Walt Amses: The Big Lie was a big grift; there should be consequences

This commentary is by Walt Amses, a writer who lives in North Calais.

The last 18 months of American politics may very well be the poster child for this quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” frequently and mistakenly attributed to Edmund Burke. 

Its origin is more likely from an 1867 inaugural address at the University of St. Andrews by philosopher John Stuart Mill, where he said: “Let not anyone pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part.” 

The genesis notwithstanding, revelations by the Jan. 6 committee painfully demonstrate how a number of theoretically “good” men (and women) chose to do nothing and in some cases worse than nothing, in service to the former president, whose duplicity knows no bounds. 

The opening salvo of the first two televised committee hearings offered a chilling, point-by-point evisceration of the Big Lie, which all of its major proponents, including most notably Number 45 himself, knew from the beginning to be patently false. 

Declaring on Election Night: “We did win this election” before the ballots were tallied, POTUS emeritus ignored his advisers, save the “inebriated” Rudy Guiliani, who urged the premature declaration of victory, from which there has been no backing down for a year and a half despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. 

In a recorded deposition, former Attorney General William Barr called any claims of widespread election fraud “nonsense,” and said his boss had become “detached from reality,” never interested “in what the actual facts were.”

After a presidency driven by delusion, these revelations themselves were not surprising, but coming as they did from White House staffers, former loyalists and cabinet members, coupled with a comprehensive presentation by a committee that had obviously done its homework, the hearings were imbued with a sense of gravity missing from his two unprecedented impeachment trials. 

Absent the sycophantic shrieking of the barely tethered likes of Jim Jordan or Matt Gaetz, the adults in the room were able to systematically connect the dots, illustrating just how farcical was the notion of a stolen election, as well as the extent to which the former president was willing to go in contradicting that reality. 

But even as witness after witness testified to the Former’s myopic focus on retaining the White House, another more telling narrative was beginning to surface concerning his motivation for engaging in what he knew to be a complete fabrication, even at the expense of democracy.

We must remember that the former president of the United States and his crime family are first and foremost grifters. Always have been; always will be. Liars, cheats, swindlers and, to paraphrase Elizabeth Warren, “money grubbers.” A lifelong confidence game has been the family business, bilking people out of their money through lofty promises that never come to fruition, like the family “University,” an unaccredited entity with the sole purpose of defrauding students who eventually sued and were awarded $25 million in a federal settlement. 

The family charity or “foundation” was shuttered in 2018 by the New York Attorney General for misconduct, “illegally misusing charitable funds for political purposes,” and required to pony up over $2 million to eight different charities and acknowledge “personal misuse of funds.” 

As lucrative as this may seem, it was mere pocket change compared to the opportunity that the “Big Lie” would offer, especially while MAGA loyalists remained gullible enough to believe their donations would go toward righting an egregious attempt by the “radical Left” to subvert the 2020 election. 

Last week, the House select committee firmly debunked that fantasy, with Rep. Zoe Lofgren firmly stating: “The Big Lie was also a big ripoff” as the damning evidence mounted, supporting claims that the former president and his allies had raised up to a quarter of a billion dollars under the guise of assisting with the campaign’s election challenges, which never happened. 

Most of the money was channeled into the “Save America” PAC, created just days after the election. The “Official Election Defense Fund” promoted in dozens of daily fundraising emails never actually existed. 

While the “Big Lie” has always been considered a means to undermine a legitimate election that the former president lost handily, it’s quite possible that was never the intention at all. It increasingly seems as though he and his closest associates, who all knew he’d not even come close to winning, conspired to scam his most loyal MAGA supporters one more time on his way out the door. They had no designs on flipping the 2020 election. They never even tried, once the money started rolling in. “The Big Lie” itself was just a big lie. Another big grift.

Yet, while the lie is ushered into the wings and the grift takes center stage, there remains a movement afoot to perpetuate the mythical stolen election, allowing red states to more easily do precisely what they’re railing against — overturning the will of the voters. And it’s worked thus far. The majority of Republicans still think there were either fraudulent ballots, dead voters, manipulated election rules, destroyed ballots or ineligible voters, all conspiracy theories pushed by the dangerous solidarity between the GOP and far-right fringe dwellers.

Whether any of this makes a huge difference in the long run is anybody’s guess, but those people who did nothing, silently condoning this ongoing threat to democracy or, worse, playing an active role in perpetuating the deception for personal or political gain, should face consequences for selfishly placing the nation at risk, very nearly allowing evil to triumph.

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