Primaries Test the Violent Dishonesty of the Right

On April 21st I went to the Top Notch Diner in Cortland OH. Senate candidate Josh Mandel appeared with retired General Michael Flynn, former National Security Advisor in the Trump administration. I listened to Flynn tell the crowd “The election was stolen,” and Mandel brag about being the only candidate in his race to call out the theft.

The crowd was whipped into a frenzy, the Big Lie about the election was red meat—it was their main course.

Mandel described the work of the deep state, they weren’t coming after Trump and Flynn. Trump and Flynn were just caught in the middle, “the deep state is coming after all of us!”

As an educator and trained researcher, I am at a complete loss.

What do you tell the people who do not believe the countless verdicts; there were not irregularities and interference—Trump lost, and Biden won—what can reconnect people with reality?

All the Trump and Republican lead initiatives found the same results, in some cases indicating Biden’s victory was an even larger margin than initially reported.

It is a problem of scale. The problem is that it is not a matter of a few lies a few people have told and that a few people believe. The problem is cultural violence; winning and acquiring power are more important than telling the truth. Theorists have debated the so-called clash of civilizations, but in the US, it is a devolution to clashing with the uncivilized.

We see the devolution exploding across the right. The GOP embraces QAnon conspiracy and the GQP is now more mainstream in conservative politics than the so-called “law and order” politics of decades past.

Uncivilized, not as a pejorative, but as individuals who have been conned by leaders who put personal gain over community and country. When the foundation is dishonesty, everything becomes party to the lie.

In Bakersfield CA, home of House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Accountability Project has placed six large billboards with the message: “WE’VE HEARD THE TAPES, KEVIN. Stop lying about January 6th.”

The cumulative impact of the categorical and ubiquitous dishonesty is hard to measure. The individual moments of malice are more easily discerned. For example, the connection between McCarthy, Trump, and their teams’ racist lies about invasions at the southern border are directly tied to many hate crimes, violent attacks, and even mass shooting events; you can read it directly in perpetrators manifestos.

Cumulative effects assessment—looking at everything together—presents much greater harm; it is violent dishonesty. The lies are degrading the quality of life and strength and effectiveness across the country and around the globe. But it starts at home, and it is happening in primaries across the country.

The fiction that the election was stolen is central in these tribal politics. The strength of loyalty to Trump over commitment to the Constitution is being tested and with the results the danger will come into focus.

When (and if) the faction supporting Trump’s attempted coup grows two things will be clear. The lie will be embedded into culture and politics as a source for ongoing controversy and extreme divisions—a marker of division and existential identity. But the lie is already imprinted into the law and Republicans have limited access to the right to vote and presented increased capacity for overturning a democratic election.

The nightmare scenario is on the horizon and should be feared. A candidate who could lose by all measures (direct vote and electoral college) could still be installed by a corrupt Republican party that has already made their antidemocratic tendencies clear.

Be worried of the malice this fascist autocrat will wield. Silencing marginalized voices is a starting point, but the much more vengeful and exploitative vision has already been made clear. Trump captured the extremist crowd with declarations of the threat black and brown bodies presented; “stop the steal” did not replace “build the wall,” it accompanies it.

Elected officials have admitted Trump’s crimes in private and delivered his lies in public. They will continue to abuse the power of their offices while they undergird the xenophobia, sexism, and bigotry that Trump championed. Start by imagining the horror show when he realizes he can do anything he wants, then prevent it before it is too late.

Wim Laven has a PhD in International Conflict Management, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Executive Boards of the International Peace Research Association and the Peace and Justice Studies Association.