Honestly, I don’t get it. How did we get here? I had planned on writing this blog post the day after the election, no matter who won. But then we fell into this purgatory of election results, and then I caught Covid, and now I’m deeply confused. I don’t think it’s Covid brain. How did we get into a place where unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud can convince the vast majority of Republicans that Trump won the election, “by a lot?”
How do conservatives square this circle? When they were the party of love of country, patriotism, freedom, states rights, how do they reconcile the flagrant attacks on democratic norms?
I’m not sure they can, but convincing themselves first that our democracy is under attack from fraudulent actors goes a long way to convincing themselves that they are the good guys. In fact, viewing it this way, it’s pretty easy to see how one can say that they’re preventing autocracy or some kind of coup, because if you genuinely believe that there was widespread fraud, of course you should fight against it. (It’s worth noting that unequivocally, widespread fraud of the kind it would take for Biden to win the election has basically been bogus.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about the strangeness of our times lately. I think catching Covid will do that to a person. There are two types of analysis that I think are important — one is the immediate, and the second is the long-term effects.
In the immediate, there’s the clear rise in misinformation, but there’s a more important phenomena taking place. I want to couch it in the terms of existentialism. Humans are unique among creations because our existence precedes our essence — because we are first born, and then we have the opportunity to decide how we respond to things, how we interpret others’ actions, how we act and think. These various actions are manifest in who we are — what we say and do and believe. This is a profoundly powerful thing in the world. Theologians would say that it’s one of God’s greatest gifts — our free will, our ability to choose.
This is relevant to our modern political environment because of how we consider the interplay between ideology and experience. Ideology, the essence of our political thinking, should not come before experience, our existence as political actors. Let me give an example: Donald Trump is claiming fraud in the current election. There is no evidence of fraud. Experience would tell us, then, that no smoke = no fire and something else must be at play. Ideology, however, the belief that the Republican party is protecting the country from a scourge of socialism, will bend logic to its knees. Of course, there must be fraud, because I am the good guy, and they are the bad guys.
The scientific method, perhaps more than any other model of thinking, has advanced human civilization in no small part because it puts experience over ideology. It doesn’t matter what you believe, if the evidence or experience proves that it’s not true.
I could go on for a long time about how irrational politics is, with a whole litany of issues obviously being proved one direction or another by experience, while the arguments persist because of ideology (tax cuts lead to growth is a pretty ready-made example), but the evidence is out there, and I’d encourage anyone interested in it to cross check their assumptions based on it.
The long-term effect of the voter fraud, though, is more pervasive. Donald Trump is essentially a crappy 80/90s CEO who managed to get himself a reality TV show in the 2000s. In the 80s and 90s, spearheaded in no small part by former GE CEO Jack Welch, there was a pervasive belief that “greed is good” and that optimizing for the short term, when done over and over and over again, in the long term works out for shareholders.
This orthodoxy led to a whole host of pretty shit decisions for the United States. Manufacturing plants going to third-world countries, selling off entire business segments, on-demand layoffs, reducing R&D budgets, while putting greater priority on mergers and acquisitions to grow, this kind of thing led to essentially a series of short-term profits, but over the long term made companies that were hollow. Their talented employees left, feeling like they might have gotten fired during the next downturn if they didn’t; their long-term innovation had to be bought and often failed to work inside the main profit centers of the business; and their communities became more hostile to the kinds of tax cuts and breaks that the companies expected, none of which actually led to increased hiring.
The point is that Donald Trump is basically a walking, talking myopic thinker. I’m not sure he’s considering life past the next Tweet. He’s so optimizing for the short term, that he’s completely disregarding anything that could happen in the next year or more. And, to be fair, it did seem like the public’s magpie attention spans suited his political life well. Something shiny! Look over there! As long has he kept moving his hands around in some weird jazz dance, he could distract us long enough to win.
But for all the short-term decisions, time and again, this myopic thinking has proved to create a house of cards. What’s Jack Welch’s legacy ? GE is fighting for survival.
Donald Trump has hollowed out the base of the Republican party. I have no idea what a conservative can say they believe in with a straight face anymore. Not after Trump. Young people overwhelmingly have joined the Democratic Party . And now, with all the calls of fraud, it could very likely, as Peggy Noonan points out, disenfranchise the unlikely voters who Trump brought to the polls — what’s the point of voting if it’s rigged anyway? This could make uneducated white voters, especially, drop out of the system.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said, “Mitch McConnell [Senate Majority Leader] and I need to come up with an oversight of mail-in balloting. If we don’t do something about voting by mail, we are going to lose the ability to elect a Republican in this country.”
This hints at the true intention of Republicans — they’re here to win, damn the costs. And they want to do it because they believe that the country and the world is changing around them, and will make it impossible to win if they don’t change the rules.
Even their ideology is clouding their experience. They believe that their power should come before the power of the constitution and fair democratic elections. That “winning” in the short term — perhaps the most American ideology of all— is more important than anything, even our democracy.
I believe that when we, as a country, as individuals, start to put experience over ideology, reversing this strangeness in our political landscape, we will finally begin to achieve middle ground and heal. We will finally reach peace.