Opinion | This Is Why Trump Lies Like There’s No Tomorrow

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Again, Haslam and his co-authors quote Trump speaking at his Jan. 6 rally:

Together, we will drain the Washington swamp and we will clean up the corruption in our nation’s capital. We have done a big job on it, but you think it’s easy. It’s a dirty business. It’s a dirty business. You have a lot of bad people out there.

Critically, the 12 scholars write, Trump “did not provide them with explicit instructions as to what to do,” noting that “he didn’t tell anyone to storm the barricades, to invade the speaker’s office, or to assault police and security guards.” Instead, Trump “invoked values of strength, determination and a willingness to fight for justice (using the word “fight” 20 times) without indicating who they should fight or how,” setting a goal for his followers “to ensure that the election results were not certified and thereby to ‘stop the steal’ without specifying how that goal should be achieved.”

For Trump supporters, they continue,

Far from being a day of shame and infamy, this was a day of vindication, empowerment and glory. The reason for this was that they had been able to play a meaningful role in enacting a shared social identity and to do so in ways that allowed them to translate their leader’s stirring analysis and vision into material reality.

Leaders gain influence, Haslam and his collaborators argue,

by defining parameters of action in ways that frame the agency of their followers but leave space for creativity in how collective goals are accomplished. Followers in turn exhibit their loyalty and attachment to the leader by striving to be effective in advancing these goals, thereby empowering and giving agency to the leader.

In the case of Jan. 6, 2021, they write:

Donald Trump’s exhortations to his supporters that they should “fight” to “stop the steal” of the 2020 election was followed by an attack on the United States Capitol. We argue that it is Trump’s willing participation in this mutual process of identity enactment, rather than any instructions contained in his speech, that should be the basis for assessing his influence on, and responsibility for, the assault.

In conclusion, they argue:

It is important to recognize that Trump was no puppet master and that his followers were far more than puppets. Instead, he was the unifier, activator, and enabler of his followers during the dark events of Jan. 6, 2021. As such, rather than eclipsing or sublimating their agency, he framed and unleashed it.

The power of Trump’s speech, they contend,

lay in its provision of a “moral” framework that impelled his audience to do work creatively to “stop the steal” — fueling a dynamic which ultimately led to insurrection. The absence of a point at which Trump instructed his supporters to assault Capitol Hill makes the assault on Capitol Hill no less his responsibility. The crimes that followers commit in the name of the group are necessarily crimes of leadership too.

On Jan. 7, 2021, a full 30 hours after the assault on the Capitol began, Trump condemned the assault in videotaped remarks: “I would like to begin by addressing the heinous attack on the United States Capitol. Like all Americans, I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem,” he said, adding, “To those who engage in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. And to those who broke the law, you will pay.”

During a CNN town hall in May, however, Trump called Jan. 6 “a beautiful day” and declared that he was “inclined to pardon” many of the rioters.

In a January paper, “Public Opinion Roots of Election Denialism,” Charles Stewart III, a professor of political science at M.I.T., argues that Trump has unleashed profoundly anti-democratic forces within not only Republican ranks but also among a segment of independent voters:

The most confirmed Republican denialists believe that large malevolent forces are at work in world events, racial minorities are given too much deference in society and America’s destiny is a Christian one. Among independents, the most confirmed denialists are Christian nationalists who resent what they view as the favored position of racial minorities.

Stewart continues:

The belief that Donald Trump was denied the White House in 2020 because of Democratic Party fraud is arguably the greatest challenge to the legitimacy of the federal government since the Civil War, if not in American history. It is hard to think of a time when nearly two-fifths of Americans seemed honestly to believe that the man in the White House is there because of theft.

It remains unknown whether Trump will be charged in connection with his refusal to abide by all of the legal requirements of democratic electoral competition. Even so, no indictment could capture the enormity of the damage Trump has inflicted on the American body politic with his bad faith, grifting and fundamentally amoral character.

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