Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s short, mercurial, ruthless propaganda minister, was known to many as the “poison dwarf.” By all accounts, he was insanely obsessive and manipulative, practicing the dark art of disinformation distribution like no one else.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it,” Goebbels was quoted as saying, according to the Holocaust Research Project.
We have been told any number of big lies — again and again — in recent years. The biggest, undoubtedly, was the one perpetuated by President Trump that he won November’s election. He did not. Joe Biden won — by a lot — as affirmed by our courts, our state legislatures and now Congress.
Last week, however, that lie cost five people their lives, after Trump riled up an angry mob of insurrectionists with fiery rhetoric and they stormed the Capitol, smashing through doors, stealing government property and pushing, shoving and striking members of the understaffed and overwhelmed Capitol Police force.
During and after the melee, conservative news pundits and Republican lawmakers baselessly — and falsely — claimed that members of the left-wing, anti-fascist group Antifa were responsible for the riotous behavior of the loosely affiliated mass of Trump supporters, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. That lie was amplified by hundreds of thousands of retweets.
Last Wednesday, many have said, was a day of reckoning for Trump, and he now must own up to what he has done: peddled lies for political gain. It should also, though, serve as a day of reckoning for all of us — an inflection point when we decide, once and for all, to disown the disinformation campaigners and restore normalcy to our media stream.
Truth, based on knowable facts, must be our hallmark. It is a tough ideal to live up to, for sure, but we must do better than we have in recent years. The alternative, as we saw last week, is to descend into chaos and demagoguery, and we know how that turned out for Germany.