The 11-year-old girl saw the name of former President Donald Trump on my computer screen and was scared. “What happened with Trump?” she asked me in a loud voice, as though a monster had appeared in a nightmare. “Nothing,” I told her. “Don't worry. He is still secluded in his Florida home.” She left, not totally persuaded by what I had told her.
I have though about this a lot, and I think I should have given the girl a different answer. We do have to worry about Trump. Because of his lies and the millions of people who believe his lies.
The fact that we no longer see him or read him on social networks, because Twitter and Facebook have blocked him, does not mean he is any less dangerous to U.S. democracy. Trump is betting on the big lie to control the Republican party and, perhaps, to try to win back the presidency.
The big lie is that Trump won the presidential election last year and a massive fraud put Joe Biden in the White House. But there is no evidence – none at all – that's true. The official results show Biden won 306 electoral votes and Trump won 232. Biden also won the popular vote, with 81 million votes compared to 74 million for Trump.
Those are the facts. Period.
But what boggles the mind is that members of the Republican party have bowed and agreed to push Trump's false claims and defend his lies. Any Republican who dares to question Trump's version of the election runs the risk of losing his place in the party. Like Liz Cheney.
Cheney was the third-ranking Republican leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. But last week she was removed from the party post. If the daughter of Dick Cheney – one of the most conservative U.S. vice presidents and the man partly responsible for the unjust invasion of Iraq in 2003 – is not accepted within the Republican party leadership, then something strange is happening.
What is happening is that Republicans are terrified of Trump.
Liz Cheney was never a fan of Trump. After the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, she was one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach the president, who had incited a crowd to march to the U.S. Congress. Trump was not going to forgive her for that. And he just got his vengeance.
But she did not go quietly.
“Today we face a threat America has never seen before,” she said in a speech just before she was dismissed. “A former president, who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence. Millions of Americans have been misled by the former President. They have heard only his words, but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.”
One of the things I have always admired about the United States is the dependability of its democracy.
The presidency is won by whatever candidate has more electoral votes. Period. And even in a very tight election – like the 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore – the loser recognizes his defeat and thereby reaffirms the validity of the system
But that did not happen with Trump. He did not admit defeat or congratulate the legitimate winner. All that could have been just the out-of-control temper tantrum of an egomaniac. But the problem is that it is turning into a new reality for one of the two parties that dominate political life in the United States.
As a journalist, I have interviewed several Republicans after the 2020 elections. And when I ask them about Trump and his lies, they act like they see the devil and avoid the issue. They say anything, so long as it won't draw the fury of the former president.
In this era of fake news and parallel universes, we can go from one digital platform to another without seeing information or opinions that contradict ours. We can live digitally surrounded by lies, from Trump winning the election to the one about Covid-19 vaccines carrying microchips to control us. Pure lies.
What's truly grave is that millions of people believe those lies because one of their leaders is pushing them. A Reuters/Ipsos 4 poll indicated that 55 percent of Republicans believe there was fraud in the presidential election last year. And that is very grave, because it is not true and because it weakens trust in U.S. democracy.
I grew up in Mexico, a country where the results of elections did not matter. Until 2000, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) always stole the presidential election and put its candidate in power. I learned, of course, not to trust the vote tallies. And that's why I have so admired the way in which elections are held in the United States.
None of that has changed. The United States has a solid system for holding elections and counting the votes – although I would prefer to drop the electoral college in favor of awarding the presidency to the winner of the popular vote. But Trump, like a sore loser, wants to cast doubt on the system in order to justify his defeat.
That is Trump's big lie. And there's nothing so sad and shameful than to swallow the lie of a bully with a giant ego, and then defend it.