That’s a weirdly provocative way to describe increasing the number of Supreme Court justices, but it’s just the latest example of Hawley, who helped former President Donald Trump try to overturn the results of the 2020 election, accusing someone else of doing something that Hawley himself actually did.
Trump used the same sort of rhetorical appropriation to twist the term “fake news” from a description of wholly made-up viral articles into a derisive catchall for any story that reflected poorly on him. Hawley seems to be trying to pull this trick with anything anyone says about him.
After a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, observers of every political persuasion noted that Hawley had helped incite said mob. Some donors disowned him, and his publisher called off his forthcoming book. But Hawley said that actually, he, Josh Hawley, was the victim of a “woke mob at Simon & Schuster” ― one of many imaginary mobs Hawley would eventually say were out to get him.
The next day, President Joe Biden likened election fraud propaganda from Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to “the big lie” as told by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. “They’re part of the big lie, the big lie,” Biden said.
The senators were offended. Hawley called Biden’s comments “undignified, immature, and intemperate,” not to mention “utterly shameful” and “sick.”
But guess what? As of this month, Hawley has apparently changed his mind about the propriety of a “big lie” accusation. On Twitter, he accused Biden of “telling his Big Lie about election integrity legislation in Georgia.”
Hawley told HuffPost the key difference between what he said and what Biden said is that Biden specifically “compared me to the Nazi propaganda minister” because he named Goebbels in his rambling remarks. Hawley rejected the idea that the term “big lie,” by itself, has a Nazi connotation.
It’s true that the “big lie” propaganda technique is not exclusive to Nazis, though Adolf Hitler pioneered it.
“He basically says [in his book ′Mein Kampf’] that the little people will believe you if you tell them a lie that is bigger than their imagination of how much someone could lie,” Timothy Snyder, Yale University’s Levin professor of history, said in an email. “He ascribes this to the Jews, but it is of course what he does himself. For this reason, the idea of a big lie is associated with Hitler.”
Snyder, an expert on the history of eastern and central Europe, has argued for months that Trump’s false claims of election fraud are a big lie that threaten American democracy. In November, he predicted that the lie would lead to violence, which, of course, it did. Now, he says, Republicans are institutionalizing the lie through election law changes inspired by Trump’s bogus fraud claims, such as the new law in Georgia.
“Once we build political order around a big lie, it cannot be a democratic political order,” Snyder said. “Democracy can handle lots of little lies, but it cannot handle a fiction which accords some people the right to vote and denies it to others.”
Plenty of Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have sought to water down the concept of the “big lie,” using the term to describe Biden’s inaccurate description of Georgia’s new voting law, which requires ID numbers on mail-in ballots and sets limits on drop boxes, among many other provisions. But Biden’s incorrect characterization of a state election law is a far cry from Trump’s reality-warping campaign to convince his voters the election was systematically stolen from them.
Hawley, for his part, has trivialized not only the idea of a “big lie” but also the dire warnings that others have sounded in recent years about threats to democracy, overriding “the voice of the people” and undoing elections.
He called a long-shot Democratic proposal to expand the Supreme Court “a deliberate attempt to fundamentally change a core institution of American government and to overturn ― effectively overturn the results of past elections, in the sense that they’re quite openly and deliberately trying to undo the results of President Trump’s election in 2016, in terms of his ability to appoint three justices and to dilute that.”
Hawley denied that he’s projecting his own actions onto his political opponents.
“I’m just calling it as I see it,” he said.
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.