The Jussie Smollett presidency

Crying wolf from the White House

Remember Jussie Smollett? If you’re like me, the first time you ever heard of Smollett was in 2019 when the actor claimed to have been attacked on the streets of Chicago by men who said, “This is MAGA country.”

I’m sure you remember the rest. His story fell apart pretty quickly. It turned out that Smollett faked the entire incident. He was ultimately arrested and indicted on charges of making false statements to police.

What we are seeing now is a repeat of the Jussie Smollett scenario on a national scale. President Trump is preaching a fantasy about widespread election fraud that is just as false as Jussie Smollett’s assault claims.

Just as the left was ready to believe the worst about Trump supporters, the right is now eager to believe that a Deep State conspiracy that includes Republican governors and Secretaries of State was responsible for a massive election fraud conspiracy that was pervasive yet left no traces that will stand up in court. This conspiracy reaches all the way up to the Supreme Court and down to local county election officials around the country.

Both cases are a cautionary tale that many people will believe almost anything, no matter how outlandish, as long as it fits their preconceived worldview. Another term for this tendency is “confirmation bias.”

The biggest differences between Jussie Smollett and Donald Trump are in the scale of the deception and the potential impact of the lie. Smollett worked alone but did have a complicit support from a media that didn’t question the narrative. In the president’s case, he has near-unanimous support - or at least acquiescence- from the majority of the Republican Party that is unwilling to contradict his claims.

It’s the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” meets the “Emperor’s New Clothes.”

The other big difference is that Smollett’s lie slandered one political faction while Trump’s lie slanders the entirety of America and our whole electoral system, Smollett’s lie also did not threaten to foment a civil war and tear the country apart.

In the tradition of despots the world over, Donald Trump enlists his supporters to save their country while he uses their patriotism and faith for his own benefit. The talk of freedom and the Constitution is being replaced by talk of martial law and secession.

The mentality that this (and presumably every) election is a Flight 93 election that must be won or the country is lost gives Republicans the ideological imperative to reject the popular vote, the Electoral College, and the courts while Trump’s fig leaf of election fraud provides the rationale. If the country is always one election away from socialist tyranny, can we really risk free elections? Maybe rigging elections or deposing the winner to install a Republican anointed by God are for the greater good.

In the end, if Trump succeeds, the Republican excuse will be reminiscent of the hapless US Army major’s commentary on a battle of the Vietnam War: “We had to destroy the Constitution in order to save it.”

Photo credit: Dominick D/Wikimedia Commons