by Roxanne Tellier
When I was a kid in Montreal, most of the dads (and some of the moms) were veterans of World War II, and the Korean War, which had ended just a few short months before I was born.
People were more news oriented then, probably because so many of them had been newsmakers in their own small ways, whether as combatants abroad, or as part of the vast armies of civilians aiding in war efforts. Gathering to hear or watch the evening news was a sacred part of most family’s day.
When John Cameron Swayze, Walter Cronkite, or Huntley and Brinkley informed viewers of the day’s events, their words were accepted truth. A shared reality.
And nearly everyone knew of someone that had escaped the horrors of the Holocaust. The tattoos that signalled those who had been spared the Final Solution were commonplace; no one questioned that a horrible war had wreaked havoc on the lives of millions.
And yet, in 1959, 14 years after the end of World War Two, in an antisemitic publication called Cross and the Flag, Gerald L.K. Smith, an American clergyman, began to claim that six million Jews were not killed during the Holocaust, but had instead immigrated to the United States during that time. In 1964, a French Communist who had actually been interned by the Nazis, published The Drama of European Jewry, in which he claimed that it was not Hitler’s scientists that had invented gas chambers; it was an invention of a “Zionist establishment.”
In 1966, the Libertarian periodical Rampart Journal began publishing articles which claimed that the Allies overstated the extent of Nazi atrocities in order to justify warring against Axis power, and by 1969, an American far right group that became know as the Liberty Lobby began to publish Holocaust denial literature.
In 1976, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry was published by an engineering professor of Northwestern University, claiming academia bolstered his claims, and in 1977, Ernst Zundel, a German-Canadian, established Samisdat Publishers, in order to disseminate neo-Nazi literature which included the denial of the Holocaust.
At that point, the floodgates opened, and those who sought to deny history carved out a place so large in society that their gatherings and protests are barely even commented upon today.
All of that went through my mind when I read that Michigan’s highest-ranking Republican, their Senate Majority Leader, Mike Shirkey, was caught on video calling the January 6th attack at the U.S. Capitol a ‘hoax,’ saying of the Capitol insurrection in which five people died, that “It was all staged.”
Shirkey was caught on video at a meeting he attended with Hillsdale Country Republican Party officials. At that same meeting, he used degrading and violent language towards Governor Gretchen Whitmore, asserting that “[Republicans] spanked her hard on the budget. Spanked her hard on appointments, ” and inviting the governor to a fistfight over her executive orders.
“About half an hour into the video Shirkey can also be heard asking, “Why wasn’t there more security there?” (at the Capitol) He accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of being involved, saying McConnell “is part of the decision-making how much security they have on stand. I think they wanted to have a mess.”
Shirkey made these comments just one month and a few days after the sack of the Capitol.
In 2021, we live in a very different world than that of 1945, when bits and pieces of information about the devastation in Europe came to us slowly, and usually in black and white newsreels.
For those interested in current politics, the January 6th revolt happened live and in colour, and over a period of many hours. In some ways, it was like September 11th, 2001, in that these shocking events played out for us in real time, with no one knowing exactly what would happen next. As the marauders flooded into the Capitol building, the world held its breath, wondering if they were about to see the most horrific political assassinations in decades happen right before their eyes.
I will grant that my husband and I are both political junkies, and that we will often have CNN playing in one room, and MS-NBC in another. But about an hour into the events of Jan 6th, pretty much all of the civilized world was not just aware of what was happening, they were witnesses to American history being written.
And I’m going to hazard a guest that Mr. Shirkey was one of those who viewed the riots in real time.
And yet. Here we are. It has started. One month after such a traumatic event, Mr. Shirkey has begun what will likely become a flood of misinformation and lies, as actual history is contorted into ‘fake news.’
“Fake News” … perhaps the most truly sinister of trump’s invectives, forever to be bundled with KellyAnne Conway’s further tortured manipulation of the truth – ‘alternative facts’ …
Yesterday, at the impeachment trial of the former president, who was charged with “incitement of insurrection,” 43 Republican senators, who had actually been present at the riot, just one month before; who had had to run for their lives against a howling mob, thirsty for blood; who had joined in a partisan decision to allow U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, the officer killed during that riot, to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda; and who, along with other Congressional leaders, had promised his family and his fellow officers that they will never forget his sacrifice – forgot his sacrifice, and pronounced trump “not guilty” of the crime that murdered Sicknick.
For the last five days, the Democrats impeachment managers had built a case against the former president, showing that he had undertaken an effort to overturn the election, long before the election, and continued to sell his Big Lie for months after, before provoking the assault on the Capitol.
“If that is not ground for conviction, if that is not a high crime and misdemeanor against the Republic and the United States of America, then nothing is. President Trump must be convicted, for the safety and democracy of our people.”Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and the lead manager
But the 43 Republicans who voted ‘not guilty’ were uninterested in reliving that traumatic experience. Some texted. Rand Paul doodled. Josh Hawley made himself comfortable, feet up on a chair, in the Gallery while he read a newspaper.
For them, the entire impeachment trial was a sham. A fraud. “Fake news.”
And when Mitch McConnell, minutes after casting his own ‘not guilty’ vote, railed to the media that what had happened was a “disgraceful dereliction of duty,” and said that the former president had shouted “wild myths” about election fraud into “the largest megaphone on planet earth,” he seemed to have forgotten that it was he, Mitch McConnell himself, who had created the conundrum that stopped him from convicting such a dangerous creature.
McConnell called impeachment a “narrow tool” meant to remove an official from office, not pursue them afterward. This was based on his reading of the Constitution, not the vote in Senate that had indeed determined that this was Constitutionally correct. And it completely ignored the further truth, that it was McConnell who refused to call the Senate back into session to start the impeachment trial before trump left office. “Not enough time,” he claimed, although he had had no problem squeezing in the nomination and confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice just days after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, in a time of plague, and days before a presidential election.
I guess he forgot that too. Must have been fake news.
Far too many of us have been conditioned to believe what men in high places tell us, even when it is patently observable that telling the truth would not serve their venal purposes. That’s partly how Western Civilization got into the state it’s in.
The impeachment trial showed, over and over, that trump was the perpetrator of the Big Lie, that trump had continually claimed that the election was rigged, and that he, not Biden, had actually won. And the Republican party stood with him and that lie, over and over, as the months dragged on, and as trump’s legal team lost 60 legal kicks at the can.
McConnell himself, then Senate Majority Leader, only admitted that trump had lost the election on December 15th, nearly a month and a half after Biden had won. And for that month and a half, McConnell was Team Trump, encouraging trump’s lies and delusions.
Lies and Fake News.
I’ve written before of how there’s been a sea change since trump’s banning from Twitter, and the inauguration of Joe Biden. We’re all breathing easier, sleeping better. It’s like the world has woken from a nightmare that 8-billion-people shared.
And because of that, many are gradually beginning to doubt what they lived through, in these past four years. Could it really be possible that trump threw the world into chaos with his Muslim ban, just a few weeks into 2017? That he caged children, and separated them from their parents, without so much as keeping a record of which child belonged to which parent? That he launched a trade war that nearly cratered the economy, and threw thousand of family farms into bankruptcy, and then ignored a pandemic that has killed nearly half a million people in just ten months?
No – surely, that has GOT to be Fake News!
But he did those things, and so much more, and for dessert, he concocted a Big Lie that nearly overturned democracy in America. Even more, his clinging to that Big Lie may still succeed, since he’s convinced his motley cultists of that truth, and they are nothing if not loyal – to the death, or your death, if necessary.
Trump has still not conceded that he lost the election, and this refusal to abandon the Big Lie keeps it potent, keeps it as virulent at COVID-19, and enables him to continue to rally his supporters, and suck the last of their dollars from their pockets and into his own, all in a deadly inversion of reality.
“Finally, the managers warned that, unless Trump is stopped, he will absolutely do such a thing again. They pointed out that the riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, after which the president condoned the white supremacists who killed Heather Heyer, was a rehearsal for the attack on the Michigan state house this summer. That, in turn, was a rehearsal for the attack on the Capitol. As manager Diana DeGette (D-CO) said: “In 2017, it was unfathomable to most of us to think that Charlottesville could happen, just as it was unfathomable to most of us that the Capitol could have been breached on January 6…. Frankly, what unfathomable horrors await us if we do not stand up now and say, no, this is not America.”Heather Cox Richardson, February 11, 2021
Trump continues to tell his Big Lie, and the ‘not guilty’ vote from the Senate has given that lie new life. In his post trial letter, he wrote, “Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. There has never been anything like it!
“We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future. Together there is nothing we cannot accomplish.”
This signals his intent to return. He’ll give it another shot, and if you let him, this time, he’ll get that insurrection right. After all, he’s had all the practice shots already.
As attorney Glenn Kirschner put it, “follow the bouncing corruption. This injustice was a Mitch McConnell production. Mitch McConnell is where Justice goes to die.”
AFTER his ‘not guilty’ vote, McConnell said, that “trump’s actions were a disgraceful dereliction of duty. He is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” And that “President trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office. As an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations is run, still liable for everything he did while he was in office.”
But the ‘not guilty’ vote in the Senate created a new precedent. It has determined that a president can do all the things that trump did in office, and still not be convicted. A president can provoke an armed insurrection against the Capitol, and still be found not guilty.
Imagine the Republicans finding a younger, smarter, cannier, less incompetent candidate – perhaps a Josh Hawley – to elevate to president. There will be nothing to stop that candidate from doing exactly what trump attempted to do – overthrow the government – and to succeed, without penalty.
After just a little over a month, the denials have begun. The people are already beginning to forget some of the worst of the events they lived through during the trump administration. Soon, we’ll begin hearing some Americans saying that they can’t be 100% sure that the attacks on the Capitol even happened – even if they themselves were there that day.
The Big Lie. Fake News. And somewhere in Florida, in a tinseled mansion fancifully called Mar A Lago, an old man is puttering around the omelette bar, sans wig or makeup, in golf tweeds, while the next ‘rough beast” “slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.”
Or perhaps that’s only in an ‘alternative reality.’