My fellow Americans: Ignoring friends and family who ignore reality will just make things worse for the country. Avoiding people who avoid the truth will hasten the end of democracy. We have to speak up. I say that because I don’t think many of us do.
I used to think it was OK, and even healthy, to avoid confronting cousins or old friends who think Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate, that Trump actually won in 2020, that violence against the government is sometimes justified, that everyone from antifa to the FBI was responsible for the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, not Trump supporters. A lot of the same people believe vaccinations against the coronavirus are part of a left-wing conspiracy to control our bodies.
People who say that kind of stuff are just a little bit nuts, right? There’s no winning an argument with them. Why destroy your relationship or friendship with someone just because they are conservative and, uh, somewhat eccentric? Certainly they’ll realize soon that Trump is a very bad actor, a racist and an instigator of insurrection. Soon they’ll just snap out of it, right?
Well, no, they won’t.
All polling indicates that significant numbers of Republicans generally believe the things I just listed above. A friend in Georgia says she’s shocked that 41% or Republicans “say they believe the rioting mob on January 6th was all Antifa supporters, Black Lives Matter followers and a medley of other left leaning organizations.”
But there should be nothing shocking about so many Republicans accepting lies over reality. Look around. Listen to the radio. Read this story in The New Yorker about Dan Bongino, a failed candidate for Congress from Maryland and now a dominant voice in the extreme rightwing media, and you’ll understand the threat. “Spend several months immersed in American talk radio,” writes Evan Osnos, “and you’ll come away with the sense that the violence of January 6th was not the end of something but the beginning.”
So we can’t let this widespread embrace of Big Lies stand.
Let it stand, and we will lose our democracy. The threat grows by the day, as this Times editorial clearly states.
The pandemic has greatly limited our contact with relatives and friends, so there have been fewer opportunities to engage those who need to be challenged about these lies. And that’s layered on top of the instinct to avoid confrontation that comes to us naturally. “We don’t talk politics at the dinner table” was an admonition designed to avoid ruining appetites and relationships. But I don’t see how, in interpersonal communications — conversations, emails, social media, whatever — we can avoid telling our friends and relatives that Trump and his right-wing enablers push lies that corrode (and will ultimately destroy) our democracy. You may not think you can have any influence over others — that someone who watches FOX “News” every day has been completely brainwashed — but you have more influence than you think. And you have to try.
One last thing to think about today:
The mainstream media is constantly accused of being liberal, or socialist and even subversive. The “subversive” charge harkens to the Cold War, when the American press was seen as undermining democracy by constantly raising questions about it, from the nation’s treatment of Black citizens to our military involvement in Vietnam. We were accused of being “liberal” because we pointed out problems — that is, we described reality.
Now, with so many Republicans and conservatives on the Trump train willfully ignoring reality, who’s subversive to the democracy? It’s not the left or the media. It’s Republicans who seem determined to move the nation to an autocracy and concentrate power among a powerful white and wealthy elite. And they’re doing that by getting the like-minded (small-minded and conspiracy-minded) to embrace the Big Lies. If the rest of us avoid stating plainly the fact-based reality of the threat to democracy, we will lose it. I guarantee you.