I’m pretty adamant about my beliefs, as a rule. I tend to read widely and to not come to a conclusion absent a fair amount of consensus. I like to consider both sides of important questions.
I’ve monitored politics all my life, but have watched especially closely since the stolen Presidential election of 2000, when a sortie of Republican operatives invaded the Florida locations where votes were being counted, and brought about the cessation of the count (the totals of which, according to later reports, would have favored Al Gore). Later, I was glued to the TV in 2004 when John Kerry carried Ohio on November 2nd. Except, somehow, in the wee hours, the vote flipped for George Bush. Was it due to interference from Republican Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, who was running the Ohio Bush campaign and had employed a big bag of dirty tricks? Or from Wally O’Dell, head of Diebold — headquartered in North Canton, Ohio — which manufactured the voting machines? O’Dell had pledged to do everything possible to give the win to Bush, and Ohio was the state he needed to lock in his victory. We’ll never know, because Kerry conceded, and a full, public investigation was not undertaken, although several organizations noted irregularities among the servers upon which the vote tabulations resided (see www.blackboxvoting.org). I remember how furious and heartbroken I was to see Dubya get a second term, after his many lies and misdeeds. I’m not alone in considering the invasion of Iraq based on manufactured evidence as a war crime.
A few days ago, I was remembering the disappointment I felt back then, and I thought about the Orange supporters who are enraged now. I can empathize with their emotions and their sense of helplessness. The United States has been known to manipulate elections in other countries, and we all saw on TV what happened in 2000, plus there’s widespread gerrymandering and voter suppression, so it’s not as if there isn’t precedent for being suspicious of vote outcomes. And who knows? Due to lack of evidence, sixty courts turned down the incumbent’s lawsuits seeking to void the counts; the former Attorney General could find no evidence of fraud or alterations of counts; and the Homeland Security chief of cybersecurity (both of these officials having been appointed by the incumbent) declared that the election was completely aboveboard. But still….is it conceivable that some incredibly complex, stealthy, multi-state hack job subverted the results? However infinitesimal the chances, anything is theoretically possible. If the steal had happened, it would indeed be cause for outrage. And for a minute, I thought, “So what if the people are right who believe Donny Dreadful won? Good lord, what then? Could their actions be justified?”
Then I snapped back to reality. As an attorney once told me, what you know and what you can prove in court are two different things. All that counts is proof that will stand up to legal scrutiny. In other words, whatever the Orange supporters believe or think they know, the judicial system has overruled any chance of a favorable verdict. The issue was given thumbs down by the highest court in the country, one that was stacked with conservative justices. And that’s that; case(s) closed. Those agitating to overturn the election had no further legal recourse, the salient point consisting of the word, “legal.” The grumblers and malcontents could screech about cheating all they wanted, but they couldn’t do anything to change the situation. That should have been the end of it; they should have been relegated to, in twenty years’ time, still kvetching about how their guy was robbed.
But the events of 2000/2004 and 2020 are not equivalent. It’s not just a matter of disputed election results. However similar the emotions might be among the various factions of supporters, the facts differ. The reactions and subsequent actions differ. Gore and Kerry partisans submitted to the inevitable grudgingly, but with fairly good grace, overall. Both candidates conceded when it was clear they had lost. As president of the Senate, Al Gore even officiated at his own final defeat, putting his country over his party and his ambitions. Obviously, what we’ve seen from the latest loser is on an entirely different plane.
Even more alarming than the soon-to-be-former President’s utter denial of facts, however, are the attitudes and behavior of his enablers and his “army.” The Representatives and Senators who not only refused to accept reality, but who actively worked against the election result, will divide Congress further and add yet another degree of difficulty to getting anything done. That obstacle will impede progress for the new administration, perhaps for years. Such a contretemps is assuredly a lingering repercussion of the Orange One’s insistence on inhabiting a fantasy world.
The worst damage, I think, will come from the fantasy worlds of the many right-wing groups who have made the incumbent their god. Thanks to the embedded, in-depth, on-scene coverage of Luke Mogelson at The New Yorker, we know what the January 6th insurrectionists stand for and what they say. These are not individuals who are bravely defending their principles against a tyrannical attack. They are people who live in an alternate universe, who don’t respond to what they see with their own eyes, who have abjured all reasonable argument. Among the shouts overheard at the Capitol by Mogelson were the following.
“There’s gonna be a war.”
“It’s us versus the cops!”
“Hang Mike Pence!”
“Shoot the politicians!”
“Where’s the traitors?” “Bring them out!”
Addressed to a Capitol police officer: “Stand down,” a man in a maga hat commanded. “You’re outnumbered. There’s a f**king million of us out there, and we are listening to Trump—your boss.” “We can take you out,” a man beside him warned.
Those are some of the more tame quotations. On the right-wing websites, posts are much more vicious, violent, and obscene. There are untold numbers of followers. QAnon, for instance, registered tens of millions of Facebook groups at one point. Multiply that by the adherents to Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Proud Boys, the boogaloo bois, and all the hundreds of other right-wing extremist organizations, and the total is astonishing. Frightening, to say the least.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that on November 3rd, the incumbent would have won another term, unthinkable as that is. Would it have been that bad? This is a point I was mulling over when I recalled the 2000 and 2004 elections. To put things in perspective, the horror of the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn are both finite. They’ve made life a hell in this country for almost a year, but the vaccines are being distributed, and eventually, even with an incompetent President, the economy will stagger back. On the other hand, the EPA has been gutted, and countless environmental protections have been rolled back. The Orange Menace opened the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to oil leasing. He demanded completion of his border wall, a disaster for residents, ecosystems, and wildlife. Crews are working almost around the clock to put up more sections, although over 400 miles has been completed. The U.S. has been withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords. Under his immigration policies, border patrol agents have committed endless acts of cruelty. The list of disasters could go on for pages.
Suppose again: what if the extremist cohorts were allowed free rein? What if the Orange One became unhinged to the point that he sought to implement their desires, indulge their hatreds? The white supremacists want to eliminate all non-Caucasians. The Christian fundamentalists want to outlaw abortion, same-sex marriage, and female empowerment. Then there are the anti-Semitic groups, and the everyday fascists, and the ones who believe all Democrats should die, because they’re satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles (QAnon). The country that would be left would be a male-dominated white Christian theocracy, with guns for all, carried everywhere. Corporations and the wealthy would pay no taxes. Employees would be veritable slaves. The country would be a cesspool of pollution, with ever-increasing climatic catastrophes. There might be more wars, with China and Iran being likely adversaries. The Bill of Rights might be suspended, to force the plebes into line. Certainly, these are the most excessive possibilities, but they’re simply extrapolations of the trajectory of the last four years. Could all of the aforementioned be implemented in the next term? Maybe. But maybe there wouldn’t be any more elections.
Where I’m going with this long screed is that we need to do away with the false equivalencies. There’s no such thing as two sides, in any functional way. Right-wing crazies are NOT like the rest of us. They may be business owners or blue-collar workers, church-goers, loving parents, home owners, pillars of their communities, or residents in their relatives’ basements. What they have in common is detachment from reality, refusal to compromise, hatred for those who don’t follow their beliefs, and the willingness to burn down the country in pursuit of their nightmarish ideals. They have no plan for the continuation of society after the fire. And they don’t care. They don’t listen to reason, and they won’t be happy until the non-believers are completely subjugated. I don’t know what to do about their ugliness, but the nation’s long-term survival depends on finding an answer, lest we all find ourselves living in fortified compounds.