The current rift roiling the Republican Party has centered on the “Big Lie.” To be a Republican insider these days, the prevailing wisdom goes, one has to accept that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. If one doesn’t, one is sure to be shunned.
Put another way, the rift isn’t about the strength and substance of one’s conservative principles or advocacy for Republican policies—or even about a loyalty to Donald Trump’s policy agenda. Indeed, as has been pointed out, embattled Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) actually voted in line with Trump’s legislative agenda than her successor in her Republican House leadership position Elise Stefanik (R-NY).
Pundits, professors, and politicians alike, at least, have characterized the opposing sides of rift in these terms, pitting on one side an out-of-control Republican contingent insistent on peddling, if not believing, the delusion that the election was stolen from Trump, against a traditionalist, somehow sane, and principled wing of the Republican Party committed to the embracing the truth, upholding the Constitution, and promoting a conservative vision that purportedly orbits the realm of reason and roots itself in truth and constitutional principles. The former side, the story goes, has abandoned democracy and promises its extinction, while the latter camp is figured as democracy’s staunchest defender.
Cheney, of course, has been hailed as a profile in courage, a hero fighting this principled stand.
In many ways, the ascension of this “stop the steal” faction, which may appear as lunatic as it is dangerous, has done a great favor to the traditional wing of the Republican Party, providing a fig leaf for them to cover their otherwise shameful, inhumane, and anti-democratic principles and policies. They get to sound sane and reasonable by comparison, simply by distinguishing themselves from an extremism premised on blatant dishonesty and fueled by a vociferous and anxious white supremacy.
Trumpism, in fact, has provided a fortuitous opening for the Republican Party establishment to salvage its own perfidious conservatism by providing a kind of straw man foil, giving “the establishment” the opportunity to lure Americans’ political attention to focus on the danger and ridiculousness of Trump’s “stop the steal” disciples, thus deflecting attention from the damage and violence Republican policies have historically wreaked on American lives.
Well before the Big Lie of the stolen election were many of the bigger lies the GOP had peddled to Americans to their great detriment, exacerbating economic inequality, consolidating minority rule at the expense of democracy, and ignoring the nation’s infrastructure and environment.
In her recent interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, the now-elevated Cheney seized the limelight to give voice to the longstanding lie that is Republican policy itself, as she told Guthrie, “I obviously believe the Republican Party policies are much better for the country.”
Republican Party policies have been “much better for the country”?
Such a statement begs the question of what country Cheney has been living in.
Let’s first remember that Cheney and establishment Republicans overwhelmingly supported Trump’s agenda, calling into question any serious distinction on the policy level.
Cheney and her establishment gang did not back the American Rescue Plan Act which gave desperately needed help to millions of Americans suffering from unemployment, facing evictions, being unable to feed their families, and more.
Cheney and the Republicans just didn’t care.
In fact, they peddled some pretty big lies—and this “they” included those Republicans who supposedly constitute the “sane” establishment, such as Senators Mitt Romney and Susan Collins.
And as Jason Easley elaborated for PoliticusUsa, Collins again adopted the pose of one willing to compromise and work across the aisle, while once more showing any serious effort to address the suffering of Americans desperately in need.
And the COVID-19 relief package the Republicans did support in March 2020, the CARES Act, while Trump was still in office, contained billions of dollars in give-aways to millionaires and real estate magnates, unrelated to conditions created by the pandemic crisis, begging the question of whether or not we were really all in this together and certainly revealing again the Republicans’ refusal to direct resources to serve the dire needs of Americans and instead serve the wealthy.
Such policies and behaviors, of course, are emblematic of the policies that Cheney touts as “much better for the country,” which, even if she believes what she’s saying, still stands as a big lie that threatens the creation and sustenance of a democratic economy and polity.
Take the infamous Trump tax cuts, enacted at a time when the economy was humming along in the wake of Barack Obama’s presidency and not at all in need of stimulus. Trump cut tax rates for corporations and the wealthiest Americans by 40%, from 35% to 21%, which then motivated Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to renew their calls for cuts to social security and Medicare to address the deficit they created.
In a sense, Republicans continued to peddle the lie of trickle-down economics while simultaneously admitting its failure in their call for cuts elsewhere to make up for the increased deficits brought on by tax cuts that supposedly pay for themselves.
Indeed, companies such as AT&T, Wells Fargo, and General Motors all reaped millions from Trump’s tax cuts and yet still proceeded with massive layoffs of workers.
So much for trickling down.
Politicians like Cheney who continue to wax in maudlin terms about what’s “much better for our country” know full well that they are serving only the wealthy and ripping off the majority of American taxpayers and workers as they relentlessly transfer wealth created by workers to the wealthiest among us, while so many Americans cannot afford to meet their most basic needs.
Meanwhile, the nation’s most vital infrastructure, upon which companies like Amazon depend to make their billions, continue to crumble as the nation’s tax base shrinks because of these ill-advised cuts which excuse corporations and the wealthy from paying to repair the nation’s infrastructure that makes their profits possible.
Cheney and her establishment gang, however, are succeeding thus far in blinding the media to this reality, to their own lies, by pointing to Trump’s.
We need to look at all these lies without distraction and keep our eyes on the prize of a democratic economy and polity that serve all Americans.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.