US President Donald Trump yells as he visits the US-Mexico border wall, in Alamo, Texas this week. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
US President Donald Trump yells as he visits the US-Mexico border wall, in Alamo, Texas this week. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Lesson from Trump debacle

By Zoubair Ayoob Time of article published Jan 16, 2021

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DONALD Trump will have long left the White House when the US Senate tries him after his impeachment, the second during his presidency, by the House of Representatives.

Aside from the fact that the Senate could bar him from running for public office again, the move is largely symbolic. So are the Democrats simply being vindictive, or are they imparting a lesson that words have power, and consequences?

If ever there was a lesson to be learnt on the power of speech, and the adage about a repeated lie becoming the truth, the Donald Trump era has provided it.

Nearly 80 million Americans still believe there was fraud and irregularities in their elections, despite Trump-appointed judges finding no merit in any of the allegations.

We can understand Republican public office bearers toeing Trump's line – because their futures are in many cases tied to his – but the Joe and Jenny Soaps?

Many of these well-educated individuals bought into the lie because they wanted it to be true, but more importantly because Trump had laid the groundwork months before the election, repeatedly alleging that the Democrats would engage in underhanded tactics to win.

That they persist in their belief, despite the Republicans not providing a shred of tangible proof of fraud, bears out Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels's quote that a simple lie becomes the truth if repeated often enough.

Trump alone is not to blame for the shame cast on the US last week.

The likes of turncoats like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, who aided and encouraged Trump's worst excesses, must also accept liability, as must the social media platforms which only acted when it was too late, using the free speech argument to allow him to spread hate and lies, and to foment violence for years.

The debacle reopens the public safety versus freedom of speech debate, and is relevant in the South African context, where incendiary invective has, in the past, spurred attacks on foreign nationals, for example.

Let the US example be a salutary lesson on the perils of reckless, self-serving utterances.

The Independent on Saturday

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