In light of the wide acceptance of Trump’s Big Lie (that his “landslide victory” was stolen by a bipartisan conspiracy against him), by tens of millions of Americans, it would appear that making a winning argument based on evidence and what you can actually prove, from a practical, tactical point of view, is a thing of the past — at least to a good 40% of our fellow citizens.
The real Big Lie, according to Trump, is that that everybody beside him, and those completely loyal to him, is lying about the rigged election he actually won in a “landslide.” The truth, Tump insists, is that a landslide victory was illegally stolen from him by massive voter fraud and a wide-ranging bipartisan conspiracy to deprive him of his rightful office and illegally install the illegitimate Joe Biden as the “president”. Hence, the rioters who stormed the Capitol January 6 had, as they believed, every right to be enraged, to fight like hell to protect their country and do what their president insisted was their patriotic duty — fight like hell to stop the steal of democracy in progress in the Capitol.
Not that long ago, facts (things that can be shown to have actually happened, things that are witnessed, that people swear to, that are recorded on cameras from multiple angles) supporting each side of an argument were weighed before deciding who was right and who was mistaken. Now, for purposes of American politics, one need only repeat the party line (“alternative facts” work beautifully), loudly and without deviation, and the “perception” of truth will do just fine for that loud minority of Americans.
If a violent mob unleashed by your party’s leader attacked you and threatened to kill your vice president, who, arguably, deserved to be punished for his cowardice and treachery, after all, you must say that there never was a lawless mob and nobody threatened violence against anybody. Anybody who says there was an armed, angry mob, 140 injuries to police, five deaths and threats to Pence and other elected officials is a bald-faced liar! Case closed, loser!
If a sitting president’s deliberate, months long, coordinated, well-funded attempt to violently stop the peaceful transition of power at the last possible moment doesn’t demand a fact-based reckoning, and accountability for the organizers and inciters of the violence, we all might as well just wait to be told where to report for re-education.
Facts still mattered in American court cases, in arguments over public policy, in basic agreement about what is reality and what is delusion, in our very recent history… (this doesn’t necessarily apply in the unappealable Supreme Court, of course, that non-political body Justice Breyer defends the impartiality of… )
It’s easy to forget important facts when a powerful firehose of ever more violent bullshit is constantly flooding our perceptions. Remember how Trump mega-donor Postmaster William DeJoy openly removed hundreds of mailboxes from urban areas and ordered urban high speed mail sorting machines dismantled? These moves were targeted to minimize the mail-in votes of Democrats. DeJoy was ordered to put the mailboxes back, but the high speed mail sorting machines could not be replaced, they were literally in a million pieces, already shipped somewhere to be sold for scrap. Sorry.
Polls showed Democrats were much more likely than Trump anti-maskers (future anti-vaxxers) to vote by mail during a pandemic. Trump and his mega-donor then made every effort to eliminate as much mail-in voting as possible, as he and Barr continued to spread furor with unfounded, evidence-free claims about fraud-rife mail-in voting, setting the stage for #Stop the Steal and the January 6 MAGA riot. (After the damage was done Barr claims to have told Trump the voter fraud business was “bullshit” and that he’d “suspected” that was the case even as he ordered — and announced — federal investigations of criminal voter fraud).
Trump won in 2016 by 78,000 votes delivered in key Electoral College districts in three states. One of them was Pennsylvania which he won by less than 1%. He could improve his odds of winning greatly in 2020 if he could eliminate a sizable percentage of anti-Trump votes in swing states where voting is always close. His party’s chances of winning elections are tied directly to voter suppression, particularly after Trump lost an election where he had the second highest number of votes cast, all-time, in an election that set the record for voter turnout, (during a pandemic, mind you).
The sixty baseless lawsuits challenging the 2020 elections brought by Trump and the RNC were famously all dismissed, often for lack of evidence. Sometimes forgotten is that before the 2020 election Trump and the Republican National Committee brought literally hundreds of lawsuits to stop forms of voting they felt would put them at a disadvantage. One was a federal suit in western Pennsylvania challenging the state’s plan to expand mail-in voting, and drop boxes, for an election during the second wave of a deadly pandemic. The judge ordered Trump/RNC to produce evidence of their claims that these long-used methods of voting would introduce massive fraud into the election. If they did not produce evidence, the judge ordered, they must state that they have no evidence.
The federal judge, J. Nicholas Ranjan, had been appointed by Trump and for a time it looked like he was bending over backwards not to dismiss the case. He wasn’t, as it turned out.
The Trump/RNC’s legal team’s initial response to Judge Ranjan’s order (which granted the state of Pennsylvania’s motion demanding evidence) by Trump’s attorneys was (according to Reuters):
The Trump campaign says the ballot drop box invites fraud. The federal judge asked the campaign to provide evidence of actual fraud, but the campaign declined, arguing it did not have to do so in order to win the case.source
In the end Trump’s lawyers obeyed the judge’s order by submitting several hundred pages, screenshots and stories from Breitbart, FOX, OANN, Newsmax and similar outfits, alleging massive fraud, without presenting any actual evidence of widespread fraud. Even the right-wing non-profit Heritage Foundation’s zealous crackpot documenter of voter fraud, Hans von Spakovsky, has found a statistically insignificant number of actual voting fraud since 1984.
When Judge Ranjan finally dismissed the Trump/RNC case he wrote that since Trump and the RNC were likely to file an appeal, that he would explicitly lay out the law supporting every facet of his dismissal, basically appeal-proofing his dismissal of the evidence-free lawsuit. He did so over the course of more than 100 pages.
“Frivolous suit” is the usual term for a lawsuit submitted without any credible evidence in support. These lawsuits are designed to harass, intimidate, bully, bankrupt and they are deeply frowned on by American courts. Law students are taught that lawyers who submit frivolous lawsuits abuse the legal process, violate their ethical obligations as “officers of the court” and are subject to sanctions including disbarment.
Millions of Americans are waiting, without much hope, for the legal consequences of this wave of frivolous, evidence-free Trump lawsuits that created the “perception” that there was massive voting fraud because an angry, powerful man who has never lied told us it was true, and filed countless lawsuits. Suspending Rudy’s law license seems a few hundred wrist slaps too few.
Where the Trump-appointed J. Nicholas Ranjan demanded actual proof of fraud, the 6-3 Federalist Society majority on the Supreme Court (5 of the 6 appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote) had no such scruples before ruling in favor of their party. The “perception of fraud” was good enough for Samuel Alito to rule that perception of fraud alone is sufficient reason for, admittedly partisan voter suppression laws you can’t actually prove were passed with anything but good old partisan intent. It’s the quiet Nazis you’ have to watch out for, the silently smoldering ones, particularly when they’re protected by a robust like-minded majority of extremists.
Even (or especially) in a country where a good 40% of voters are entirely faith-based, rather than reality-based, facts need to be known. Thousands of enraged Trump supporters violently assaulted the Capitol to Stop the Steal. The procedure for calling in the National Guard had been changed by “federal officials” shortly before the riot, delaying the deployment of waiting troops that quickly stopped the riot when they arrived, four hours too late to prevent the multiple breaches of the Capitol. When the National Guard arrived, and surrounded the crowd, the riot was quickly over and, instead of the arrest of every rioter, the rioters were allowed to go in peace, no harm no foul. They celebrated their triumph, they actually did stop a joint session of Congress, and posted selfies and videos that got many of them arrested weeks later.
It is too simple a point to make that had this been a crowd of angry Black people, January 6 would be remembered as the day police and National Guard massacred hundreds of American citizens in front of the Capitol.
We are to be consoled, six full months later, that perhaps as many as half of the violent “protesters” who breached the Capitol that day and beat down police officers are facing charges for things like trespassing. Merrick Garland is no radical, after all. Now, calling for an investigation of this violence, planned and incited by the former president and several sitting Congressmen, aided and abetted by multiple senators, is a political hot potato in a land where facts are as malleable as the clay God originally formed into the first man.
On the other hand…
It may be that in following an unhinged but popular leader the now extremist GOP may have finally sealed its fate — no matter how many voter suppression laws they pass, their over the top extremism may be punished at the polls by voters determined to vote, and organizing to defeat the laws designed to disenfranchise them. Heather Cox Richardson provides a great historical echo for that proposition. It may be that, like celebrity psychopath Al Capone, it will be the former president’s greed, cheapness and true belief that he is untouchable, even for shooting someone in the face, that brings him, and his whole criminal empire, down. I can hear his faithful, should that day arrive: “For that? For that?!!!”.
For those who have the stomach for the hideous facts, here’s the NY Times visual account of Trump’s January 6 MAGA riot, very well-done — the video is harrowing .
“My experience of more than 30 years as a judge has shown me that, once men and women take the judicial oath, they take the oath to heart,” [Breyer] said last month in a lecture at Harvard Law School. “They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment.”source
Just ask any of your six Federalist Society colleagues about that one, Steve. I’m sure even Clarence Thomas would agree with you…
A few handy links from the NY Times video investigation of January 6, 2021 .
- Video Investigation: Day of Rage
- 6 Takeaways
- Security Failures
- Roger Stone’s Bodyguards
- How an Officer Died