"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."
I'm sure it's more complicated than that. Ask Donald Trump. No matter how big a lie is or how often you repeat it, there will always be those who call it a lie. Then you have to tell another lie in denying the first lie was a lie. Eventually, everything that comes out of your face is either a lie or an attack on anyone who calls you a liar. Which, in Trump's case, is just about everyone.
Even other GOP candidates have disputed his claim that thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrated the destruction of the World Trade Center. In doing so, they risked alienating that bog of sulfurous bile called the Republican base that prefers lies over any evidence that would suggest how indecently ignorant its members are.
This scares me even more than Trump's (or Carson's, or Cruz's) popularity down in that bog. The lies will always be proved to be lies, it's inevitable. Any more, when the recording of events is more complete than it has ever been, it is virtually impossible to get away with a false statement. Invariably, a video clip, direct quote, photograph or eyewitness with a cellphone will pop up to belie the lie. And the bigger the lie, the sooner it will be exposed.
Trump's whopper about jubilant Muslims in New Jersey on 9/11 was soundly disproved within 12 hours of him saying it. Obvious to everyone but the gullible: if there truly were was viedo evidence of cheering New Jersey Muslims, that footage would be playing on Fox, on every conservative website, on Beck and Limbaugh and O'Reilly, and every other media outlet from every scummy right wing hate factory in America. None of that seems to bother the GOP base. It seems to make these jackal candidates even more popular, to be caught flatly in a lie.
No, I've grown convinced Trump's followers know he is a liar—that they know he is lying even before the fact-checkers prove he's lying—but it doesn't matter because that's why they follow him. For his lies. It is the only explanation for the months Trump has led so decisively in GOP polls: The people to whom they appeal are not troubled by lies. To the contrary, lies are the energy that keeps their anger alive and hot, and without anger, they are nothing. Their involvement in the political process hinges on the next lie, the next outrageous accusation, the next utter distortion of facts. It must be thrilling to them to hear the jackals try to outdo one another, spewing out one fantasy after another, each more unreal and offensive than the last. It must be something like what teenagers hunger for when they go to one ridiculous blockbuster movie after another, hoping to be swept away by ever-more spectacular special effects. Worse, it must be something like what so many Germans felt during the 1920s and '30s, as they hooted out their approval of the despicable swill coming from the Nazi swine on the podium.
According to a time honored piece of Internet wisdom, Godwin's Law, an argument is lost any time the arguer evokes Nazis—which is bull. Who else are you going to evoke when a political leader encourages his supporters to throw a protesting voice out of a rally and implies the guy had it coming when he's roughed up?
Who else are you going to evoke when a political leader suggests legal protections don't apply to specific ethnic and religious identities—that certain peoples need to be identified in some way that will set them apart from others? Who else other than Nazis are you going to evoke when a politician has nothing but his agility at telling lies to support claims the ills of modern society can be traced to not only one or two ethnic groups, but the journalists who question his claims?
It's not the Nazi tendencies—subliminal or otherwise—of a handful of political leaders that should alarm us. America has had more than its share of leaders with such inclinations—before, during and after the word "Nazi" ever showed up in history. Start with institutionalized slavery, work forward through the genocidal solution to Native Americans, and before we have even reached the 20th century, it's simple to find policies and practices that stem from the same savage impulses that brought forth Mussolini and Hitler, without even mentioning the powerful Americans who actually sympathized with fascist goals.
Yet fascist goals amount to little without a willing audience to pursue those goals, and therein hides the real terror of Trump, Carson and Cruz—the people who cheer them on. The hordes of slovenly thinkers and unquestioning boobs require the lies that are at the center of their noxious attitudes because it's easier to fabricate a malicious myth to excuse a malicious nature than it is to investigate and ultimately face what has really made them such hateful lumps.
In that respect, Goebbels was dead wrong. The hooting mobs are not unwitting suckers duped by the lies of unscrupulous demagogues, nor are they just clueless enablers to the liars. They are the very source of the lies, the voracious appetite for delusion that demands to be satisfied. Trump, et al., are merely the caterers, more than willing to feed their hunger.
*EDITOR'S NOTE: There is some dispute over whether this quote can be properly attributed to Joseph Goebbels. However, Goebbels is known to have written, "The English follow the principle that when one lies, it should be a big lie, and one should stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous," in his 1941 essay "Churchill's Lie Factory." The gist of both quotes--Goebbels' assertion, even as a criticism, that people can be made to believe something ridiculous if it is repeated often enough--is essentially the same. Thanks to reader Julius Schorzman for the clarification.