MAGA movie pulled, but its lies have already done damage

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Fifty years ago, the esteemed social critic Hannah Arendt said totalitarians thrive on lies, that they flood the zone with so much garbage a hefty share of the citizenry either surrenders in exhaustion or takes refuge in ignorance.

“A people that no longer can believe anything…is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge,” she warned. “And with such a people you can then do what you please.”

Keep that in mind as you read on. The tragedy is that even when lies are thoroughly exposed, it’s often far too late to undo the damage they’ve wrought because the lies have already penetrated millions of weak minds.

Denizens of MAGA fantasyland splashed happily in the sewer two years ago when a film entitled 2000 Mules became a smash hit. Narrated by conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza and circulated by the right-wing Salem Media Group, it resonated with the saps who believed that the 2020 election had been “stolen.”

Hailed by convicted criminal Donald Trump as “the greatest and most impactful documentary of our time,” the film claimed, with zero proof, that 2,000 Democrats in five swing states (nicknamed “mules”) had been paid unknown sums by unnamed conspirators to stuff drop boxes with enough fake ballots to tilt the tally to Joe Biden. The convicted criminal loved 2000 Mules so much he hosted a screening at his Florida playground.

Well, perhaps you missed the news the other day – and if so it’s understandable, given the relentless flood of sewage that needs to be sifted. Salem Media has pulled 2000 Mules (and a companion book) from all its platform, and issued an apology to a Georgia man who’d sued Salem and D’Souza for defamation.

So much for “the greatest and most impactful documentary of our time.”

Mark Andrews, an Atlanta area suburbanite, had been purportedly outed in the film by surveillance video that showed him putting five ballots in a drop box, as D’Souza narrated: “What you are seeing is a crime. These are fraudulent votes.” (They were not). Andrews was also shown in the book, with a caption describing his actions as “organized crime.” (They were not.)

In truth, Andrews was dropping off ballots from family members, as permitted by Georgia law.

Here is Salem Media’s mea culpa: “It was never our intent that the publication of the 2000 Mules film and book would harm Mr. Andrews. We apologize for the hurt the inclusion of Mr. Andrews’ imagine in the movie, book, and promotional materials have caused Mr. Andrews and his family.”

(FYI: D’Souza is a confessed felon who pleaded guilty in 2014 to making an illegal campaign donation. Four years later he was pardoned by the convict-in-chief.)

What sucks, of course, is that by the time these liars finally ‘fess up, it’s already too late. Thanks to propaganda outlets like Fox News (which settled a lawsuit by paying $787 million in damages) and fake documentaries like 2000 Mules, 36 percent of Americans now believe, without a shred of factual evidence, that the last presidential election was stolen.

Hell will freeze over before the convicted criminal utters a syllable of regret about the lies told on his behalf. Lawsuit settlements and lawsuit apologies are mere speed bumps for a guy whose only play is to put pedal to the metal. With Trump, there are always fresh lies to replace the lies that have been debunked, like in his interview on Fox News last weekend when he insisted that he’d never called for Hillary Clinton to be locked up (he’s repeatedly captured on video saying that very thing).

Even as old lies like Mules are exposed, can truth keep pace with the new ones and deliver us for tyranny in November? That’s the challenge we face, human nature being what it is.

Jonathan Swift probably said it best in 1710: “The greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect.”

Copyright 2024 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at Email him at [email protected]

Cited by the Columbia Journalism Review website as one of the nation's top political scribes, and by ABC News' online political tip sheet as "one of the finest political journalists of his generation, " Dick Polman is the national political columnist at Philadlephia NPR affiliate WHYY, and has covered or chronicled every presidential campaign since 1988.

A Philadelphia resident, Dick roamed the country for most of his 22 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has been blogging daily since 2006. He's currently on the full-time faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, as "Writer in Residence." He has been a frequent guest on C-SPAN, CNN, MSNBC, the BBC, and various NPR shows - most notably Philadelphia's "Radio Times" on WHYY-FM.