• Show Notes

Dear Reader,

Two days after the insurrection at the Capitol building, President-elect Joe Biden slammed Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, stating, “They’re part of the big lie, the big lie.”  His statement is a reference to a quote often attributed to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, who said, “If you tell a lie and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” What’s important is not just the repetition of any lie, but a BIG lie -- one that has the capacity to structure an entire political movement.

The lie in the case of the attack on the Capitol -- the new Big Lie -- was the claim that Trump really won the election, by millions of votes, but was kept from being declared the winner through a combination of mass voter fraud, corrupt judges and officials, and, on the morning of January 6, the members of Congress who were about to certify the Electoral College votes submitted by the states. This new Big Lie is the biggest threat to our democracy for the near future.

Goebbels’ strategy has heightened potency in the Information Age, where content can reach millions of people within a matter of hours. Within information silos, like the right-wing media ecosystem, users may hear the same message multiple times from different sources, creating what psychologists call the “illusory truth effect” -- a cognitive response which equates a repetition with veracity. In addition, claims that arouse heightened emotional response, like anger, are shared more frequently on social media. And a recent M.I.T. study found that false claims travel six times faster on the internet than true ones. Put these observations together and it’s not hard to see how, within a matter of two months, Trump managed to galvanize thousands of people to reclaim his “stolen” presidency by force.