What is a “Big Lie”?

I felt so ashamed afterwards. After I told a lie.

My Mom had spent all morning taping up pretty pictures she’d cut out from Life magazine. After she finished, my brother and I continued to play, and our scooting little feet got onto the surface that Mom had decorated. The pictures began to tear. In a short time, all the pictures Mom had posted had been ripped and ruined. She came up, angry when she saw what we’d done.

I blurted out, “Frankie did it! It was Frank!”

It was a lie. A small one, but the memory of it haunts me still.

But what if Mom, herself, stood up at the PTA and declared that the principal had poisoned the town’s water tank. Mom? Really? But, why would she say that? Does she really know it? I lied about the pictures, but that’s pretty serious. She’s my Mom. It must be true.

Most of us never lie. But, if you do, no one feels good about it, because a lie is a betrayal of trust. And since we are each inclined to be truthful, most of us were stunned, when Donald Trump publicly stated that Barack Obama, the man who sought to become our president. wasn’t a citizen and, in addition, was a follower of Islam.

“Obama is a Muslim!” Wow, really? Trump’s a well known man. I see him on TV all the time. People that famous don’t lie. He’d never lie about something that important, would he? I’d be humiliated, if my Mom or my wife or my pastor discovered I’d lied to them.

Now, each day seems to begin with a statement, words and exclamation points, from a smartphone inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. And it usually comes with a claim that will be said by some to be true, while others will likely say it is not.

This is a list of some President Trump’s pre-election claims, and the links to sources that show each claim is not true:

  • “Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.” - a long investigated lie.
  • Obama founded ISIS - untrue.
  • The Election Is Rigged - untrue.

Back in the earlier 20th century another politician with a huge ego was elected to lead a European country. His rise to power was accompanied by many questionable statements, huge statements that sounded like facts, as he presented them. Millions believed these untruths told as if true, thinking that no one that important could possibly lie about something so serious.

This European had developed a theory about truth and power. He called it The Big Lie. And here’s how he described it in his autobiography,

“[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

“It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down.”

The European politician’s use of the big lie, after his election, was transferred to a man who became his chief information officer, who would use the lie as a central to his work,

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

When he was seeking the office, Trump said - and often says now - that the newspapers and television news reporters all lie … all the time. But how do we find out what he says every day? From newspapers and television/radio news programs. His relentless challenges and charges against genuine news are what is most troubling today, because truth, the facts we all acknowledge, is at the core of our democracy. Without truth, what are we?

Newspapers hire reporters (which I once was) to record the details of events or reveal unknown facts. News is how we find out what is happening each day, to discover what is true, what you alone could not discover, without the newspaper (or radio/TV news).

Opinions are only allowed on the editorial and OpEd pages in newspapers and commentary in broadcast news. Everything else is strictly limited to facts, or, as we call it, news. And editors — who re-read and fact check articles, before they can be printed or spoken — enforce that policy with strict attention to the details of what a reporter has written.

Presidents rarely like reporters and news, because reporters find facts that presidents don’t want to be revealed. But past presidents respected newspapers and news broadcasters, because they know they are vital to stability of our system of government. Thomas Jefferson, as he was preparing the Constitution of our nation, wrote,

“[W]ere it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787

Now, in 2018, think about the statements that “all news is fake,” the press are “the biggest group of liars,” “the lying New York Times,” and on it goes. Every reporter is a liar and everything that I say is the truth. Why would anyone keep insisting that every one of our sources of news and information is lying to us? Do we honestly believe that we have liars everywhere, except in the White House?

When you talk to people from other countries - frequently, cab drivers - you begin to understand that the freedom to speak your mind is the most valuable right we have, because some other countries don’t allow it. Spies can be everywhere, even in families. What they value most here: the freedom to speak. But with that freedom comes responsibility to say truth to others.

Oh. That European’s name: Adolph Hitler. And his information officer was named Joseph Goebbels, more frequently known as the Minister of Propaganda.


Mein Kampf

Joseph Goebbels

Mein Kampf discussion

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