Symposium | Trump Vs. Democracy

Assaulting the Truth

By Steve Schmidt

Tagged DemocracyDonald Trump

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These words breathed life into a new nation and marked a hinge of history where the entrance to a new age and a new beginning revealed itself. They were perfect words representing an ideal that the nation has not yet reached. The story of America is defined by the struggle to close the gap between those unalienable truths and our flawed present. It is the duty of each generation of Americans to engage in the work of perfecting the Union of States and strengthening the justness, fairness, and opportunities of American life. The American experiment is not self-perpetuating. Government of the people, by the people, for the people is sustained by fidelity to the constitutional republic that is based on a separation of powers, unassailable rights, the supremacy of the rule of law, and equal justice for all under it.

Democratic societies cannot survive without belief in the unalienable truths around the dignity of human beings any more than they can endure in an era where the lie is indistinguishable from objective truth. Without truth there can be no accountability, reasoning, or justice in a democracy. Without each, democracies wither and die. Fascism did not rise in the 1930s because it was strong, but rather because democracy was weak and decayed. The warping of truth and the institutionalization of lying can always be found at the heart of autocratic and totalitarian societies.

At the end of the novel 1984, Winston Smith is being tortured by a party official who holds up four fingers and asks Smith how many he sees. Smith replies that he can see only four, to which his torturer responds that he will see as many as the party tells him he can see. Donald Trump has lied to the American people more than 27,000 times since he became President. Those lies have been wrapped, packaged, and disseminated by a vast propaganda network that sustains his mendacity and gaslights the American people. Each lie is a lash at the foundations of the republic and as they accumulate, they become cancerous and corrode the institutions of government and the legitimacy of both self-government and democracy itself. Trump’s lies aren’t the typical puffery, embellishments, exaggerations, and defensive lies of most politicians. They are the lies of authority. The type of lies that impose a very specific burden on his followers. They are the type of lies that require submission to an alternate reality that is clearly fantastical, and the surrender of intellectual agency in the face of accepting assertions that are clearly not so. There is a dangerously large percentage of the country that has surrendered to the idea that truth is what the leader says.

Trump is now the first President to assert that any election result where he is not the winner is inherently corrupted and illegitimate.

The Republican Party’s platform at the convention was stripped of policy, and the simple truth is this: The only requirement for membership in the party is abject loyalty to Trump and obedience to his cause. Trump presides over a cult of personality that teems with illiberal menace, grievance, and victimization. All of it is sustained by mountains of lies and demagoguery that are inciting racial animus, division, and extremism, and causing mass death and suffering. History will brutally judge this rancid era and the grotesque consequences of Trump’s lying. Trump knew how deadly COVID-19 was. He lied to the American people about the virus, calling it a hoax more than 109 times. The result has been lethal. Trump’s lie is the greatest in American history and will result in at least 500,000 COVID deaths before the pandemic ends. His lying has wrecked the economy and snuffed out the American Dream for millions of hardworking people. His lying has wrecked America’s educational system and hurt every kid in America. His lying has ended the American way of life for now.

Grandparents can’t be there for the birth of their grandchildren, there will be no tailgates, first communions, bar mitzvahs, Thanksgiving gatherings, and holiday concerts this year. His lies have killed and will continue to kill. But it isn’t just human life that Trump’s lies kill. They may in the end accomplish what all of our enemies never could: the death of the American experiment.

Trump is now the first President to assert that any election result where he is not the winner is inherently corrupted and illegitimate. Faith and belief in the integrity of the system are the lifeblood of a democracy. Trump is poisoning our republic with this lie. This country has observed an uninterrupted peaceful transition of power since 1797 through the Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, assassinations, and 1,000 other tribulations. Trump’s lies about the integrity of our system are both a direct assault on our democracy and potentially lethal for it. Democracy is at grave risk in today’s America, make no mistake about it. The battleground is the space between the truth and lies. The lies lead down a dark path, and history provides us with chilling warnings about where that path ends.

From the Symposium

Trump Vs. Democracy

No President in our history has presented such a threat to the Constitution and our democracy as this one. In this special issue, we asked 35 contributors to describe different aspects of the assault. We could have asked twice that number.


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Steve Schmidt is co-founder of the Lincoln Project.

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