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McDermott: Can democracy survive when almost half the country won’t accept facts?

McDermott: Can democracy survive when almost half the country won’t accept facts?


Comedian Stephen Colbert once observed, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” TrumpWorld seems to agree, based on how thoroughly its inhabitants are rejecting the reality of what happened on Nov. 3.

Rejection of reality by the conservative/populist movement has been going on for years regarding other issues, like evolution and climate change. It was how Republicans spread the putrid lie that America’s first Black president was born in Kenya. President Donald Trump took reality-rejection to a deadly new place when he encouraged America to ignore the experts regarding the coronavirus.

Political analysts these days say Americans “cannot agree on basic facts,” as one recent study phrased it. That’s true, but incomplete. Liberal economist Paul Krugman put it best in his classic parable of a debate between scientists and flat-earthers that gets reported under the headline: Views differ on shape of planet. Yes, there is disagreement between two sides, but the crucial point is that one side is factually right and the other is factually wrong.

Evolution is the biological process by which all life develops. Global warming is real and is driven by human activity. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. The spread of the coronavirus can be limited with social distancing and masks. These are all verifiable facts.

And so are these: Trump decisively lost the Nov. 3 election. Joe Biden won the national popular vote by more than 5 million ballots, garnering a solid electoral-vote majority and wider margins in the battleground states than Trump got last time. By all official accounts, there were no indications of any significant voter fraud.

These aren’t opinions. They’re based on vote returns and public statements from state officials around the country, from both parties. The New York Times last week called election officials in every state and couldn’t find one who reported any systemic fraud at all. Ohio’s Republican secretary of state dismissed the whole issue as “mythology.”

The thing about mythology is, it doesn’t work well in courtrooms. Millions of Trump’s followers may believe his nonsense, and congressional Republicans may pretend to believe it, but judges require, y’know, facts. Trump’s lawyers have been unable to get a foothold in court on any of his baseless allegations. More than one judge has admonished them for wasting the courts’ time.

Trump’s post-election strategies, such as they are, should signal to any sentient adult what horse excrement it all is. Trump’s campaign fervently demanded that the vote counts stop in states where he was leading, while simultaneously demanding the counts continue in states where he was trailing. In practically the same breath, Trump brags about the advances congressional Republicans made in the ballots, then alleges the ballots were fraudulent because Biden won. They are, of course, the same ballots.

Shortly before major media outlets reported that Biden had garnered enough electoral votes to win, Trump tweeted what amounts to his entire legal argument for refusing to concede: “I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!” (I took a screenshot of this eloquent ode to democracy and made it the background on my computer, where it inspires side-splitting reflection.)

If it was just Trump, that would be one thing. We’re used to his self-serving psychosis. And it’s not surprising that most congressional Republicans are obediently promoting his lies. They haven’t put nation ahead of party for the past four years, why start now?

But how is it possible that, according to a poll last week, 70% of the nation’s Republicans believe the election was tainted? Almost three-quarters of the members of a major party, buying into the political equivalent of flat-earth theory. Seven in 10 of them, grievously slandering our democracy without one iota of evidence.

The roots go back to (at least) President George W. Bush. An unnamed Bush official, later identified as top adviser Karl Rove, once bragged to an interviewer that Bush’s critics were stuck in “what we call the reality-based community,” and declared what could stand as the motto for today’s Republican Party: “We create our own reality.”

Rove apparently has rethought that in the ensuing years. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, he warned conservatives that, given the numbers, vote recounts “are unlikely to move a single state from Mr. Biden’s column, and certainly they’re not enough to change the final outcome.” He states plainly there is “no evidence” of systemic fraud.

But the former guru is now a voice in the wilderness. The political right, faced with societal trends that threaten its core convictions, has developed a novel defense mechanism: ignore reality. The election of a Black president has the white Republican base coming out of its skin? Claim he’s foreign-born. Fighting climate change will mean additional costs for industry? Pretend it isn’t happening. Ditto for the pandemic. Trump loses reelection? Back his claims, against all available evidence, that he won. (“BY A LOT!”)

Can democracy survive when almost half the country won’t accept facts? Trump is leaving — hallelujah — but the reality-denying mindset that made his rise possible isn’t going anywhere. That’s the reality we all face now.

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