For a while it was the QAnon conspiracy theory that was capturing the attention of the American public, both among the believers and the skeptics. But now, as with one Corona virus variant replacing another, another conspiracy theory has moved to the forefront and again there is a difference in perspective on it based on one’s political orientation. I am talking about the big lie that has been promulgated and propagated by the former president Donald Trump. The lie says that Biden didn’t win the election and shouldn’t have been elevated to the presidency. And, according to this conspiracy theory, it was a group of Democrats that manipulated the votes in several states to basically steal the election from Trump. This is why Trump and his allies have gotten recounts in those crucial states. All the recounts have come to the same conclusion: there were no irregularities in the vote count and, in fact, Biden did win the election fair and square. Of course, these recounts have done nothing to stop Trump and his followers from continuing to proclaim and propagate the lie. And many, though not all the Republican primary winners in this election cycle, have won their primaries by aligning themselves with Trump and continuing to promote this baseless theory. What is it that allows people to declare their support for a theory that a mountain of evidence has shown is simply wrong?
Basically, a political lie like that of Trump plays several roles in the lives of the people that espouse it. First of all, because it is so shocking, the big lie helps to pull a true believer out of his chronic numbness, out of the experiential vacuum that extends in a low-key way throughout the living environments of modern technological society. The chronic numbness is also generated by the screen presentations from movies, television, video games, computers, smartphones and tablets. These represent a more focused intense kind of numbness that occurs as a result of having to look at relatively small living spaces a lot. These relatively small living spaces – basically screens – are defined discrete phenomena that, even though they do not represent any real meaningful source of grounding or organic stimulation, they instead are able to give people some space to receive intermittent shocks to their systems, particularly from social media. The big lie represents a sustainable series of big shocks, as people use it to pull out of their numbing preconscious lethargy into shocked moments of outraged self-righteous anger. And, in a way, we can say that the abrasive figure of Trump himself provides a template for all these numb people to express their outraged self-righteous anger and to do it in a group setting where they are not so likely to simply explode apart. Trump himself takes on the role of a makeshift quasi-nurturing grounding in order to hold his followers together. And the big lie serves as the focused figure that people cling to, a figure that shocks people to life intermittently and that, in doing so, pulls them out of the experiential vacuum.
The big lie becomes like a mantra that the followers recite regularly, an inner voice that begins to guide more and more of their actions. It becomes their new reality and creates the new coordinates of all their actions. As it is recited over and over again, it takes on the cloak of religious devotion. The big lie becomes the basis of a new religion. And Trump becomes the prophet of this new religion. The big lie is no longer just the foundation of an ordinary political cult. An ordinary political movement doesn’t have sufficient shock value to be able to pull a person out of an experiential vacuum. The revelation aspect of a religion does. The big lie becomes like an epiphany. It develops a transcendental nature, but a transcendental nature built around intermittent kicks.
The big lie also becomes the pitch used to garner money from Trump’s adherents. Much of the money goes into the pockets of Trump and his cronies but some of it is used to build up the material presentation of the movement. Money can be used to support the campaigns of candidates who support the big lie. And by creating impressive presentations, both the political role and the religious role get reinforced. So, all these roles work in tandem to put forth the big lie and make it the scary phenomenon that it has become.