The Big Lie vs. The Big Steal: Of Insurrection and Polarization

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.

John Adams, 1780

People like you are still living in what we call the reality-based community. You believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works any more. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too; and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors, and you – all of you – will be left to just study what we do.

George W Bush Administration Official, 2004

As the hearings on the January 6th insurrection unfurl, many Dems, liberals, and other reality-based community types are wondering, “How can anyone still believe the Big Lie, and how could anyone still support that charlatan criminal?” [The Big Lie, for anyone who has just landed here from outside the solar system, is the assertion that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, the aforementioned charlatan.]

But most conservatives have already moved on, as their leaders are busy creating those new realities mentioned in the Bush official quote above. Trumplicans view the Jan 6th hearings as another political hit job, a continuation of the same nefarious plot that stole the election in the first place. In their minds, there is no Big Lie; just the Big Steal, which they are determined to prevent happening a second time (or third, if you follow the logic of Trump himself, who still maintains that he beat Hillary Clinton in the popular vote in 2016).

In fact, Trumpists had already moved on from the insurrection (just a ‘spirited tour of the capitol,’ in some parlance), basically on Jan 7th, turning their attention to changing the voting laws in as many places as possible, especially the purple swing states. The new conservative project of preventing voter fraud provides some explanatory cover for millions of people believing something for which there is no proof. In essence, the Big Lie is backstopped by the bulletproof nature of pure conspiracy theory: there is no evidence of the Big Steal because the liberal plot to thieve the election was so perfectly evil and diabolical that all fingerprints and footprints were wiped.

But anecdotal “evidence” via conspiracy theory is not really enough to completely carry the rationalizing weight for conservatives, especially as the Jan 6th hearings make a few things crystal clear: that a lot of people told Trump that the stolen election thing was bogus; that other people told him that his Pence-plan was illegal; that almost everyone around him urged Trump to call off the dogs as the attack on the Capitol unfolded; and that much of the Stop the Steal fundraising was simply last-minute grift to pay off campaign debts and pad crony pockets. As these facts come out, showing just how nauseatingly-close we were to a Constitutional crisis last year, the real backstop to the Big Steal mindset is Polarization itself, the pre-existing complex that drumbeats how diabolical and destructive Democrats are, and that they are enemies of America. It’s not so much that tens of millions of conservatives necessarily believe that evil genius liberals stole all kinds of votes from all over the place in 2020. Rather, it’s that conservatives believe that liberals suck, in a fundamental, ontological way, and that most of them don’t really deserve to vote anyway, as they’re not really full-fledged Americans.

The Polarization Industrial Complex (PIC) has so solidified conservative hatred for liberals that voter suppression in the name of “fraud prevention” is not really about the technicality of actual ballots, but rather about the illegitimacy of libs themselves. In that sense, voter fraud is just the tip of the iceberg, the leading edge of larger liberal plots to cannibalze children, to replace white with non -white people, and to institute a globalist/socialist takeover of everything. The PIC has thus taken natural divisions amongst people (urban vs. rural, normal cultural diversity, etc.), and blown them out into metaphysical, cosmic warfare, with overtly religious/nationalist themes. After all, if liberals are godless, pedophilic, commie baby-killers, then why should any of them be allowed to vote?

This is what polarization does to us. And please understand: I am not characterizing this state of affairs to say that I’m great and good, on the side of the angels. I’m trying to look at things from outside the polarization lens, to highlight how the PIC works, relentlessly, to push conservatives into extreme and untenable positions. We liberals have our own problems with extremism (cancel culture, reckless PC stuff, etc.), but because liberals and conservatives have different basic constituencies, the nature and degree of the craziness is also different. Democrats represent a more diverse coalition of voters, cobbling together the concerns of women, urbanites, minorities, immigrants, and ring suburbs from all over the country. This varied makeup mutes the demonization aspect of liberal discourse. Of course, the cancel-shaming of individuals can be vicious, but entire classes of people are not normally painted as evil by liberals. Conservatives represent a much more homogeneous group of voters, generally white, non-urban, and Christian. This tighter affinity of likeness allows for an easier adoption of broad-brush demonization of the Other. Plus, general demographic drift puts conservatives in a naturally-defensive position, as the US become less white, rural, and Christian. The rallying cry of “our way of life is threatened” makes much more sense in the conservative mind.

But it is crucial to remember that the Polarization Industrial Complex is a tool of the plutocracy, emerging from our basic electoral mechanics, which only allow for a political duopoly, and on money’s unlimited access to the political system (check out this and some other earlier posts for more background on how this works). The purpose of the PIC is to keep regular people at war with each other while the plutocrats continue to expand their control and influence over all facets of our culture and economy.

Even if Republicans take over Congress in 2022 and the presidency in 2024, they are not actually going to deliver substantive economic change. The GOP will not take money from the top and push to the middle and the bottom, no matter how populist their campaign rhetoric. The plutocracy itself will not let mass redistribution happen. Instead, they’ll push the Trump scheme, which means delivering humiliation to minorities, women, and the insufficiently-patriotic, while extending even more favor to the already-wealthy and the already-powerful. That, of course, is the blueprint for American-style fascism, the fusion of state and corporate power, delivering benefits to the top and to a chosen few at the bottom, while scapegoating and looting the meager resources of the bulk of the unworthy masses.

But this is not really a project that can succeed in the US, as most economic power itself sits in urban areas, which happen to be where the libs live and work. All that the GOP strategy can really do is foment perpetual gridlock at the national level, creating red state sanctuaries for defensive grievance, as the rank and file retreat further into the fever swamps of QAnon lunacy and state-based moralizing and election-fixing. The archetype of this approach is Steve Bannon, the theatrical pseudo-populist whose last resort and retort is always, “Burn it all down!” Like all Ayn Rand types and disciples, there is no actual plan on how to rebuild things in the real world, where people are actually different colors, live in actual cities, and might not believe in any gods.

This is not to say that a conservative takeover of the federal government would be harmless. Obviously not. If Roe is overturned this summer, all manner of reproductive and religious chaos will be unleashed. And of course, if Trump or DeSantis ascends the throne in 2024, who knows what reckless shit will happen. And, you know, Covid, global warming, mass drought, species extinction, all that stuff is, like, you know, still happening, man.

What I’m saying is that seeing the “other side” as your sworn enemy, whether you’re conservative or liberal, is not a scheme that has any kind of endgame that can exist in the real world. The United States is the third biggest country in the world, by population and geographical area, and we have the biggest economy in the history of civilization. In our massive nation, there can be no final victory of one ‘side’ over another. That is an artifact of the PIC, and is only relevant to grand delusions designed to hoover up our votes and dollars.

So where does that leave us? Well, if you’ve read any earlier posts on this blog, you know that I don’t see any hope navigating through the polarization landscape. Endless battles against domestic enemies is a dead end, a trap laid for us by the plutocracy. And the thing is, the plutocracy doesn’t care how the story ends for us, or the country, or the planet. They have already made their nut, and as things devolve into utter chaos, they have a million and one island-shaped paradises to which they can jet. The Polarization Industrial Complex is s tool, yes. But it is more of an evolved tool, a product of the political and cultural algorithms which make up the machinery of our government and society. The PIC is a blind watchmaker that has gathered its own momentum and purpose, and there is no happy ending.

Needless to say, we need to step outside the polarization scripts, and go around, not through. And after we get around this plutocrat trap, we’ll be standing at the gates of entrenched power itself. That fortress is impenetrable, or has at least been historically impregnable to peaceful change. That’s where we have to return to an earlier idea from this blog. The Transparent Trojan Horse.

Cover Image: “Armageddon,” by Steve Chase

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