In the flood of end of 2021 public opinion polling – most of it dire as to the state and future of the country – it’s easy to fixate on the obvious. Lots of our fellow Americans have answered the classic Chico Marx question – “Who you gonna believe me or your own eyes” – by doubting their own eyes.
To cite just two examples in public opinion data assembled recently by Ipsos/NPR:
Twenty-two percent of Americans say there was major fraudulent voting in 2020, and it changed the results of the election. This number jumps to a 54% majority among those whose primary news source is Fox News or conservative news media, 52% of Trump voters, and 45% of all Republicans.
Nearly one in three Republicans who are regular political news consumers (30%) say the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol a year ago where five died and hundreds have been charged with various crimes was carried out by Antifa/government agents, compared to 7% of Democrats who follow political news closely.
To maintain these beliefs – a stolen election, a riot led by Antifa thugs rather than violent Trump followers – requires a willful disregard for what your eyes reveal.
Time and again Donald Trump and his supporters were rebuffed in election challenges brought in federal and state courts. Often Trump appointed judges rejected specious claims of election fraud. Trump lost a case at the Supreme Court where he had appointed three justices. Lawyers representing the former president have been sanctioned and fined for frivolous use of the courts to advance lies about the presidential election.
The facts are crystal clear unless you willfully chose to ignore them.
As for that deadly attack on the Capitol a year ago this week, the first-hand accounts of the savagery and mayhem that have emerged over the last several months when laid alongside the pictures we all saw that day paint a shocking, ugly picture of a political movement resorting to violence in an effort to stop the certification of a fair election. Yet, lies that defy our own eyes have clearly gripped many Americans.
A reader took me to task recently saying, “So you buy into the conspiracy that bunch of unarmed not so bright folks who flooded into the capital, many in costume stole one lap top and left litter not destruction behind was some sort of an organized insurrection meant to over throw the government? Well if so it was the most feeble attempt ever seen in the history of the world.”
The comment, heartfelt I’m sure, is also complete and utter nonsense. I don’t know – no one does – what was in the hearts and minds of the attackers, organized or not, but it seems pretty clear they hoped to create enough ruckus to stop the counting of electoral votes, the only action Congress was engaged in. And for a while they did stop the counting, breaking down doors and windows, injuring 140 cops and taking over significant parts of the Capitol.
Trump clearly hoped to use the crowd to intimidate then-vice president Mike Pence – why else would the mob chant “hang Mike Pence” – to disallow votes from several states and thereby disrupt the Constitutional process to affirm the next president. In his warmup act before the attack, Trump mentioned Pence by name several times, including hoping that his own vice president wasn’t listening to “the RINOs and the stupid people that he’s listening to.”
To dismiss the historic and awful events of January 6 as a “feeble attempt,” or as one Republican lawmaker said, “a tourist visit,” is simply delusional, down the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole stuff, but it’s where a lot of fellow Americans find themselves. It is where a representative democracy finds itself.
We must acknowledge there is no chance these folks will find the truth. They are, sadly, and tragically for the country, pathologically attached to lies that are daily disproved by their own eyes. To paraphrase Voltaire, these Americans have been fed a steady diet of absurdities and now embrace atrocities.
As the columnist Eugene Robinson asked recently: “How did we become, in such alarming measure, so dumb? Why is the news dominated by ridiculous controversies that should not be controversial at all? When did so many of our fellow citizens become full-blown nihilists who deny even the concept of objective reality? And how must this look to the rest of the world?”
Surely a partial answer to Robinson’s question is Donald Trump, who lied himself from Barack Obama’s birth certificate into the Oval Office, but Trump has had plenty of help in the dumbing down effort that has us awash in lies.
Trump will never change. My critical reader will never change. But what about the vast sweep of the rest of the modern Republican Party? What of the once more-or-less levelheaded western conservatives? It’s a hard reality to swallow, but the actual survival of the kind of American democracy we once protected is increasingly up to them.
Forget about the Kevin McCarthy’s, the Ted Cruz’s and the striving clowns like Idaho’s Russ Fulcher or Washington’s Cathy McMorris-Rogers. They have made their bed on a hill of lies. They care about saving nothing but themselves.
There are some others out there who clearly know better and must in their hearts quake at the thought of what very clearly might have been, and what could be. What of Idaho’s Mike Simpson or former Oregon congressman Greg Walden? Are there not at least a few other conservative truth tellers to join Liz Cheney in the defense of democracy?
It’s worth remembering what Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said immediately after January 6 last year.
“The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Sadly, many politicians sometimes make overheated comments or use metaphors that unhinged listeners might take literally. This was different. This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.”
This year McConnell said nothing about Trump, but attacked Democrats.
Make no mistake democracy’s enemies are on the move. They have momentum unincumbered by truth. Before January 6, such an atrocity was unthinkable. A year later, believing it can’t happen again – and succeed next time – is as delusional as the lies that got us to this point.