say “I’m working on my inner Nazi.”
Great essay. Thanks!
How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America – Heather Cox Richardson
Great essay. Thanks! Recommended: https://books.google.com/books/about/How_the_South_Won_the_Civil_War.html?id=EY_UDwAAQBAJ&source=kp_book_description How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America – Heather Cox Richardson
If I have a problem with the overall thesis, or the book that I recommend, it is that they may act as cover for a scheme that re-writes history in favor of an America which excuses its own racial animus and suggests that our guiding principle is not ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.’
That more people don’t accept the thesis, or read the book, implies that people don’t read much anyway, or that the thesis is dangerous as well as repugnant.
Prof Richardson can do no harm in my book. 15 – 20 yrs back, heard a writer from NC say that to the South,
the Civil War wasn’t over; it was just halftime.
So many lies and so little time.
Southern racists have found their big lie reinforced by segregated public housing and all that goes on there. Sometimes the angels are practically indistinguishable from the demons. We eschew social engineering as if slavery were not social engineering, as if reconstruction were not social engineering, as if Jim Crow were not social engineering, as if the half measures of desegregation were not social engineering, as if high rise public ghettos were not social engineering, as if local public school funding were not social engineering, as if underfunded law enforcement in the highest crime areas were not social engineering, and as if blatant pandering and empty promises were not social engineering. The only area in which we actually seem to be opposed to social engineering is in the realm of constructive public policy.
‘Of the people, by the people, for the people’ is not some of the people, it is ALL of the people. This nation owes a huge debt of gratitude to Abraham Lincoln for pointing this out.
pleasure to be able to agree with you. i think my inner Nazi is tamed, but it pokes its head out once in a while until i have a chance to think about what i am saying.
unfortunately Ken does not recognize his inner nazi. because he is “against evil” he does not recognize that fighting hate with hate is just more evil.
i’d agree we have a problem, but it’s a human problem,,,everywhere and through all time, one you cannot easily recognize while waving a flag.
no, i do not advocate universal disarmament, but rants like the one here do not help.
as for the “flaws of the Constitution” Lincoln believed that Constitution put slavery on the path to extinction. it was a compromise to make the Union strong enough to resist the evil coming from abroad (England mostly), and it’s “un-democratic” elements were included to resist the kind of evil seen very soon afterward in the french reign of terror, if not the rise of Napoleon.
Lincoln failed to prevent war, but he succeeded in ending slavery. Grant after him tried to “reconstruct” the South and mostly failed…perhaps for the same reasons Gorbachev failed to reconstruct the soviet union. “for hate is strong and mocks the song…” Some people think Christ tried to put us on the path to end slavery…our own slavery to self destructive hate of the other. Might be worth remembering, while hating “white christian men..” that white christian men were the activists who ultimately ended slavery in both England and America…
i need to stop there before i work up into my own rant. anyway, it was just a thought.
Excellent sir as usual.
I do not believe these problems are unsolvable, but I do believe that these problems will not be solved by a people all too willing to accept the pandering of politicians with pride. If pride goeth before the fall, then it is only after the fall that people may reach the level of self-awareness required to see to it that public policy works in a constructive manner for most, even if not all.
History has shown that even when the vast majority reach the great new frontier, there still may be some fated to march their trail of tears.
“kumbaya” is for children.
perhaps. but then it is for the children that we work against hate.
it is going to reach 110 degrees today in northwest Oregon. officially “life threatening”. i don’t like to fall into the weather vs climate trap, but it looks like we have a problem.
That nails it.
I hate treason.
I found this interview of Andy Slavitt in re his new book ‘Preventable’ very informative, well worth the while.
The brutal weather end of climate change has so far been less hot and dry here than west of the Appalachians. Moisture funneled up the jet stream from the Gulf of M has been our salvation. We occasionally get over 100F in August with a shift to drier air. OTOH, the same humidity that puts a cap on our temps, makes being outside working a big disgusting with sweat pouring off and in the eyes. I wear SPF 30 to 50 clothing as sunscreen does not stay under such conditions. Heat indexes above 100F are commonplace here.
the original reason Africans were imported to America was that no one else could work in the heat and humidity of Dixie. So if Darwin is right, in a few years the only people who will be able to live in America will be black.
Of course I am counting on the waverlies.
Yes sir. Irony builds strong blood – or hot blood at least.
if an Alien Space Force was injecting carbon dioxide into our atmosphere to “terraform” earth to a temperature more comfortable to themselves and more conducive to their preferred agriculture, every nation on earth and all the people would unite to fight them.
which is probably why they decided to disguise themselves as Republicans and Democrats, world leaders and men of great wealth, so they can do it without attracting serious attention. and think of the money they save by using our own carbon dioxide factories and not having to transport their own across millions of light years of empty (no gas stations) space.
their preferred agriculture looks more like ours of 300 million years ago (the Carboniferous period). by growing the plants that will decompose and form vast deposits of hydrocarbons they will be investing in their future. a win-win for them.