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Opinion: Truth takes its revenge on Trump and his team

Opinion by Frida Ghitis

(CNN) — Perhaps it’s a naïve view. Maybe it’s something we were told as children. But most of us believed that truth is more powerful than lies. That’s one of the reasons why the years of the Trump presidency were exasperatingly frustrating. How was it possible that a man who told lies in such prodigious quantities, overpowering the army of frantic fact checkers who simply couldn’t keep up, would face no negative consequences from his relentless assaults on the truth?

Worse yet, the lies worked. They penetrated the national psyche, cast doubt on truthtellers, helped polarize the nation, weaving an alternate reality and undercutting American democracy.

Incredibly, most Republicans believe former President Donald Trump’s most pernicious lie, that he won the 2020 election.

It seemed as if a cosmic law was being violated. Lies, denial of reality, weren’t supposed to succeed with such ease.

Now, however, the truth is getting its revenge.

It may be temporary, but in recent days, the deceivers have been put on the defensive. And it’s not a good look for that class of people whose misleading ways so often come dressed in supreme arrogance.

The image of Trump sitting in a New York courtroom, seething, looking angry, diminished, should have a soundtrack. What Trump was hearing was the confession of one of his facilitators admitting to their alleged tactics. David Pecker, the former head of the National Enquirer, was granted immunity to testify. He admitted to the plot he coordinated with the Trump team, using his publication to smear Trump’s opponents with stories they knew to be false, while hiding truthful news about Trump’s misdeeds from the public.

That, of course, includes the story of adult film actress Stormy Daniels, at the center of the case, who claims Trump paid her off to keep the story of their alleged affair out of the media, because it could harm his presidential prospects in 2016. (Trump has denied all wrongdoing, including denying that he had an affair with Daniels, and has pleaded not guilty to the charges.)

The revelations, though not surprising, are appalling. A national publication knowingly, deliberately engaged in deceiving its readers. We knew the outlet did it for entertainment purposes. Now it confessed to adapting their unethical practices to bamboozle American voters.

While criminal defendant Trump had to sit and listen, other alleged accomplices in his effort to overthrow the US election faced an unhappy truth of their own. It’s taken much too long, but the lies about the 2020 election — all of them found to be false by dozens of courts across the country — are now turning into prosecutions.

This week, Arizona indicted multiple people in connection to the plot to declare Trump the election winner. Among them: Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

While his acolytes faced the prospect of prison, Trump’s lawyers went to the Supreme Court to argue the former president enjoys absolute immunity for just about everything, including to weaponize his lies.

“If the president decides that his rival is a corrupt person and he orders the military … to assassinate him, is that within his official acts for which he can get immunity?” asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “That could well be an official act,” said Trump’s lawyer, D. John Sauer.

Words fail to capture just how outrageous this claim is, for a would-be president, no less.

This week also marked the first anniversary of another moment in the battle between truth and lies. A year ago, Fox News, a purveyor of election lies, fired Tucker Carlson, a host who spewed conspiracy theories.

Fox, you’ll recall, did face consequences for its mendacity. After letting hosts and guests relentlessly claim that voting machines had thrown the 2020 election, the right-wing network settled with Dominion Voting Systems for $787 million. Then it fired Carlson.

Carlson’s effort to retain his enormous influence seems to be faltering. At the height of his fame, he could make or break Republican politicians. His show was getting four million viewers a night. Now his “network” TCN has half a million followers on Elon Musk’s limping platform, X. Carlson now sounds like a Putin-loving conspiracy theorist howling under a Russian moon. Even Sen. Mitch McConnell blasted him, blaming him for the “demonization of Ukraine.”

Other far-right publishers of conspiracy theories are also on the ropes, or down for the count.

The Gateway Pundit, home to wild inventions and a mainstay of MAGA falsehoods, including about the 2020 election, announced this week that it filed for bankruptcy. The website, like others in its realm, is facing expensive lawsuits. Turns out when you’re accused of telling lies, it’s hard to come up with a defense. (One reason Trump’s best shot is to argue that he cannot be prosecuted.)

One of the lawsuits against the Gateway Pundit came from Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, who became well known when they testified during the January 6 hearings in Congress about how their lives had turned into a nightmare following lies about their role in the vote count.

Also facing the consequences of their lies is another far-right “news” outlet, One American Network, or OAN. OAN, too, spread fantasies about voting machines playing a role in a supposedly fraudulent election. Last week, the network and Smartmatic, another election machine company, announced they had reached a settlement in the company’s lawsuit. The amount was not disclosed.

Somehow, the courts have become the place of reckoning for malignant liars, although the process can be long and frustrating. Alex Jones, who all but tortured the parents of children massacred by a gunman at Sandy Hook, claiming it was all staged, was ordered to pay nearly $1.5 billion. He and his company declared bankruptcy, but court documents claim he continues to “enjoy an extravagant lifestyle.”

Still, there is a certain satisfaction in seeing enemies of the truth, perennial manufacturers of deceptions, at last face strong and potentially effective pushback.

It’s not only that their words caused harm, although they did. And it’s not only that they deserve to be punished, which they do. But there’s something else. There’s a fundamental, necessary law of the universe that truth must be stronger than lies.

It turns out that enforcing universal laws can also require an army of prosecutors.

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