The Big Lie And Voter Suppression
by Vijaya Chandrasoma
The Big Lie, initiated by former president Donald Trump after he lost the November presidential election, that the election was stolen from him, is continuing to attack the foundations of democracy in America, and will have far reaching and deleterious effects in future elections.
A Big Lie, when used as a propaganda technique for political purposes is defined as “a gross distortion or misinterpretation of the facts, especially when used as a propaganda device of an official body”.
The most infamous example of the Big Lie was the one used by Hitler and the Nazi propaganda machine headed by Joseph Goebbels. Historians say that the original Big Lie, that the First World War was started by “an international Jewry”, was a “war of extermination against Germany”. World War I was not lost by Germany in 1918, but their defeat was caused by the betrayal of the Jews.
In his book “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle), Hitler describes a lie “so colossal that no one could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously” when the colossal lie has been accepted as the truth.
The Big Lie must contain an element of truth. Jews have been persecuted and been the victims of pogroms, riots aimed at their expulsion or massacre, since the Crusades, escalating in the cruelty of 19th century Russia and Europe. The Nazis simply made use of this innate race-hatred as justification of Hitler’s Final Solution, the genocide of all Jews.
Hitler also revealed his other great enemy, the Lugenpresse, (the Lying Press), or its modern version, Fake News, which interfered with his dream of a pure Aryan (white) race in Germany, cleansed of Jews, Gypsies and those of impure blood.
Though his Final Solution was doomed to failure, his “dream” claimed the lives of over six millions of Jews and others of “impure blood” in the holocaust.
Hitler shot himself at the end of the war. The name of Hitler is now held in contempt and disgust in Germany and the world.
History is repeating itself. Trump’s Big Lie is that the November 2020 presidential election was stolen from him through massive election fraud; that the election was not lost by him, but he was betrayed by insidious forces, Republicans and Democrats, who stole it from him.
He set the stage for the Big Lie, following Hitler’s example almost to perfection, by identification of his – and America’s – primary enemies as brown and black skinned minorities and immigrants, who were acting against his American Dream of the continuation of white privilege/supremacy, which had held sway for centuries.
Trump identified these immigrant enemies during his election campaign as the Republican nominee for the 2016 presidency. In his opinion, immigration was an invasion. He described the Mexicans and other legal and undocumented Hispanics as a hostile force. “They’re bringing crime. They’re bringing drugs. They’re rapists”. All Muslims, even American citizens, were terrorists. He had only contempt for immigrants of brown skin from shithole countries, as he called them. The brutal treatment of African Americans for centuries hasn’t changed much to the present day, and Trump fanned those flames with his racism.
Once he had identified the main enemy, he named the second threat to Trump’s America – the media, or Fake News, which he dubbed “the Enemy of the People”. He implored his white, ill-educated supporters not to believe what they see or hear. Only he would tell them the truth, on Twitter and on Fox News, the Republican propaganda TV station. And his supporters believed every lie he invented. They attended his rallies in their tens of thousands to show their vociferous devotion.
Trump’s dream had a touch of the truth for white, racist Americans; their fear of imminent danger of the loss of white privilege they had enjoyed for centuries.
The third lie that immediately preceded the Big Lie. When Trump realized that he was going to lose the presidency to Biden, he told his supporters that he would lose the presidency only if the election was rigged.
So the stage was set for the Big Lie, after he was comprehensively beaten by Biden for the presidency in November 2020, by 81 million to 74 million on the popular vote and 306 to 232 in the Electoral College.
After this landslide defeat, Trump and his supporters continued to accuse the Democrats of rigging the election. His legal representatives filed 60 cases of election fraud, which were all thrown out by district and federal courts, even his hand-picked Supreme Court, for lacking a shred of evidence.
Trump’s claims of election fraud were contradicted by his own Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (GCC) which called the 2020 election “the most secure in American history…. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised”.
Trump’s Big Lie was backed by the earlier lies he had implanted on his Republican base that the election will be rigged. The Lie was believed by his base. After all, 74 million Americans had voted for him in spite of this lie, and 3,500 other lies he had used during his presidency, all designed to camouflage his ignorance and criminal incompetence in carrying out the duties of the president.
During the 11-week Lame Duck transition period, Trump continued with the repetition of the lie and obstructed the peaceful transfer of power. He even tried to intimidate the Governors and election officials of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and most famously, Georgia, with an hour-long recorded telephone call, when he was heard to threaten Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, with a felony, unless he “found” 11,780 votes which would give him the fraudulent majority necessary for him to win the state.
All his efforts to overturn his election failed, still his base continued to believe the Big Lie in the face of overwhelming evidence. He recognized that his final opportunity to achieve the unachievable would be on January 6, when Congress, with Vice President Pence in the chair, assembled to perform their constitutional duty of officially certifying the presidency of Biden.
I have written about the events of that fateful day, when Trump supporters led an assault of the Capitol, an insurrection incited by a desperate Trump, which caused six deaths, hundreds wounded and millions of dollars in damage to the seat of American government.
The mob threatened the lives of the entire Congress, calling for the assassination of both Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi. The insurrectionists were finally subdued, and Congress carried out their constitutional duty of declaring the presidency of Biden.
The sad fact that remains is that there are millions of Americans who still believe the election had been stolen from Trump, and will continue sporadic violent attacks on American institutions.
But the big picture is that Trump, and his dream of a pure white America, with the subjugation of minorities, including African Americans and brown skinned immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries, has failed.
Trump will likely be convicted of just about every crime in the penal code, and will die in prison. The name of Trump will, like Hitler’s, be held in contempt and disgust in the history books of tomorrow.
Unfortunately, the Big Lie has influenced state legislators, with 47 states adding new voter suppression laws, designed to make voting more difficult, especially for the poor and the minorities, usually supporters of the Democratic Party. These laws will suppress the votes of a large section of the electorate and pervert future elections and the peaceful transfer of power, the cornerstones of American democracy, perhaps for generations to come.
Republicans have been faced with an unexpected adversary in enacting these voter suppression laws – the corporate sector. Corporations have traditionally supported the Republican Party, and contributed vast sums of money to the election campaign of Republican politicians. In return they have received lucrative tax and ancillary benefits.
In fact, President Biden recently announced his intention to increase corporate taxes to 28% from Trump’s 21%, which makes the current corporate opposition to Republican-backed laws even more bewildering.
Delta and Coke have made statements against voter suppression laws, and the American Football League (AFL) announced change of venue of their All-Star game, which features the game played by the best players of the year, from Atlanta, Georgia (the state whose Governor Brian Kemp, has proposed especially Draconian voter suppression laws) to Denver, Colorado.
In all, over 100 companies, including Twitter, ViacomCBS, Google, Facebook and Uber, have formed a Civic Alliance, which made the following joint statement:
“Our elections are not improved when lawmakers impose barriers that result in longer lines at the polls or that reduce access to secure ballot boxes. We stand in solidarity with voters …. in our nonpartisan commitment to equality and democracy”.
President Biden has called these voter suppression laws proposed by 47 states as a “return to The Jim Crow era” when African Americans were abused under laws similar to the apartheid system of South Africa until the 1990s.
Predictably, Republican senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, made scathing remarks about corporate protests against voter suppression laws, saying that Big Business “will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country outside the constitutional order. … Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box”.
McConnell’s spectacular hypocrisy brings to mind the statement of Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play;
“For ‘tis the sport to have the engineer Hoist with his own petard. And it shall go hard”.
The petard, the little bomb, hoisted on “engineer” McConnell is his own Citizens United Act, which describes corporations as people, and, according to the First Amendment (freedom of speech), permits them to make unlimited contributions to election campaigns. A law which gave a significant advantage to the Republican Party, the party of the billionaires and the corporations.
However, to McConnell’s consternation, the Act also allows corporations the right of freedom of speech, which they are now using, amazingly and admirably, to protest the proposed Republican laws of voter suppression.
These statements by corporate America have infuriated McConnell, who is now ordering his erstwhile allies to “keep giving us your money but keep your damn mouths shut about politics, especially about Republican politics!”
On the brighter side, these voter suppression laws are being challenged in the Courts, and hopefully new laws will be enacted to making it easier, not harder, for all eligible voters to fulfill their constitutional right to vote.
Trump’s criminal and racist actions won’t be easily overcome, the stench will linger for some time. But President Biden has made a very good start in righting the ship of state. He has already taken giant strides in containing Covid-19 and reviving both the job market and the economy. He has also reestablished America’s role as the leader of the Free World in under 100 days of his presidency.
Have Humanities and Social Sciences muddied water enough?
By Maduranga Kalugampitiya
The domain of the humanities and social sciences is under attack more than ever before. The relevance, as well as usefulness of the degrees earned in those fields, is being questioned left, right, and centre. The question of whether it is meaningful at all to be spending, if not wasting, the limited financial resources available in the coffers to produce graduates in those fields is raised constantly, at multiple levels. Attempts are being made to introduce a little bit of soft skills into the curricula in order to add ‘value’ to the degree programmes in the field. The assumption here is that either such degree programmes do not impart any skills or the skills that they impart are of no value. We often see this widely-shared profoundly negative attitude towards the humanities and the social sciences (more towards the former than towards the latter) being projected on the practitioners (students, teachers, and researchers) in those areas. At a top-level meeting, which was held one to two years ago, with the participation of policy-makers in higher education and academics and educationists representing the humanities and social sciences departments, at state universities, a key figure in the higher education establishment claimed that the students who come to the humanities and social sciences faculties were ‘late-developers’. What better (or should I say worse?) indication of the official attitude towards those of us in the humanities and the social sciences!
While acknowledging that many of the key factors that have resulted in downgrading the humanities and social sciences disciplines are global by nature and are very much part of the neoliberal world order, which dominates the day, I wish to ask if we, the practitioners in the said fields, have done our part to counter the attack.
What the humanities and the social sciences engage with is essentially and self-consciously social. What these disciplines have to say has a direct bearing on the social dimension of human existence. It is near impossible to discuss phenomena in economics, political science, or sociology without having to reflect upon and use examples from what happens in our lives and around us. One cannot even begin to talk about teaching English as a second language without taking a look at her/his own experience learning English and the struggles that many people go through at different levels doing the same. One cannot talk about successful ways of teaching foreign languages without recognizing the need to incorporate an engagement with the cultural life of those languages at some level. No reading of an artwork—be it a novel, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, a poem, whatever—is possible without the reader at least subconsciously reflecting upon the broader context in which those artworks are set and also relating her own context or experience to what is being read. A legal scholar cannot read a legislation without paying attention to the social implications of the legislation and the dynamics of the community at whom that legislation is directed. The point is our own existence as social beings is right in the middle of what we engage with in such disciplines. To steal (and do so self-consciously) a term from the hard/natural sciences, society is essentially the ‘laboratory’ in which those in the humanities and social sciences conduct their work. There may be some areas of study within the humanities and social sciences which do not require an explicit engagement with our social existence, but I would say that such areas, if any, are limited in number.
Needless to say that every social intervention is political in nature. It involves unsettling what appears to be normal about our social existence in some way. One cannot make interventions that have a lasting impact without muddying the water which we have been made to believe is clear. How much of muddying do we as practitioners in the field of humanities and social sciences do is a question that needs to be asked.
Unfortunately, we do not see much work in the humanities and social sciences which unsettles the dominant order. What we often see is work that reinforces and reaffirms the dominant structures, systems, and lines of thought. Lack of rigorous academic training and exposure to critical theory is clearly one of the factors which prevents some scholars in the field from being able to make interventions that are capable of muddying the water, but the fact that we sometimes do not see much muddying even on the part of the more adept scholars shows that lack of rigorous training is not the sole reason.
Muddying the water is no simple matter. To use a problematic, yet in my view useful, analogy, a scholar in the said field trying to make an intervention that results in unsettling the order is like a hydrogen atom in H2O, ‘water’ in layperson’s language, trying to make an intervention which results in a re-evaluation of the oxygen atom. Such an intervention invariably entails a re-evaluation of the hydrogen atom as well, for the reason that the two atoms are part of an organic whole. One cannot be purely objective in its reading of the other. Such an intervention is bound to be as unsettling for the hydrogen atom as it is for the oxygen atom. Similarly, in a majority of contexts, a scholar in the area of the humanities and social sciences cannot make an intervention, the kind that pushes the boundaries of knowledge, without unsettling the dominant structures and value systems, which they themselves are part of, live by, and also benefit from. For instance, the norms, values, and practices which define the idea of marriage in contexts like ours are things that a male scholar would have to deal with as a member of our society, and any intervention on his part which raises questions about gender-based inequalities embodied in such norms, values, and practices would be to question his own privilege. Needless to say that such an intervention could result in an existential crisis for the scholar, at least temporarily. Such interventions also entail the possibility of backlash from society. One needs thorough training to withstand that pressure.
In place of interventions that unsettle the existing order, what we often see is work, which re-presents commonsensical knowledge garbed in jargon. To give an example from an area that I am a bit familiar with, much of the work that takes place in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) identifies lack of motivation on the part of the students and also teachers and also lack of proper training for teachers as the primary reasons for the plight of English education in the country. This reading is not very different from a layperson’s understanding of the problem, and what we often see as research findings in the field of ESL is the same understanding, albeit dressed up in technical-sounding language. Such readings do not unsettle the existing order. They put the blame on the powerless. Very limited is the work that sees the present plight of English education as a systemic or structural problem. Reading that plight as a systemic problem requires us to re-evaluate the fundamental structures which govern our society, and such re-evaluation is unsettling is many ways. I argue that that is what is expected of scholarship in the ESL field, but unfortunately that is not what we see as coming out of the field.
If what gets produced as knowledge in the humanities and social sciences is jargonized commonsense, then the claim that such fields have nothing important to say is valid. If what a scholar in those fields has to say is not different to a layperson’s understanding of a given reality, the question whether there is any point in producing such scholars becomes valid.
In my view, the humanities and social sciences are in need of fundamental restructuring. This restructuring is not the kind which calls for the incorporation of a bit of soft skills here and a bit of soft skills there so that those who come out of those fields easily fit into predefined slots in society but the kind that results in the enhancement of the critical thinking capacity of the scholars. It is the kind of restructuring that would produce scholars who are capable of engaging in a political reading of the realities that define our existence in society and raise difficult questions about such existence, in other words, scholars who are capable of muddying the water.
(Maduranga Kalugampitiya is attached to Department of English, University of Peradeniya)
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall thatparodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.
Selective targeting not law’s purpose
By Jehan Perera
The re-emergence of Donald Trump in the United States is a reminder that change is not permanent. Former President Trump is currently utilising the grievances of the white population in the United States with regard to the economic difficulties that many of them face to make the case that they need to be united to maintain their position in society. He is coming forward as their champion. The saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is often attributed to the founders of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, among many others, though Lord Denning in The Road to Justice (1988) stated that the phrase originated in a statement of Irish orator John Philpot Curran in 1790. The phrase is often used to emphasise the importance of being vigilant in protecting one’s rights and freedoms.
Ethnic and religious identity are two powerful concepts by which people may be mobilised the world over. This is a phenomenon that seemed to have subsided in Western Europe due to centuries of secular practices in which the state was made secular and neutral between ethnicities and religions. For a short while last year during the Aragalaya, it seemed that Sri Lanka was transcending its ethnic and religious cleavages in the face of the unexpected economic calamity that plunged large sections of the population back into poverty. There was unprecedented unity especially at the street level to demonstrate publicly that the government that had brought the country to this sorry pass had to go. The mighty force of people’s power succeeded in driving the leaders of that government out of power. Hopefully, there will be a government in the future that will bring the unity and mutual respect within the people, especially the younger generations, to the fore and the sooner the better as the price is growing higher by the day.
But like the irrepressible Donald Trump the old order is fighting to stage its comeback. The rhetoric of ethnicity and religion being in danger is surfacing once more. President Ranil Wickremesinghe who proclaimed late last year that the 13th Amendment to the constitution would be implemented in full, as it was meant to be, and enable the devolution of power to be enjoyed by the people of the provinces, including those dominated by Tamils and Muslims, has gone silent on this promise. The old order to which he is providing a new economic vision is clearly recalcitrant on ethno-religious matters. As a result, the government’s bold plan to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as promised to the international community in 2015 to address the unresolved human rights issues of the war, is reportedly on the rocks. The main Tamil political parties have made statements that they will not legitimise or accept such a mechanism in the absence of a genuine devolution of power. Politics must not override policies.
The sense of threat to ethnicity and religion looms too large once again for forward movement in conflict resolution between the different communities that constitute the Sri Lankan nation which is diverse and plural. Two unlikely persons now find themselves at the centre of an emotion-heavy ethno-religious storm. One is a comedian, the other is a religious preacher. Both of them have offended the religious sensibilities of many in the ethno-religious Sinhala Buddhist majority community. Both of their statements were originally made to small audiences of their own persuasion, but were then projected through social media to reach much larger audiences. The question is whether they made these statements to rouse religious hatred and violence. There have been numerous statements from all sides of the divide, whether ethnic, religious or political, denouncing them for their utterances.
Both comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya and pastor Jerome Fernando have apologised for offending and hurting the religious sentiments of the Buddhist population. They made an attempt to remedy the situation when they realised the hurt, the anger and the opposition they had generated. This is not the first time that such hurtful and offensive comments have been made by members of one ethno-religious community against members of another ethnic-religious community. Taking advantage of this fact the government is arguing the case for the control of social media and also the mainstream media. It is preparing to bring forward legislation for a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission that would also pave the way to imprison journalists for their reporting, impose fines, and also revoke the licences issued to electronic media institutions if they impact negatively on national security, national economy, and public order or create any conflict among races and religions.
In a free society, opportunities are provided for people to be able to air their thoughts and dissents openly, be it at Hyde Park or through their representatives in Parliament. The threat to freedom of speech and to the media that can arise from this new law can be seen in the way that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which is the world’s standard bearer on civil and political rights has been used and is being abused in Sri Lanka. It was incorporated into Sri Lankan law in a manner that has permitted successive governments to misuse it. It is very likely that the Broadcast Regulatory Commission bill will yield a similar result if passed into law. The arrest and detention of comedian Natasha Edirisooriya under the ICCPR Act has become yet another unfortunate example of the misuse of a law meant to protect human rights by the government. Pastor Jerome Fernando is out of prison as he is currently abroad having left the country a short while before a travel ban was delivered to him.
The state media reported that a “Police officer said that since there is information that she was a person who was in the Aragalaya protest, they are looking into the matter with special attention.” This gives rise to the inference that the reason for her arrest was politically motivated. Comedian Edirisooriya was accused of having violated the provisions in the ICCPR in Section 3(1) that forbids hate speech. Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act prohibits advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility. The international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has pointed out that in the case of Edirisooriya that for speech to be illegal on the grounds of being hate speech it requires “a clear showing of intent to incite others to discriminate, be hostile towards or commit violence against the group in question.” Amnesty International also notes that “When the expression fails to meet the test, even if it is shocking, offensive or disturbing, it should be protected by the state.”
Ironically, in the past there have been many instances of ethnic and religious minorities being targeted in a hateful manner that even led to riots against them, but successive governments have been inactive in protecting them or arresting their persecutors. Such targeting has taken place, often for political purposes in the context of elections, in blatant bids to mobilise sections of the population through appeals to narrow nationalism and fear of the other. The country’s political and governmental leaders need to desist from utilising the ICCPR Act against those who make social and political critiques that are outside the domain of hate speech. The arrest of Bruno Divakara, the owner of SL-Vlogs, under the ICCPR Act is an indication of this larger and more concerning phenomenon which is being brought to the fore by the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission bill.
The crackdown on the space for free expression and critical comment is unacceptable in a democratic polity, especially one as troubled as Sri Lanka, in which the economy has collapsed and caused much suffering to the people and the call to hold elections has been growing. The intervention of the Human Rights Commission which has called on the Inspector General of Police to submit a report on the arrest and its rationale is a hopeful sign that the independence of institutions intended to provide a check and balance will finally prevail. The Sri Lankan state will hopefully evolve to be a neutral arbiter in the disputes between competing ethnic, religious and partisan political visions of what the state should be and what constitutes acceptable behaviour within it. Taking on undemocratic powers in a variety of ways and within a short space of time is unlikely to deliver economic resurgence and a stable and democratic governance the country longs for. Without freedom, justice and fair play within, there can be no hope of economic development that President Wickremesinghe would be wanting to see.
Girl power… to light up our scene
We have never had any outstanding all-girl bands, in the local scene, except, perhaps…yes The Planets, and that was decades ago!
The Planets did make a name for themselves, and they did create quite a lot of excitement, when they went into action.
Of course, abroad, we had several top all-girl bands – outfits like the Spice Girls, Bangles, Destiny’s Child, and The Supremes.
It’s happening even now, in the K-pop scene.
Let’s hope we would have something to shout about…with the band Manthra – an all-girl outfit that came together last year (2022).
Manthra is made up of Hiruni Fernando (leader/bass guitar), Gayathma Liyanage (lead guitar), Amaya Jayarathne (drums), Imeshini Piyumika (keyboards), and Arundathi Hewawitharana (vocals).
Amaya Arundathi and Imeshini are studying at the University of Visual and Performing Arts, while Gayathma is studying Architecture at NIMB, and Hiruni is the Western Music teacher at St. Lawrence’s Convent, and the pianist at Galadari Hotel, having studied piano and classical guitar at West London University.
They have already displayed their talents at various venues, events, weddings, and on TV, as well (Vanithabimana Sirasa TV and Charna TV Art Beat).
Additionally, the band showcased their talent at the talent show held at the Esoft Metro Campus.
The plus factor, where this all-girl outfit is concerned, is that their repertoire is made up rock, pop, and Sinhala songs.
Explaining as to how they came up with the name Manthra, founder member Hiruni said that Manthra means a word, or sound, repeated to aid concentration in meditation, and that the name was suggested by one of the band members.
She also went on to say that putting together a female band is not an easy task, in the scene here.
“We faced many difficulties in finding members. Some joined and then left, after a short while. Unlike a male band, where there are many male musicians in Sri Lanka, there are only a few female musicians. And then, there are some parents who don’t like their daughters getting involved in music.”
With talented musicians in their line-up, the future certainly looks bright for Manthra who are now keen to project themselves, in an awesome way, in the scene here, and abroad, as well.
“We are keen to do stage shows and we are also planning to create our own songs,” said Hiruni.
Yes, we need an all-girl group to add variety to our scene that is now turning out to be a kind of ‘repeating groove,’ where we see, and hear, almost the same thing…over and over again!
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