I am mesmerized by this video. A moment of revealing the Big Lie. The lie we tell ourselves, each other, about the world, about politics, about life, about truth. This lie is pervasive and dishonest. It is what it says it is. The deceit of the human connection and condition. The transformation of all that we hold dear. Transforming who we are into who we never wished to be.
The Big Lie is with us.
At one level, I watched the video of the deputy White House press secretary arguing with a reporter. Two sides disagreeing.
At another level, I watched the video of a political operative being challenged for what she has been saying to journalists. Watched with the weight of all the previous statements, including the one in which the president calls the independent media “the enemy.”
At yet another level, I watched a dance, not just of disagreement or the inevitable clash of opposing worldviews as if all the world is split in half and all that is liberal and all that is conservative are programmed into our brains causing a profound, impenetrable bias. Like an unbridgeable chasm widening into the Grand Canyon. A dance around the truth, around communication, an obfuscation and unrepentant deceit. A lie bothersome enough. But it is coupled with bullying and disrespect: an outrageous combination.
The video reveals the Big Lie and our inept attempts to minimize its damage.
The origin of the Big Lie reveals the truth.
Attributed to Adolph Hitler, the Big Lie was described as a lie so big and preposterous it couldn’t be disagreed with. It just had to be true. Nobody would believe anyone could pull off such a lie. For him, this was what the Jews were doing. They were pulling it off and he was going to expose it.
Of course, basing this idea on a conspiracy theory is pretty self-incriminating. And we know that Hitler himself perpetrated the Big Lie on his own people and many others all over the world.
That Hitler told a lie about some of his own people lying is devilishly political and disturbingly effective. And if not entirely intentional, it was at the very least opportunistic.
But what do we see? How do we understand the Big Lie in its context?
Seeing the impact of lies and manipulative techniques to keep and express power are not only damning, they have a way of teasing our thoughts into generalizations about the world and how it works. We don’t just see the lie. Or the technique. Or recognize it conceptually.
We see also power and division. Two parties (Nazis and Jews) and a pugilistic attempt at truth. We see liberal and conservative and Plato and dualism and Right v. Wrong.
We see a paradigm of ‘truth or lie’ and there is eternally one or the other.
OK, to be honest, we almost never agree to disagree about Hitler. But imagine any other scenario, such as Richard Nixon in the midst of his coverup and constant lying, the tapes and the witnesses. Or Ronald Reagan selling guns to the Contras. Maybe 22 Million expected to lose health care by 2024 if the AHCA were to pass.
Economics, climate science, health outcomes, rates of gun violence, officer involved killings, effectiveness of legislation, all of these can be assessed by metrics of evidence and then studied and reviewed by peers to test validity. But all of them are treated as matters of opinion. All as relative and therefore equal. Something we can all agree to disagree about.
I’m not talking about specific pieces of legislation or foundational approaches but that we agree to disagree about the things themselves. Things which aren’t relative, but evidence-based. Things which can be proven and which have demonstrable causes.
Today, the Big Lie isn’t one deception so big we can’t believe anyone would try it.
The Big Lie is the dualistic relativism which passes for honesty.
The grand deception we are perpetrating on ourselves and our neighbors.
This is that Big Lie we tell ourselves and one another. That we are on a team and must defeat our opponents. That if they believe one thing, I must believe “the other” as if there is only one other. As if the world itself demands devil’s advocates or else it will stop spinning. As if the sun’s gravity will stop working, and we’ll float out into space, unmoored, unrestricted, growing colder, with the inevitable conclusion that we will either freeze to death or die in a collision with another planet.
There is nothing so certain as disagreement, but there is nothing so deceitful to our psyches as believing that disagreement is so certain.
The belief that hemispheric division is the ordering of life itself and governs all human actions.
The lie early Christians made was to define the world into two kinds of people: the followers of Christ and the pagans. Us and Them. Always insiders and outsiders. Two groups only. Always. Easier to name an enemy or a scapegoat.
When I watched the video, I was struck by its lack of sanity. A low-level political operative once again berating the White House press corps. And then a veteran, highly-respected journalist comes to their defense. Right on cue, she shifts the blame to him. Everything political when we argue we want nothing political. Sliced in two and ready to eat.
The video has that Wizard of Oz quality, with Sanders as the wizard reminding us not to see what we actually see. The gas lighting justified by political division and played against our natural desire for balance.
And we watch it, encountering once again the Big Lie of American truth-telling. Only now, we’re seeing it on the evening news or in a friend’s feed and each time with a chance to swallow the lie again and again every day. Like robbing a bank and justifying to ourselves that “everybody does it” or shouting “Both sides!” as we drive the car next to us off the road. Justified, we claim, by this false equivalence.
We treat differences as the same, reconfigure truth into lies of partisanship and truths into relative experiences. Trade anecdote for universal evidence or trust conspiracy theorists for journalists.
The Big Lie is that subtle shift from seeking to learn “all sides of a story” to “both”.
The lie we tell ourselves and demand of each other: a civic dystopian of Stepford happiness and authoritarian control so easily contained in the rambling of the stranger sitting next to us waiting for his tire rotation. He can fix Washington. Get rid of the bad and replace it with good. Easy. Simple. Neat and tidy. Trade this for that. BAM! All fixed.
The Big Lie is the easy scapegoat, with all our distrust and anxiety strapped to its back, sent out into the wilderness to starve to death. In it, all our problems will vanish with our site line as the goat gets further away, finally disappearing amid the other dots and signs of life we choose to believe don’t exist (or places named simply “Them”). Division will be no more. War – gone. Crime – non-existent. Wealth – naturally distributed meritously by an invisible hand that isn’t God’s. And we can go back to the comfort and certainty in the Big Lie. The certainty that because we are always right, we can never be responsible for another’s pain. Or else we’ll just find another goat.