This week’s primaries helped show something: The January 6 hearings may well not end the Big Lie. The Big Lie is more than Trump now, and it is more than a revisionist project about the 2020 election.
The Big Lie is now part of the culture wars, and as such it has become more diffused through our politics, more capable of enduring in myriad ways across American life. Any and all elections can now be called into question—from school board to president. Thiel-backed Senate hopeful Blake Masters, addressing questions around his own peddling of election lies summed it up by saying, “I think there’s always cheating, probably, in every election.”
His fellow Arizona election deniers — Kari Lake, Mark Finchem, and Abe Hamadeh — all have secured their nominations. Lake made waves by alleging she already had proof of fraud and tampering in the 48 hours before the primary vote, but has refused to provide any proof. She also emulated Trump by taking to the stage at her watch party at a moment when she still trailed in the vote and declaring, “We won this race, period.”
Lake is now the nominee, with all the worrying things that could portend, but her conduct in the final hours of the primary race highlight just how thoroughly embedded the logic of election denial has become.
While Masters has taken extreme positions, the threat posed by Lake, Finchem, and Hamadeh is far more direct. If they successfully win their respective races for governor, secretary of state, and attorney general, then elections in newly swing-y Arizona would be at the mercy of a trio of Big Lie supporters. While such a trifecta is by no means guaranteed, this would be a dream scenario for the MAGA movements hardcore coup supporters in 2024.
Finchem, a self-identified member of the Oath Keepers, also offers a prominent example of the increasingly dangerous relationship between the modern GOP and extremist militias. The Big Lie isn’t just fueling attempts at legal coups, it’s helping to propel groups that are entirely willing to engage in armed and violent actions to subvert democracy.
We live in the age of the supercharged conspiracy theory, capable of finding wider and wider audiences through new media platforms and capturing believers before they’re even fully aware of the nature of the content they are consuming.
But, perhaps more importantly, we live in the age of the fractured civic soul. Americans do not trust their institutions, and they do not trust one another. A host of politicians and activists, primarily on the populist right, have emerged to prey upon these vulnerabilities and move across the country like door-to-door salesmen for authoritarianism.
Concerns remain elsewhere. The Rust Belt states that helped deliver Donald Trump’s shock win in 2016 and were then critical to Biden’s 2020 victory have been particular hotbeds of Big Lie radicalism. In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano’s candidacy threatens to bring a firmly pro-coup politician into the governor’s mansion. In Michigan, party purges across state and local levels have elevated election deniers and alienated those who defend basic democratic accountability and transparency. Canvassers in Macomb, Saginaw, and Kalamazoo Counties, among others, have been pushed out to make room for Big Lie believers. In Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, Republican Peter Meijer paid the ultimate price for his 2021 impeachment vote, falling to Trump-backed John Gibbs.
Across Lake Michigan, politics in Wisconsin is also turning into a stew of election paranoia and contempt. One stark example can be found in Elena Schneider’s examination of politics in Green Bay, where she noted that the city’s “nonpartisan city council races — traditionally quiet affairs that focus on taxes and roads — feature ads from a GOP super PAC questioning whether the city’s elections are legitimate…” We are no longer at a moment where the question is only whether Donald Trump will run in 2024 and attempt to manipulate or invalidate the results. We are at a point where even the most local races are vulnerable to conspiracy theorizing and attempted power grabs.
That local aspect is critical. It isn’t just in the prominent congressional, gubernatorial, and senatorial races that you can find the rot. Across America, officeholders and power-seekers in the most banal and seemingly minor contexts now plead conspiracy and theft in the face of basic democratic process. Sheriffs in states like Kansas, Michigan, and Wisconsin have taken it upon themselves to tout and even investigate election conspiracies. The deterioration of state Republican parties is clear, and so is the descent at the county level — perhaps best highlighted by the refusal of commissioners in Otero County, N.M., to certify their results of the state’s Republican primary.
Yes, many of the people above were propelled to prominence by Trump and the Trump movement — Kari Lake was, after all, once a proud Obama-voting moderate. And conspiratorial fears about Dominion Voting Systems continue to come up as a point of contention even in cases like Otero County. But the genie is well out of the bottle at this point.
Make America Great Again is so 2016, and Keep America Great is so 2020. Make America Great Again, Again is the new credo, and its redundancy is a function of its eternal quality. It’s the language of the Lost Cause, a nation having risen, been thwarted, and risen again, only to fall again to the overwhelming power of a corrupt elite and its power centers of finance and cultural production.
The term “forever war” has been popularized to describe the difficult, often flailing foreign military entanglements in which the United States poured itself during the Global War on Terror. These quagmires, the common sense has gone, led to decades of civic rot, misallocated energy, and declining reputation prestige for the country. Now, America could well be poised to endure a prolonged domestic quagmire, marked by anger, distrust, and a fundamentally anti-democratic approach to the election process.
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