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(WARNING: This is a political, not irreligious, post.)

Donald Trump caricature. (DonkeyHotey, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

This is how disinformation (e.g., the “Big Lie”) endangers societies.

I’m referring to the tidal waves of disinformation that preceded and now continue in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, and we know which came first: the chicken.

Donald Trump is the chicken who constantly clucked before the election the lie that only fraud could possibly defeat him, and who now clucks to the cuckoos that he actually won the vote he provably, mathematically lost (in fact, Trump badly lost both the Electoral College and popular votes). And “widespread electoral” fraud is the now former president’s reason, although none such broad shenanigans have been presented, much less proven.

The Trump-inseminated egg is the shared titanic denial among Trump aficionados that their dear leader actually was defeated, followed by the sudden hatching by state GOP legislatures of hundreds of suspiciously proposed new laws — 22 had already been enacted by mid-May in 14 states (another 61 bills were advancing through 18 state legislatures as of May 14) — that would make future voting much harder, in particular, for black and brown voters, who were (Surprise! Surprise!) critical in giving Trump a thumping at the polls and ushering Joe Biden (not Trump) into the White House this year.

This is how disinformation insideously works and why it’s dangerous.

When Republican state lawmakers are now asked why they are rushing to pass “election security” laws that will have the effect, intended or otherwise, of suppressing minority voting when no evidence of election fraud has emerged (despite Herculean GOP efforts to unearth some), they argue: “People feel very uncertain about election security now.”

No wonder.

Not all people, of course. Mostly just people in the Trump echo bubble who have been relentlessly told from before the 2020 vote until today that “widespread fraud” corrupted the vote, which Donald Trump was practically guaranteed (unless, fraud) to win, don’t ya know, and then actually won despite losing.

Since Trumpies lack the power of critical thinking, or just regarding their political lord and savior, they have completely bought “The Big Lie” as unassailable truth. So despite numerous Republican election experts stressing that the 2020 vote was “the most secure in U.S. history,” because Trump says otherwise evidence-free, his minions have decided to totally go with that.

Otherwise, why were all those spittle-spewing furies attacking the U.S. Congress and beating and killing people during the right-wing, Christian Right, white supremacist mob’s January 6 insurrection there, while chanting, “Hang Mike Pence,” our vice president, who had the temerity to honor his constitutional duty that day by certifying the election in a joint session of Congress?

Imagine if the insurrection had succeeded even more spectacularly than it did and attackers were able to breach the floor of Congress before lawmakers could flee. That is the end-game danger of disinformation, and exactly what Donald Trump envisioned, as he “happily” (according to aides) watched the mayhem on television while not ordering troops and other resources to the area to protect lawmakers and his vice president while repelling the attackers.

This is why we now have state Republican representatives like Bobby Kaufmann of Iowa straight-facedly submitting bills to their legislatures to restrict voting simply because, as he says, many Iowans believe there was massive fraud in the election. Not that there’s any evidence for it, which there isn’t, just that they believe it.

In a recent New York Times article, “‘A Perpetual Motion Machine’: How Disinformation Drives Voting Laws,” political reporter Maggie Astor noted that Kaufmann argued this bogus fraud fear among constituents “was reason enough to allow less early voting, shorten Election Day polling hours, put new limits on absentee balloting and forbid counties to have more than one ballot drop box.”

“The ultimate voter suppression is a very large swath of the electorate not having faith in our election systems,” Kaufmann told Astor in defense of his bill, which was signed into law in March. “And for whatever reason, political or not, there are thousands upon thousands of Iowans that do not have faith in our election systems.”

Astor also quoted Michael Waldman, president of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice”

“It’s like a perpetual motion machine — you create the fear of fraud out of vapors and then cut down on people’s votes because of the fog you’ve created. Politicians, for partisan purposes, lied to supporters about widespread fraud. The supporters believe the lies, and then that belief creates this rationale for the politicians to say, ‘Well, I know it’s not really true, but look how worried everybody is.’”

So the lie becomes the undeniable “fact” and the bogus basis of laws passed to supposedly protect against it.

You can see the problem.

Truth and trust are based on a shared understanding of blood-and-stone realities. When you relentlessly employ bald-faced lies to gain political influence and power, bad things can happen. Really bad things. Because Hitler. And Mousolini. And Franco, et al.

“The [new GOP state voter restriction] bills demonstrate how disinformation can take on a life of its own, forming a feedback loop that shapes policy for years to come,” Astor warns. “When promoted with sufficient intensity, falsehoods — whether about election security or the coronavirus or other topics — can shape voters’ attitudes toward policies, and lawmakers can cite those attitudes as the basis for major changes.”

Changes without need or merit.

Lies such as Trump’s are weapons of mass destruction to our democratic system and to human beings (Congress was defiled as was democracy itself in the Capitol insurrection, and five died. The attack was predicated on Trump’s “Big Lie” that his presumably assured victory in 2020 was “stolen” and on his order that his followers besiege the Capitol and “fight like hell.”

Charles Manson was imprisoned for life for inciting his cult’s followers to murder. Why is Donald Trump still playing golf at leisure, while continuing without consequence to spew the same lies that brought our nation to this sorry state of mendacity and decrepitude?

This is a chicken-and-egg riddle with a clear answer. But the GOP continues to cringe in its virulent shadow.

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...