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Todd R. Nelson is a retired educator and writer.
In her opinion column in the Washington Post last week, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney writes: “We Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”
I call it a Ponzi scheme, and thank Cheney for fending off a perilous investment in falsehood. She’s laid her career on the line and will surely be called a heretic for it.
A Ponzi scheme depends on a lie. “Your capital investment is safe and will perform beyond your wildest dreams. Just believe,” says the huckster. The fantasy riches are always too good to be true. So it is with Donald Trump’s Ponzi scheme for American Greatness still being foisted on the American people.
Instead of an investment of money, the capital here is trust and belief in an alternate reality, a lie about what constitutes American democracy. Or, as Cheney writes, “Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this.”
It started with Make America Great Again. America did not need saving, when Trump descended the escalator in his gilded tower to make mischief. Thousands of lies followed, catalogued and refuted. Nonetheless, the “investors” came. There was a promise to be fulfilled, they told themselves.
To pull this off, you need believers. Objective criteria, facts, go out the window. The new facts are: there are no facts. People will believe what they’re told if it suits what they want. It’s being tested on the Big Lie about the 2020 election.
The problem is a Ponzi scheme depends on constant recruitment of new investors and stoking of false beliefs, lest it cave in of its own illegitimacy. The capital here is the belief that Trump won. Once the lied-to detect their error, and see how their misplaced faith is being spent, the scheme caves in. Cheney stands alone in the wilderness refuting this.
The Trump Ponzi scheme must simultaneously retain its original investors, and add new sponsors: politicians who knowingly assist the deception of a stolen election. That’s malice aforethought, a higher order deception — people who know the truth, knowingly perpetuating lies. Truth has become dispensable, and dangerous to the liars. Comfort with deceit becomes a prerequisite for Republican Party membership. The scam solidifies.
Or it collapses.
In the words of William Shakespeare: “Confusion now hath made its masterpiece,” now that “The 45th President,” as he prefers to be called, has convinced his minions to suppress voting access that will hinder even their own voters. See Florida’s new voting laws.
Record voter turnout and the most secure election in history now means voter suppression and fraud. Winning means losing. No fraud detected means conspiracy to defraud. Recounting votes legally cast means uncovering cheating. Monitoring means intimidation. Yes means no. Language itself is inverted to its opposite. If this Ponzi scheme wins, a precious democratic inheritance is squandered.
Bernie Madoff recently died while serving a 150-year sentence for “the largest, longest and most widespread Ponzi scheme in history.” What do you suppose subverting American democracy is worth? Liz Cheney proposes restoration of standards to the party of Abraham Lincoln, who said, “truth is your truest friend, no matter what the circumstances are.”
When the investors demand their money back, the bill comes due. Gravity destroys a house of cards; integrity wins when oaths of true allegiance are upheld. A minority party maintaining political control through corruption of democratic systems, not the ballot box, amounts to ill-gotten gains. If the investors get out early, they can salvage their capital, and self-respect. The longer they stay in — stay coerced and invested in the lie — the more tenuous the prospects for recovery.
Here’s the thing about a Ponzi scheme: It ultimately risks killing its host. In this case, that’s democracy itself — the very thing that sponsors the free speech and safe electoral system under attack. Ironic. As Lincoln, the authentic Republican, said, “You can always lie to others and hide your actions from them … but you cannot fool yourself.”
Cheney isn’t fooled. Are you? Get out now if you’ve invested in Trump. Save your ethical capital and self-respect. You’ve been bilked.