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From the Border to Bump Stocks, the MAGA Lie Machine Is Heating Up

A tipping point has been reached lately at which Republicans are even more bought in to Trump’s lies. It’s only going to keep tipping.

Donald Trump stands at a lectern while his image is projected above him.
Donald Trump speaks during “Turning Point: The People’s Convention” on June 15, at Huntington Place Convention Center in Detroit.

Hitler’s brilliant propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, famously told the Führer, “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” Donald Trump and the MAGA faction of the Republican Party have taken Goebbels’s advice to heart, and it’s going to make this fall’s election one like we’ve never seen before.

Already they’ve been lying so often and so effectively that nearly all Republicans, and majorities or near-majorities of Americans, believe:

  • the GOP lie that we’re in a recession (we’re in better shape, in most ways, than any time since the 1960s, and inflation last month was zero, while Ronald Reagan never got it below 4.1 percent in his entire eight years);
  • Republican lies about crime being up (it’s down dramatically since Trump);
  • their lies that “Democrats want elective abortion up to the moment of birth” (none have ever said that);
  • Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump by “voter fraud”;
  • GOP lies that the southern border is “wide open”;
  • the Republican lie that Social Security is on the verge of bankruptcy and must be saved by privatization or benefits cuts;
  • their vicious lie that queer people are pedophiles targeting America’s schoolchildren; and
  • their NRA lie that more and more deadly guns will keep our kids safe.

At the level of presidential politics, it’s gotten so brazen that Trump is actually asking people if they’re better off today than they were four years ago. That’s four years ago when people were dying from Covid that he was not handling well, the economy was in the tank, millions had lost their jobs, and people were so desperate for food they sat in their cars in five-mile-long lines for food banks.

It’s also migrated to congressional Republicans. As Marc Elias writes for his brilliant Democracy Docket newsletter: “Over the last month, you can feel that something important has happened. A tipping point has been reached. Republicans who used to act like they had not heard or read the latest Trump outrage now show up at his trials and parrot his most vile lies. The GOP now openly extol the virtues of political prosecutions and disparage the rule of law.”

Even Republicans on the Supreme Court have gotten into the act. Justifying his decision to legalize bump stocks, Clarence Thomas was so audacious as to insert this naked lie into his decision, announced last Friday: “The shooter must release and reset the trigger between every shot.” The whole point of a bump stock is that you can simply hold the trigger down continuously and spray up to 800 bullets a minute.

Tragically for American politics, as former Republican strategist and attorney George Conway recently noted, “The Republican Party has become addicted to lies under Trump.”

Americans are generally used to believing their politicians are telling the truth, albeit often a slightly shaded version for political convenience. But what happens when politicians stop bothering with even a fig leaf of truth to justify a giant, world-altering lie and are instead just make things up out of whole cloth? How can a political system survive such an assault on the truth?

The last time the GOP embraced outright lies in a widespread way like this was in the lead-up to America’s participation in World War II, as multiple Republican senators, representatives, and media figures were taking direct cash bribes and talking points from Hitler’s intelligence service. (Rachel Maddow has documented much of this in her book Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism and her podcast Ultra.)

In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on October 23, 1940, warned the nation: “Truthful campaign discussion of public issues is essential to the American form of Government; but willful misrepresentation of fact has no place either during election time or at any other time.”

In Roosevelt’s time there was a right-wing press, but it was mostly fringe. Today’s press bears little resemblance to the media of the 1940s. Over 1,500 right-wing and 800 religious radio stations and hundreds of right-wing television stations daily sing the praises of Trump and the GOP, repeating the latest insane lies as if they’re gospel truth. This has created the perfect opening for a soulless Republican Party and its MAGA candidates to fully embrace Goebbels’s Big Lie strategy. And they’re doing it with gusto.

Former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger writes on his Substack blog: “In the latest how-low-can-they-go, the GOP and Fox News seem to have worked together to distribute a maliciously doctored bit of video that targets President Biden’s mental capacity. The video supposedly shows him wandering away from other leaders at the G-7 summit in Italy, as if he doesn’t quite know where he is and what’s going on.”

In fact, the entire video in context shows no such thing, but the deceptive edit seems to “prove” that Biden is “losing it.”

In a transparent effort to prevent fact-checking of GOP lies, congressional Republicans launched an inquiry into the Stanford Internet Observatory, the gold-standard organization for determining the veracity of political information circulating online. That was followed by a lawsuit from Stephen Miller’s America First Legal and a second one that is heading for the Supreme Court.

The Washington Post reports that the observatory is shutting down its operations, having been financially crippled by the cost of the Republican lawsuits and the congressional investigation. The organization that was the first to out Russian online support for Trump in 2016 will soon be no more: “Two ongoing lawsuits and two congressional inquiries into the Observatory have cost Stanford millions of dollars in legal fees, one of the people told The Washington Post. Students and scholars affiliated with the program say they have been worn down by online attacks and harassment amid the heated political climate for misinformation research, as [Republican] legislators threaten to cut federal funding to universities studying propaganda.”

This fall’s election will be like none we’ve ever seen before in American history. Already Fox and other right-wing outlets are using doctored videos, Trump has published multiple deepfakes, and across the GOP there’s a full-on commitment to reciting easily debunked lies.

Most concerning, it’s impossible to know in advance what their next lie will be. But you can bet it will be more malicious than the Bush campaign’s amplifying slurs on John Kerry’s Vietnam war service record or Trump’s despicable, racist, birther attacks on Obama.

Now that so much of our media is so frequently failing to call out GOP lies, and the nation’s #1 cable channel revels in repeating lies for profit, the pushback against this evil, democracy-destroying strategy falls to us.