How is it possible that millions of Americans can believe in scandals that simply don’t exist?

Because of Donald Trump, Fox News, and the army of sycophants, bots, trolls and grifters that support Trump’s version of reality online, millions of Americans falsely believe that it was actually Joe Biden who did something dodgy in Ukraine. They can’t quite put their finger on it, perhaps, but something must have happened. After all, the president of the United States says so.

But there’s just one problem: That narrative is a lie. It’s not a false claim or misleading spin. It’s just a straight-up lie. The allegations against the former vice president are baseless. Nonetheless, Trump and his toadies have repeatedly and wrongly insinuated that Biden pressured a Ukrainian prosecutor to drop an investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the time. Every aspect of that claim is not just wrong; it’s a total inversion of the truth.

First, there never was an investigation into Joe Biden or his son in Ukraine. It simply never happened. It’s a figment of Trump’s imagination, a fever dream that he hopes will distract from the reality of his all-too-real scandal — a scandal that threatens to destroy his presidency.

Second, when then-vice president Biden got involved in Ukrainian politics during the Obama years, he did pressure the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor named Viktor Shokin, not to protect Biden’s son, but because Shokin was notoriously corrupt. As part of official U.S. government policy — and in lockstep with America’s European allies, the International Monetary Fund and democratic reformers — Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to replace a crooked and ineffective general prosecutor with someone who would actually crack down on shady business dealings. In short, Biden did exactly the opposite of what Trump claims; he worked to clean up Ukraine and create more aggressive prosecution of any impropriety, not get his hands dirty for his son.

The real scandal — the one that is backed up by actual facts and evidence — is extraordinarily damning and doesn’t involve Biden at all. Trump allegedly used nearly $400 million of military aid to Ukraine — aid that was deemed a core national security priority of the United States — as leverage to extort the Ukrainian government into concocting phony political dirt on Biden. Trump used U.S. national security as a bargaining chip for personal political gain. By comparison, the Watergate burglars seem like teenage shoplifters.

But Donald Trump has a masterful ability to obscure the truth with a smokescreen of lies. That talent for deception may yet save him.

We live in an era of disinformation, one in which easily disproved lies and carefully planned deception are strategies used for political gain. On social media, scandalous (but false) claims about Biden proliferate in a matter of seconds after Trump mentions them. On cable news, overtly partisan outlets reinforce Trump’s false reality. On Fox News on Tuesday night, for example, one guest ludicrously claimed that Trump would be breaking the law if he hadn’t pressured Ukraine into investigating Biden. Like magic, Trump’s abuses of power are transformed into heroic duties, live on the television screen.

Trump has figured out a valuable insight in the digital age: if you repeat a lie enough, you can stain or even destroy a political rival, even if there is no truth to the allegations.

The die-hard Trump base will believe what their political messiah tells them to believe. If Trump says Biden is guilty, then millions of Trump’s disciples will believe it. And maybe, just maybe, enough independents and even a few Democrats will see Biden as damaged goods — or at least be confused about what is true and what is false. That confusion could lead them to believe that the scandal is a political wash, one in which Democrats and Republicans are equally guilty.

Even in more credible news outlets, Trump’s claims of “fake news” and bias have caused some to wrongly conflate balance and objectivity. Rather than reporting what is true (that Trump’s allegations against Biden are baseless), some outlets will simply repeat Trump’s claims and let voters decide.

When that happens, millions of voters fall for Trump’s lies. It’s part of a well-established pattern. In early 2017, for example, Trump made the bogus claim that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump’s campaign. Millions were deceived. In one poll, 47 percent of Americans and a staggering 74 percent of Republicans said they thought it was “likely” or “very likely” that it happened. But it never did. It was a fake scandal, but the perception stuck.

Similarly, a huge number of voters were fooled by Trump’s absurdly false claims that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election. In a 2018 poll, nearly half of Republicans believed that to be true. In reality, voter fraud is vanishingly rare.

But in democracies, voters cast their ballots based off what they believe to be true, not what is true. Trump understands that instinctively.

Voters should wise up and stop being duped by the deceiver in chief. The Ukraine scandal is an impeachable abuse of power involving not two men, but one: Donald Trump.

Read more: