The controversy over Trump and the “Big Lie” centers on the results of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election and Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn these results. This controversial topic emerged in the months leading up to the November election, when sitting President Donald Trump and his supporters and allies made widespread preemptive allegations that the outcome of the election would be rigged, and that a massive conspiracy was already underway involving crooked Democratic operatives, corrupt state voting commissions, preprogrammed voting machines, foreign Communist interference, and more. These claims gave foundation to this debate topic, which is also a popular subject for persuasive papers.
On November 7th, Democratic challenger Joe Biden was projected by all major news networks to win the requisite 270 Electoral College votes needed to secure the presidency. Donald Trump immediately denounced the results as fraudulent, refused concession, and mounted a campaign which continues to this date aimed at undermining the results of the 2020 election. Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud and electoral irregularities gained support among Republican members of Congress, the majority of his voting base, and a broad cross-section of independent far-right organizations. Many Republicans, conservatives, and Trump supporters-both in office and among the general voting public-either believe, or outwardly claim, that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
Critics refer to this claim as “The Big Lie,” and point to what they view as the absence of evidence to confirm claims of voter fraud or electoral irregularity. Critics also point out that “The Big Lie” has proliferated widely through social media, conservative media, Republican seats of power, and segments of the general public, sowing distrust in the electoral process and undermining the strength of American democracy.
The controversial topic regarding the Big Lie has been played out both in the halls of Congress and in the media. If you’re not sure how to parse the often contradictory information coming from both sources, check out our tips for How Students Can Spot Fake News.
For a deeper look at the debate topic surrounding Trump and the Big Lie, read on...
The Big Lie is a phrase used by critics to refer to efforts by Donald Trump and his supporters to overturn the results of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. The phrase is said to have originated in the infamous text Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. There, Hitler claimed that European Jewry had perpetuated the Big Lie that Germany was guilty of misconduct and deserving of its humiliating defeat in World War I. Ironically, historians instead came to adapt the phrase instead to refer to the propaganda and scapegoating aimed at European Jews by Hitler and the Nazi Party. Here, it is said that Germans used this Big Lie as a justification for the genocidal atrocities which followed.
As a consequence, The Big Lie came, thereafter, to refer to an audacious and sweeping campaign of disinformation propaganda aimed at creating far-reaching acceptance of non-truths. This definition inspired both critics of Donald Trump and those charged with defending the integrity of the existing electoral system to refer to efforts at undermining the election as part of a “Big Lie.”
Critics of the Big Lie believe that claims of electoral irregularity or voter fraud in the 2020 election are probably false and are part of a concerted strategy to propagate disinformation, undermine the results of a free and fair election, and build a narrative that justifies future acts of voter suppression.
Critics of the Big Lie-a segment which includes Democratic members of Congress, representatives from the mainstream media, and voting rights advocacy groups-point to the complete absence of evidence to support most voter fraud claims, the universal judicial rejection of Trump’s legal challenges, the failure of attempted voting audits to yield proof of fraud, and Donald Trump’s own well-documented track record of disseminating proven falsehoods before, during, and after the 2020 election. Critics of the Big Lie also argue that the rally held by Donald Trump on January 6th, 2021, the subsequent storming of the U.S. Capitol, and the attempted insurgency there within, and the deadly violence which transpired there are all direct consequences of the Big Lie.
Supporters of Donald Trump may either reject the notion of “The Big Lie” as conspiratorial or may alternatively argue, as Trump himself has done, that The Big Lie is actually the claim that Joe Biden won the presidency in a free and fair election. Those who believe or claim that the election was stolen-a population which includes a majority of Republican members of Congress, representatives from conservative media, and an array of militant grass roots organizations identifying with the “alt-right”-point to a massive conspiracy to deprive Trump of his second term.
Among the views espoused by Trump supporters are claims that: millions of ballots have been doctored to add Democratic votes; that voting machines have been manipulated to deliver Democratic votes; that Democratic stronghold cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh refused oversight from voting monitors; that the heightened use of mail-in ballots and dropboxes in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic was actually a ruse designed to stuff Democratic votes; that Republican ballots went missing or where thrown out; that some states refused to verify voting signatures properly; that many states engaged in “surprise ballot dumps”; and more.
Many other allegations of voter fraud proliferated on social media, especially through the efforts of far-right conservative figures and groups like QAnon, the Oath Keepers, and the Stop the Steal movement sponsored from within the Republican Party. This large collection of narratives ultimately contributes to the shared view among many Trump supporters that the election was stolen through a far-reaching, multifaceted assault on the electoral process and democracy at large.
CNN notes that the phrase was first invoked in reference to Trump’s efforts at overturning the 2020 election when
historian Timothy Snyder, author of ‘On Tyranny,’ used it in the wake of the January 6 insurrection. ’The idea that Mr. Biden didn’t win the election is a big lie...It’s a big lie because you have to disbelieve all kinds of evidence to believe in it. It’s a big lie because you have to believe in a huge conspiracy in order to believe it. And it’s a big lie because, if you believe it, it demands you take radical action. So this is one way we have really moved forwards towards authoritarianism and away from democracy. It’s coming to a peak right now.
However, critics of Donald Trump argue that his efforts at casting doubt on electoral results have historical precedent.
A timeline of events demonstrates that Donald Trump has long been critical of the electoral process, dating back to both his opposition to Barack Obama’s election and his claim that, in spite of his Electoral College victory over challenger Hillary Clinton in 2016, she only secured the majority of the popular vote because millions of illegal ballots had been cast in her favor. In many ways, this latter claim helped Trump to build the groundwork for his broader objections to the 2020 election, both as it approached, and in its aftermath.
Trump’s criticism of the electoral process grew more constant and concentrated as the 2020 presidential election neared. When Fox News moderator Chris Wallace asked him, during a July 2020 interview, if he would accept the results of an election in which he lost, Trump told the host,
I have to see...I’m not just going to say yes.
Two months later, speaking to reporters at the White House, the president said, in response to a similar question,
We’re going to have to see what happens...You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.
As the Trump Administration sowed doubt in the upcoming electoral process, local Republican state legislatures undertook numerous efforts aimed at limiting what they argued were forms of voting with higher vulnerability to voter fraud including mail-in and dropbox ballots. Efforts were also undertaken to limit the number of available voting polls in districts that Republicans argued were most vulnerable to fraud. The Brennan Center indicates that neighborhoods predominantly populated by people of color were targeted disproportionately by these restrictions.
On November 3rd, 2020, Americans voted in the general election. However, because of the risks implicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a record number of voters had cast their ballots in advance using mail-in ballots and drop boxes. Pew notes that Democrats were significantly more likely to use these alternative methods of voting due to pandemic-related health concerns.
This impacted the sequence of vote-counting in many states, where mail-in and dropbox ballots were counted after voting booth returns. As a result, Trump jumped out to an early lead in several swing states but late-night and early morning returns ultimately turned the tide in favor of Joe Biden. With slim margins in several swing states, major networks withheld from declaring Biden’s victory until November 7th. Joe Biden ultimately secured a 306-232 victory in the Electoral College. Under direct pressure from then President Donald Trump, General Services Administration administrator Emily Murphy delayed the traditional period of presidential transition by 16 days.
Immediately following the declaration of Biden’s victory, President Trump and his allies began a multifaceted campaign aimed at overturning the results of the presidential election. Steps taken to prevent the transition of power included:
Critics argue that none of these efforts was effective in either proving fraud or persuading those with authority to overturn the results of the election.
As these efforts fell short of producing the outcomes Trump and his supporters desired, emerging reports indicate that additional strategies were considered in conversation between President Trump, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and other members of the president’s inner circle. Among these strategies, Trump considered military intervention to prevent the transfer of power, as well as seizing voting machines, and challenging the final step in the electoral process-Congressional counting of votes and consequent certification.
The counting of votes has historically been a formality in which the results of the election are certified according to the outcome of the Electoral College. With the approach of the certification date—January 6th 2020—Trump and his allies deployed several additional strategies to prevent the transfer of power. Among them:
Most notably, Donald Trump’s allies organized a movement that they called “Stop the Steal”. The Stop the Steal movement coalesced in a January 6th rally, headlined by Donald Trump, and held at the Ellipse in Washington DC. Trump encouraged his supporters-a cross-section of traditional Republican voters and extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers-to march toward the Capitol building to “fight” against what he characterized as electoral theft.
Supporters responded by marching on the Capitol, laying siege to the building, clashing with Capitol police officers, disrupting the Congressional counting of votes, ransacking the halls of Congress, and construction gallows designed for the reported purpose of publicly executing the Vice President. The deadly violence resulted in five fatalities, hundreds of injuries, and numerous subsequent arrests. Though the attempted insurrection temporarily disrupted the certification of votes, Congress convened later that night to complete certification of the vote, and initiate the transition of power to Joe Biden.
Joe Biden is the 46th President of the United States and Donald Trump continues to argue that the 2020 election was stolen. Americans are sharply divided over the matter. The result of these differing views is a deepening rift between Americans who identify as Trump supporters and those who recognize Joe Biden as the rightful winner of the 2020 election. The Big Lie is, today, a lightning rod in the American culture wars, with political affiliation playing a major role in the version of events which each of us recognizes as accurate.
But the stakes are higher than mere political division for several reasons. First and foremost, the claims of voter fraud underlying what critics call “The Big Lie” are currently being leveraged in Republican and swing states to justify various voter suppression tactics. According to FiveThirtyEight, we are currently experiencing a
large-scale Republican push to restrict voting access this spring and summer - the policy byproduct of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent. At this point in the year, most state legislatures are now out of session, so we are close to being able to close the book on our tracking of these restrictions for 2021. Based on data from the Brennan Center for Justice and the Voting Rights Lab as well as our own research, we now count 52 new voting restrictions that have been enacted this year in 21 different states. And 41 of the 52 were sponsored primarily or entirely by Republicans.
The 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 Presidential election-which may well feature a rematch of the 2020 election-will likely be directly impacted by widespread skepticism in the integrity of the electoral process and by various new laws designed to limit voter access, especially as Democrats have faltered at passing new voter rights acts in Congress.
There is another dimension of this controversy that will keep it directly in the public eye for the immediate and foreseeable future. The events of January 6th implicated countless Trump supporters and activists in crimes ranging from destruction of public property and unlawful entry to attempted insurrection and domestic terrorism. The Justice Department continues to seek and gain indictments against offenders even as the Congressional Select Committee to Investigate January 6th works to uncover the role, and determine the responsibility, of Republican Congressional leaders, members of the Trump Administration, and Trump himself, in instigating the violence that occurred on that day.
To Trump’s critics, the violence on January 6th underscores the inherent danger of The Big Lie and highlights the threat that its continued perpetuation will instigate further violence and unrest. To Trump’s supporters, the events of January 6th were part of a patriotic effort to retake a presidency stolen through corruption, fraud, and conspiracy.
The following is a list of influencers who have gained prominence for their public connection to efforts aimed at overturning the results of the 2020 election on behalf of Donald Trump:
A number of progressive critics, journalists, academics, members of Congressrs of Congress, and voting rights advocates have been critical of Trump and his allies for propagating The Big Lie:
Through our own independent research, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential books published on the topic of the Big Lie in the U.S. between 2020 and 2022. This list is composed of historical texts which have formed the basis for the concept of “The Big Lie,” texts which have informed the philosophical impetus for the modern Republican establishment that serves as Donald Trump’s base of influence, texts which have helped lay the foundation for many of the persistent conspiracy theories giving rise to Trump’s base of support, and texts which have been critical of Trump, his supporters, and/or his rhetoric in relation to the results of the 2020 presidential election.
For more hot-button issues, check out The Most Controversial Topics Today.
And if you’re interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding the 2020 presidential election and the January 6th siege on the U.S. capitol building, consider pursuing a degree in an area such as political science or legal studies.
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