Local View: Shakespeare knows: 'The big lie' is a deliberate delusion

From the column: "How can it be that the American flag has been defiled to become synonymous with sedition, treachery, and treason?"

Randall Enos / Cagle Cartoons
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“Fair is foul and foul is fair.” You don’t have to be a Shakespeare expert to know that the playwright was on to something.

Truth is false and falsehood is truth. The latter seems to be true if you can get enough people to believe it.

Perhaps the groundwork for “the big lie” was being incrementally laid after Inauguration Day in 2017. Some news outlets tallied thousands of lies spewed over the next four years of the administration. An alternate reality was being constructed in our midst, with ugly consequences.

We were incensed when pathetic white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, menacing torches in hand, chanting, “You will not replace us!”

We were astonished and outraged when, in April 2020, a wannabe-militia, armed with semi-automatic weapons, nearly succeeded in kidnapping Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in planning to overthrow the state government.


After the 2020 election, the delusional and ego-driven occupant of the White House, desperate to keep his address, rallied misguided supporters to believe his “big lie” that the election was stolen from him, against all evidence to the contrary. Who needs evidence when your people live in an alternate reality?

The nation sat on edge on Jan. 6, 2021, when we feared that everything we have stood for teetered on the precipice of the abyss, under the threat of a gallows, a Confederate flag in the rotunda of the Capitol and the American flag used as a weapon against Capitol police.

I had two distant cousins who died in Iraq, thinking they were defending that Capitol and that American flag. Did they die in vain?

How can it be that the American flag has been defiled to become synonymous with sedition, treachery, and treason? Is that what those oversized American flags flying from the beds of roaring pickup trucks represent? “Fair is foul and foul is fair.”

“The big lie” is a delusion. And that delusion is deliberate.

A local congressman evidently lives in that delusion, campaigning on “our way of life.” Would that be the way of deception and deceit?

A reporter for the Washington Post found that 299 GOP candidates running for the House, Senate, and important state offices in the fall midterms have embraced “the big lie.”

A family values and anti-abortion GOP candidate for Senate in Georgia has been accused of funding a former girlfriend’s abortion, and his son has accused this “family man” of abandonment. Rather than stand by principle, the GOP establishment and religious right are defending their man. It seems it doesn’t matter what he has done; what matters is that he wins. Is this election integrity? “Fair is foul and foul is fair.”


The BBC has reported that schoolteachers, in territory recently reclaimed from Russian forces by Ukrainians, were harassed and forced to replace their curriculum with pro-Russian propaganda. One teacher was given a list of 2,200 books to be destroyed. It seems Russia’s indoctrination machine, well-practiced during our 2016 presidential election, continues.

Meanwhile, here at home, unenlightened and agenda-driven forces on the political right are attempting similar book-banning tactics, school district by school district, not by force of guns but intimidation and an appeal to moral offense — morality invoked when it suits their cause.

Is there a difference between Russian propaganda and our own?

“Fair is foul and foul is fair.”

One more appeal to our bard: “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” I ponder the playwright’s quintessential question. I am asking it about the survival of our democracy, flawed as it is. The question is, “to be” or “not to be.” There is no in between.

The Rev. David Tryggestad of Duluth is a retired pastor and a contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.

David Tryggestad.jpg
The Rev. David Tryggestad

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