How Franklin D. Roosevelt Called Out the Big Lie of His Day

by | Apr 2, 2024 | Opinions & Commentary

How Franklin D. Roosevelt Called Out the Big Lie of His Day

by | Apr 2, 2024 | Opinions & Commentary

The fascists are here again, this time calling themselves MAGA. And they’re using the classic fascist tactic of the Big Lie, just like Hitler and Mussolini did.

Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann

Donald Trump has made good use of the propaganda technique known as the Big Lie, but he didn’t invent or popularize it. While the strategy has been around as long as humanity’s had psychopaths trying to seize power over others, the Big Lie was really brought into pop consciousness in the 1930s.

I was going through my old audio library yesterday afternoon and found this short clip from President Franklin D. Roosevelt talking specifically about the Big Lie.

FDR, of course, was the man who saved America from the Republican Great Depression (what they used to call it), created Social Security, the right to unionize, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and fought and won against the Nazis in World War II even as he was so disabled by polio that he hadn’t walked in decades.

As you’ll hear, it was as if FDR could see Trump using the Big Lie today. Which makes perfect sense, because FDR fought with his own Nazis and fascists in America in the 1930s and 1940s. They even tried to assassinate or kidnap him, but were stopped by a brave Marine general, Smedley Butler.

Roosevelt knew them, knew who and what they were, and in this clip is also warning us—knowing his words would be recorded for posterity (as every president knows and keeps in mind at most times)—that they would never go away. That America would always face corruption by the morbidly rich and their factotums, embracing fascist rhetoric, the Big Lie, and even the destruction of the American government to keep their taxes low and their political power and profits high.

In fact, America has almost always been under attack by fascists; the Confederacy became, in 1859, a full-blown fascist state with meaningless “elections” and a handful of super-rich families controlling virtually every aspect of life. It was a police state that wanted to end democracy in the North, and it took the death of over 600,000 Americans in a vicious Civil War to finally stop them.

After that, the failure of Reconstruction in the 1870s, and the 20th century’s renewed rise of the Klan when President Wilson invited them into the White House and screened Birth of a Nation (the Klan recruiting film), there were other, more recent eruptions of fascism in this country. In the 1950s, Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn took their shot at creating a fascist America, but the real and most dangerous fascist movement didn’t emerge until Donald Trump took over the GOP in 2015.

Much as Hitler, Mussolini, Putin, Pinochet, etc. did, Trump has mobilized a violent and well-armed grassroots movement, cowed mainstream politicians and the media, and is working to impose minority rule on the majority of Americans.

He’s even running a campaign now that’s supposedly all about attacking the judge in his criminal election interference (porn star payoff) case, but is really designed to deliver a vivid and unmistakable message to potential witnesses and jurors:

“See what I can do? I can even send my Brownshirts against a federal judge and his daughter with complete impunity. Imagine the kind of damage I can do to you and members of your family if you testify against me or, as a juror, hold me guilty for the crimes I’m accused of.”

To punctuate his threat, America is periodically reminded of Roy Den Hollander, the Trump follower who wrote to Trump complaining that, because of Democrats, he can’t “wear my red ‘Make America Great Again’ hat in the streets of NYC.” Hollander volunteered to help out with Trump’s 2016 campaign, writing that he’d been doing phone banking from Trump Tower.

Four years later, in the summer of 2020, federal Judge Esther Salas was assigned the trial of Jeffrey Epstein and Deutsche Bank, a case that could have turned up dirt on Trump, who had extensive connections to both. A few days after Judge Salas accepted the case, Hollander wrote that she was a “lazy and incompetent Latina judge appointed by Obama.”

A day later, Hollander went to the front door of the home of Judge Salas. When her son, 20-year-old Daniel Anderl, answered the door, the Trump devotee shot Anderl in the chest, killing him.

As Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg wrote in his request to the court to clarify the gag order against Trump:

“[P]otential trial witnesses and prospective jurors who are not currently the subject of defendant’s invective will likely fear having themselves and their family members be subject to similar attacks. This fear is not hypothetical: in the course of preparing for trial, multiple potential witnesses have already expressed grave concerns to the People about their own safety and that of their family members should they appear as witnesses against defendant.”

Every judge sitting on a Trump case knows all about Salas and Hollander. Trump wants to make sure they do, and repeats his threats as often as he can. It’s a warning to anybody who may think of holding Trump or his friends to account, one that gets far too little press coverage.

The success of the Big Lie about the stolen election has been so substantial for Republicans that, like Trump, they are now falling into the routine of telling other, smaller lies. The most recent was the lie that Joe Biden chose Easter to be the day to honor trans people when, in fact, March 31 has been the date for that for years.

Thus, here the fascists are again, still relying on monstrous lies, this time calling themselves MAGA instead of the Confederacy, Klan, or the America First Committee. And they’re using the classic fascist tactic of the Big Lie, just like Hitler and Mussolini did. Trump’s even succeeded in getting most elected Republicans to repeat his Big Lie on demand, an amazing accomplishment since they all know it’s just a lie.

Here’s FDR’s take on it all, as he shared in 1944 with a group of UAW auto workers, complete with his suggestion about how to confront Big Lies:

The opposition in this year has already imported into this campaign a very interesting thing, because it is foreign. They have imported the propaganda technique invented by the dictators abroad. Remember, a number of years ago, there was a book, Mein Kampf, written by Hitler himself. The technique was all set out in Hitler’s book—and it was copied by the aggressors of Italy and Japan. According to that technique, you should never use a small falsehood; always a big one, for its very fantastic nature would make it more credible—if only you keep repeating it over and over and over again.

Well, let us take some simple illustrations that come to mind. For example, although I rubbed my eyes when I read it, we have been told that it was not a Republican depression, but a Democratic depression from which this Nation was saved in 1933—that this Administration, this one today—is responsible for all the suffering and misery that the history books and the American people have always thought had been brought about during the twelve ill-fated years when the Republican party was in power.

Now, there is an old and somewhat lugubrious adage which says: “Never speak of rope in the house of a man who has been hanged.” In the same way, if I were a Republican leader speaking to a mixed audience, the last word in the whole dictionary that I think I would use is that word “depression.”

Hopefully, President Biden will begin talking like this soon…

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.

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