Expert on tyranny explains the Trump 'Big Lie' you've been hearing so much about lately

In October, the Washington Post shared an updated count of the lies or misleading claims President Trump has made since he was elected. The count, as of August 27, was 22,247 claims in 1,316 days. Why did the count only go through August? Because the president's pace had accelerated to more than 50 lies or misleading claims per day, and the fact-checking team couldn't keep up.

And it's not just the Washington Post. Fact checkers across the media landscape have repeatedly lamented that it's impossible to keep up.

All politicians stretch the truth sometimes, some more often or egregiously than others. But the frequency, nature, and shamelessness of President Trump's lying is in an entirely separate category than most politicians. This is not an opinion or even a judgment; it's an axiomatic fact.

The problem is, a shocking number of people overlook his lies, believe his lies, or in some cases, even love his lies. Opportunistic politicians and idealogues have seen him rise to power through lies, have seen the adulation he receives from his base for his lies, and have decided it's worth it to hitch their wagon to his lies. That's largely how we've ended up here, in a broken government and political culture where the president's supporters rally behind the lie that he won the election with a not-insignificant number of them willing to die or kill to defend that lie.


Yale historian Timothy Snyder calls the claim that Trump won the election a "Big Lie." Snyder, who specializes in the history of Central Europe and the Holocaust and has written books on tyranny, explained what that means in a Twitter thread.


Snyder wrote:

"The claim that Trump won the election is a Big Lie.

A Big Lie changes reality. To believe it, people must disbelieve their senses, distrust their fellow citizens, and live in a world of faith.

A Big Lie demands conspiracy thinking, since all who doubt it are seen as traitors.

A Big Lie undoes a society, since it divides citizens into believers and unbelievers.

A Big Lie destroys democracy, since people who are convinced that nothing is true but the utterances of their leader ignore voting and its results.

A Big Lie must bring violence, as it has.

A Big Lie can never be told just by one person. Trump is the originator of this Big Lie, but it could never have flourished without his allies on Capitol Hill.

Political futures now depend on this Big Lie. Senators Hawley and Cruz are running for president on the basis of this Big Lie.

There is a cure for the Big Lie. Our elected representatives should tell the truth, without dissimulation, about the results of the 2020 election.

Politicians who do not tell the simple truth perpetuate the Big Lie, further an alternative reality, support conspiracy theories, weaken democracy, and foment violence far worse than that of January 6, 2021."

Everyone who lives in objective reality understands that Trump did not win this election. There was no widespread fraud, and not enough small instances of fraud (which have occurred on both sides in every single election throughout history) to even come close to changing the outcome of the election. The election officials charged with carrying out the elections in every state, both Republican and Democrat, have said so. International election observers that Trump invited to witness our elections have said so. The federal agency charged with election security under Trump's own administration has said so.

Investigations into allegations have borne no fruit, and nearly all of the affidavits and "testimonies" (notably, not given under oath) we've seen have been from people describing normal voting and tallying processes that they don't fully understand. Voting machine companies have now launched billion-dollar defamation lawsuits against Trump allies who pushed conspiracy theory-laded lies about voting machines. The courts have been decisive in their rulings against the president and his allies, who are now 1 and 64 in lawsuits attempting to prove both fraud and unconstitutionality in some states' election processes.

The facts are not in question; it's only what people believe or want to believe that is in question.

Psychologists have explained that the president will never concede because his narcissistic nature and pathology will not allow it. He will double down on the Big Lie for the rest of his life. That's a problem—but it's not the only one.

A Big Lie can't succeed without support. Those in power who have gone along with this lie have breathed life into it, which also fuels the anger and resolve of those who believe the lie. Every person who has supported and disseminated this lie since election day bears responsibility for the attack on our U.S. Capitol and for how close we came to witnessing a massacre of our lawmakers last week. Every single one.

The bombardment of thousands of lies over the past four years have wounded and weakened our body politic. But the Big Lie slashed an artery and our democracy is bleeding out. Every single enabler of this lie needs to stand up and say "It wasn't true. We were wrong," as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. Not just the politicians, but the media personalities who know the truth but supported the "Stop the Steal" message anyway. The only immediate remedy is to decisively end the lie, to clamp down on it hard and fast. Damage has been done and will need to be assessed, but right now the goal is survival.

That requires putting the truth and the country before any and all political or popular ambition, which some have proven time and again they will not do. But if there's ever been a time to swallow your pride and do the right thing, it's right now.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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