In the two months since Election Day I’ve been increasingly intrigued by the certitude I encounter in people on both sides of this question: was the 2020 presidential election stolen? If you’re certain it was or certain it wasn’t, I wonder: why do you think what you think? We’ll talk about this.
I’ve also been thinking that people on both sides are missing something important about the US Supreme Court. This leads to unreasonable expectations and fears about the Court’s possible interventions. We’ll talk about this too.
I have some specific thoughts about what should and shouldn’t happen tomorrow, when Congress meets in joint session to observe the counting of electoral votes, and what should happen thereafter. I’ll mention them as we conclude.
Why Do You Think What You Think?
If you can step outside your mind for a minute and consider yourself with a critical (not necessarily negative) eye, ask yourself: Do you think what you think about the 2020 presidential election’s validity because you’ve heard and seriously considered both sides and decided, after careful, open-minded, informed reflection, that the view you currently hold is as close to the truth as you can presently get? Is your view subject to modification, if or when new insights and evidence emerge?
If so, give yourself a vigorous pat on the back — but figuratively, please. I don’t want you hurting yourself in a way that would be embarrassing to explain to your family or chiropractor.
We’ll wrestle further with our views of the election in a moment.
Reading and Listening for Truth
Now think about the sources from which you get your news, opinion, and analysis. How divergent are they? Do you regularly read or listen to conflicting views? Or do you mostly limit your attention to sources with which you tend to agree?
(For extra credit, consider your social media feeds. Here the degree of difficulty is higher, because algorithms try to show you things you’ll like. But I’m living proof that it’s possible to have in your feed any number of people, some of them quite articulate, with whom you disagree profoundly. It helps to like their posts, when you can. Sometimes I “like” something not because I agree, but because I’m glad someone is in the conversation.)
Some conservatives don’t consistently expose themselves to serious thought and commentary from the left. Some liberals and leftists don’t consistently read and consider serious conservative thought and commentary. But I’m not that way, and I hope you aren’t either.
I consume news, opinion, and analysis from numerous sources across the political spectrum, from far left to right and back again. Even when I’m swamped with work and other projects, as I was from this Election Day until the week after Christmas, I don’t read and listen in an echo chamber. This broad approach is more difficult and less pleasant, perhaps, but there’s good reason for it: I’m looking for the truth.
Among my many sources, conservative and otherwise, a few are more consistently valuable than others. Yet I cannot cite a single one which I believe gives me nothing but truth all the time. Nor can I cite a single source which gives me only falsehood all the time, or offers nothing worth reading. (To be sure, any source that fits the latter description slips quickly from my list.)
I won’t say I’m never swayed by ideology or personal affections or animosities, or that this facet of American citizenship is easy or uniformly pleasant.
I won’t claim I always find and discern the truth, but I try, and I think I sometimes get pretty close to some bits of it — to truth in the sense of things as they really are and really were.
Here’s the thing. I learned long ago that, in politics and government as in every other facet of life, I don’t know the full story until I’ve heard from all sides. If I accept something I’ve read or heard unilaterally from a trusted source, that acceptance is only provisional, until I’ve heard and weighed other arguments. If I dislike or disbelieve what I hear or read from liberals or even the left (or the right), I still want to hear and weigh the arguments.
If you do the same, even if we end up disagreeing on a given issue, at least we can have a conversation. And we’re each less prone to believe the other is foolish, evil, inhumane, or deserves to be purged from our public and economic life.
Needed Breadth: An Application
If all you’ve heard is that there was no election fraud, that there’s no evidence of fraud, and that President Trump and others are attempting to undermine a legitimate election by questioning it, or that he’s outright trying to destroy our democracy …
Whatever the truth turns out to be, this much is certain: you need a wider range of news sources. I’m not saying you should stop reading the Washington Post or the New York Times, for example; I read them. They haven’t wholly abandoned journalism for partisan advocacy, and where they have sold their souls, they’re still influential.
If your inclinations tend to the left, and you wonder what to read for breadth to the right, you might keep an eye on the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and the Washingon Times. I routinely read also at National Review, The Daily Wire, The Spectator, The American Spectator, The Epoch Times, and even The Blaze, among other sources. Lately I’ve been reading Glenn Greenwald.
For a deep dive into various issues, from a mostly conservative perspective, try The Bill Bennett Podcast and Senator Ted Cruz’s popular podcast, Verdict. Watch some PragerU. There are numerous other choices, each with their weaknesses and blind spots, and most with their strengths. See whose approach and thought leaves you feeling more informed about at least one side of a given issue.
Among aggregators, RealClearPolitics is an almost daily stop for me. The Drudge Report used to be but isn’t anymore; it went off the rails. I’ve frequented the Jewish World Review for years, and occasionally I poke around Townhall.com.
I’m not saying you should believe everything you read at any of these sources. But Facebook and Twitter suppress a lot of their content for a reason, and it’s not because powerful social media platforms love objective truth. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have made only half-hearted efforts lately to deny their partisan political motives and their larger agenda.
Whatever we each may think is the truth, we all need a steady diet of divergent voices, and we need to listen.
On the question of whether the 2020 presidential election was stolen — or whether challenges to the results are themselves attempts to steal the election and undermine our democracy (if that’s what it is) — I hear a wide range of views among people who are still willing to speak of such things. Some of them stun and dismay me by the complete, seemingly unimpeachable certitude they maintain.
You may be nowhere near either extreme — I hope not — but they seem pretty crowded …
You may not believe — but some people do — that President Trump is a secular messiah who can do no wrong, or a secular devil who plots only evil.
If you believe the election was stolen, is it because President Trump said so? Or someone on talk radio or Fox News? Here’s a key second question: have you heard and processed serious arguments to the contrary?
If you believe the election wasn’t stolen, is it because President Trump said it was? Or because ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, NYT, WP, AP, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, or Mitt Romney said it wasn’t? Here’s that key second question again: have you heard and processed serious arguments to the contrary?
If you believe the election was stolen, is it because the Republican ticket appears to have lost?
If you believe it wasn’t stolen, is it because you’re a faithful Democrat, and the Democrat ticket appears to have won? Is it because you embrace Democrat talking points as gospel truth? The long-standing Democratic catechism on election fraud, preached more aggressively than usual of late, is that there is no election fraud. If there is, it’s minimal, certainly not enough to affect any significant election anywhere. And if it does affect an election somewhere on occasion, it’s still not a big deal. And look! A squirrel!
Actually, it’s two squirrels. One is old and familiar. The other is mostly new.
The old, familiar squirrel is allegations of systematic, large-scale voter suppression by Republicans. Occasionally these accusations have been true — though no one in modern America approaches what the Democrats did in the South to suppress black votes for a century following the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.
Look carefully and you’ll see Democrats charging voter suppression in such ordinary, common-sense Republican activities as criticizing a Democrat’s position or voting record on an issue, campaigning in heavily Democratic areas, or attempting to insure that only legal voters vote.
The newer squirrel is allegations of foreign interference in behalf of the Republican candidate; we still hear frequent echoes of the false charges of Trump campaign collusion with Russia in the 2016 election.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I think asserting or denying the validity of the 2020 presidential election on any of the grounds I’ve listed is inappropriate.
What Would It Take?
I was public in my support for President Trump in the 2020 election, so this is a hypothetical case for me. But I’m as certain as I can be that, if the tables were turned, if the 2020 presidential election had gone the other way with even half the present allegations of fraud, I would be gravely concerned about the election’s integrity. For one thing, I’m a process guy. I think the integrity of the process is often more important than the result; it’s a spin-off of thinking our institutions and processes are essential to keeping us free.
So I wonder about people who passionately assert that this election was free and fair, that there is no evidence of significant fraud, and that anyone who questions the result is undermining our democracy.
I wonder about people at the other extreme too.
This question preoccupies me: If you’re 100% certain that the election was fair (or not) and that charges to the contrary are false (or true), how much evidence would it take to shake that faith a little? Not persuade you that you’re wrong, but just shake your faith enough that you’d consider the possibility and want to weigh the evidence.
Let’s take Georgia as an example.
Today, two months after Election Day, Georgia is holding a runoff election to fill its two US Senate seats. Control of the Senate is at stake, which means a large part of the Democrat agenda is at stake. That means the entire toxic energy of both parties, including the media, has been focused for two months on a single state election. I’m glad I don’t live in Georgia right now; it must feel like a burned-over district — even more than the whole country felt at this time in November.
But to the point.
Georgia is also one glaring example among several of states where serious, consequential fraud is alleged in the presidential election. How many of the following specific charges have you heard?
These are things which, given time, can be proven or disproven, but bear in mind, I’m not insisting you believe them just because they’re laid out in official court documents (a Trump campaign lawsuit that runs to nearly 1600 pages). For the moment I’m just asking, have you heard them?
- 2,560 felons voted illegally.
- 66,247 underage individuals voted illegally.
- 2,423 people who are not registered to vote (and didn’t register on Election Day at the polls) voted illegally.
- 1,043 voters were registered at PO Boxes, not home addresses, which is not permitted. Many attempted to obscure this by presenting their box number as an apartment number.
- 4,926 individuals voted in Georgia after registering to vote in another state. (Most of these probably voted illegally — unless someone else voted illegally in their place.)
- 395 voters voted in Georgia and at least one other state (illegally).
- 15,700 individuals moved out of state before the election, but voted illegally in the election (or someone voted illegally in their place).
- 40,279 voted from old registered addresses after moving (without reregistering) to a different county in Georgia. (How many of these were votes cast by someone other than the — presumably absent — person whose name was on the envelope?)
- According to sworn affidavits by nine Republican election observers, Republican observers were told counting was suspended for the night and were sent home — but counting and tabulating resumed (illegally) after they left, and continued into the wee hours of the morning.
Is this enough to cause you to wonder a little? To want the facts explored? If not, what sort and quantity of evidence would be enough?
How Much Would Be Enough?
Let’s back up a step.
How many outrageously unlikely things have to happen in the numbers, all pointing in the same direction, before you start to wonder? If these anomalies are mathematically possible, they don’t stand alone as evidence of fraud, just as smoke isn’t conclusive evidence of fire. But how much smoke do you need to see before you stop believing wholeheartedly that there is no fire, at least long enough to check?
If an anomaly isn’t mathematically possible, we have more than smoke. We have a smoking gun. Speaking of which, have you seen recent reports of analyses of vote counts, which show numerous negative updates to President Trump’s totals during the counting process? Except for rare corrections, such cumulative counts should never progress negatively. But they did.
If you haven’t seen these reports, I respectfully suggest you need to broaden your range of sources of news, commentary, and analysis.
Then there’s the sworn testimony, which is a kind of evidence. Among several states combined there are many hundreds of sworn affidavits describing problems of various kinds. I haven’t read them all. I’m aware that some assert workplace misconduct of the sort that should probably result in administrative discipline but cannot be directly tied to the vote itself. Others show an incomplete awareness of legitimate processes — meaning the affiant saw something that looked suspicious, because the affiant didn’t know everyone else’s processes and responsibilities. Excluding those, there is an abundance of testimony of actual misconduct in ballot acceptance and vote counting in several swing states.
How much sworn testimony do you need, before you’re willing to consider the possibility that, in multiple locations in multiple states, counting was suspended late in the evening, and poll watchers were sent home, and then counting quietly and secretly resumed — and produced huge batches of votes of uncertain provenance, which swayed implausibly heavily toward Joe Biden?
How much sworn testimony do you need from postal workers and election workers, about the backdating of ballots which didn’t meet the legal deadlines, so they could be counted too? Or of large batches of mail-in ballots printed on different paper, and which had never been folded to fit into envelopes?
If you insist it was a clean election, aren’t you asserting that all these people are lying under oath? Remember, they can’t commit perjury with the impunity of James Comey and James Clapper. Ordinary folk could go to jail — and if it turns out they lied in a way that can be prosecuted, I want them prosecuted.
Again, I’m not arguing that you should believe every charge of electoral misconduct. I don’t believe them all — and the ones I believe, I believe provisionally, subject to a complete, rigorous, and transparent examination of evidence by appropriate authorities.
Nor am I saying you should believe that the malfeasance here is massive enough to justify calling the election stolen. We may never know that for sure, one way or the other, in a fully evidence-based way.
I am arguing that you should have heard of these allegations, not just the Big Media Acronyms’ ritual assurances than the election was free and fair. I’m saying you should be aware that many of the allegations are supported by sworn testimony. If all you’re hearing is that there was no voter fraud, that there is no evidence of voter fraud — or if there was, it wasn’t enough to matter — then your country needs you to tune into a broader range of sources for your news and analysis.
I still wonder, as I said, how much more it would take to shake your rock-solid faith in the purity of the process and the credibility of the result — and for that matter, the credibility of the media who’ve been insisting it was free and fair since Election Day.
US Supreme Court: Reasonable Expectations
Many conservatives are up in arms (not quite literally) over the US Supreme Court’s failure to jump in and referee, and to declare President Trump the obvious and legitimate winner. President Trump himself has been vocal on this point — but I don’t pay much attention to him in my search for truth. (Bill Bennett says those who take President Trump seriously don’t take him literally, and those who take him literally don’t take him seriously.)
Meanwhile, some liberals and leftists fear the Court will jump in and declare President Trump the winner.
Both camps — all three, really (liberals are not leftists, and vice versa) — are missing the point. We have a conservative Court (in terms of the majority), not a right-wing activist court. (For that matter, not a left-wing activist court either.) This means several things.
First, they’re not looking for any excuse they can use to jump into the fray. They’re more inclined to consider whether their participation is avoidable.
Second, they value institutions and processes, such as the US Constitution and federal law, more than they value specific results — as judges generally should, if you ask me.
Third, they are extremely reluctant to insert themselves into political processes, especially where political remedies exist, as they do in this case. We have a statutory process for challenging the legitimacy of the vote. The Court might jump in to protect that process, but a non-activist court won’t jump in to supersede it.
The last phase of that process begins and probably ends tomorrow, with a joint session of Congress observing the counting of electoral votes, including the opportunity to challenge any or all of them — and, with a highly unlikely simple majority of both houses, to disqualify any of them.
I can see the Court stepping in if Vice President Pence tries to assert nonexistent (but much ballyhooed) authority unilaterally to reject any state’s certified electors, or if he or Congress as a whole tries to depart from the process established in the US Code and the US Constitution in some other way — but not if the established processes are followed.
(Did you know Democrats have challenged Republican electoral votes in each Republican victory since the 2000 election? In one case, a challenge came from both houses, forcing a two-hour recess to separate chambers for debate, followed by a vote. Naturally, this week Democrats charge Republicans who plan to challenge votes with everything short of treason.)
Apart from philosophical reasons not to intervene, the Court may have personal and political concerns. In 2021 it takes no imagination whatsoever to conceive of personal attacks — vandalism or worse — against members of the Court, if the Left dislikes something enough. And more legitimately, perhaps, the integrity of the Court itself is in serious jeopardy if Democrats control the US Senate after today’s election in Georgia. Minding their business here might undermine Democrat support for court-packing just enough to prevent it.
Furthermore, over time there is yet another corrective: future elections. When you think at a theoretical or institutional level, as a conservative (not activist) court is wont to do, that’s a real consideration.
Maybe I’m putting my own thoughts in place of the Court’s, but we have processes for this. We shouldn’t depart from them. Republicans shouldn’t advocate departing from them. We desperately need at least one major political party to care what the law is, and to care about due process, even to its own tactical disadvantage; to preserve institutions rather than dismantling them. Heaven knows that’s not the modern Democratic Party.
In case you’re interested, there has been another problem with some of the election lawsuits: they overreached by asking for excessive remedies. For example, if you seek redress (“relief”) in Philadelphia, where hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots were counted illegally, in the actual or functional absence of Republican observers, you don’t ask a non-activist court to overturn Pennsylvania’s entire election. (Presumably, even in Pennsylvania most votes were valid.) You ask the court to order an immediate recount of the ballots which were counted illegally — a recount under the proper legal circumstances, of course. You ask for specific, reasonable relief in a specific situation — and then you ask for specific, reasonable relief in the next specific situation. Somehow this patient logic was lost on some high-powered folks who get paid to practice law (which I don’t), and they got nowhere.
One more thought about the Supreme Court: Imagine the threshold of evidence Democrats in Congress would require to vote to reject Democratic electors tomorrow. How overwhelming would the evidence have to be, and how pervasive the public outcry, to make them feel their political survival would better be assured by rejecting their own electors? (I don’t suspect very many of them of being responsive to higher motives.) I wonder if the Supreme Court’s threshold wouldn’t be just as high, or nearly so — but for the mostly honorable reasons I’ve described.
The Long Game
It’s been suggested that the President should deploy the military to do one or both of these things: (1) seize voting machines and other materials, so they can’t be (further) destroyed to impede investigations; and (2) conduct a new election.
No, he shouldn’t. Even if he could find somewhere the legal authority to do one or both of those, and if we could fool ourselves that a fair election could be held before we clean up the problems, he absolutely shouldn’t.
After we officially have a next president (tomorrow or shortly thereafter), investigations should proceed. In practical political terms, the ongoing story has to be insuring the integrity of future elections, not any unusual measures President Trump took because he thought (rightly or wrongly) that he was cheated in this election.
For the same reason, Congress shouldn’t attempt to delay the process while some commission investigates. As a practical matter there isn’t time for that; we should stick to the processes and timetable specified in US law. And again the ongoing story after Inauguration Day has to be insuring the integrity of future elections. If we eventually prove a case one way or another related to 2020, fine, even if it’s too late to change who’s president. As a historical matter, a similar commission arguably made a big mess even bigger in 1876.
Besides that, as a practical matter it’s extremely difficult to prepare a serious legal case of ordinary complexity and import in several weeks or less. It would be vastly more difficult to investigate a complex election thoroughly in multiple states under similar time constraints.
It’s the States
Ultimately, whether election fraud occurred and who perpetrated it are state problems. So is preventing it. Presidents are elected by the states.
Some of the United States are apparently unable to conduct fair and orderly elections. This is not new in 2020 or in the 21st century, though in 2020 some of them systematically removed a lot of guard rails and warning bells in advance. I take the fact that they can’t hold a proper election to mean they don’t want to.
Among the reasonably likely scenarios, in my view the best is this. The people in those states — why not all states? — decide to care about the integrity of their elections enough to start cleaning them up. It won’t be quick, easy, or pleasant, and the federal government won’t be much help; it may even hinder the cause, as it has before. The Democratic Party and the Ministry of Truth, er, the Big Media Acronyms, will actively resist.
But the people of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia — and Illinois, California, Washington, and other notorious states who didn’t happen to be swing states this time — and of Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, and Las Vegas, among other great cities — have an opportunity to stand up and be American enough to clean up their elections, and to resist and reverse official and unofficial attempts to undermine safeguards and commit and conceal misconduct.
I don’t expect nationwide reform, but maybe some incremental good will happen in some places. I expect plenty of impotent symbolic legislation too.
To be clear, I believe every legal voter who wishes to cast a legal vote should be unhindered in doing so — and every citizen of the United States should be able to have confidence that every legal vote is counted properly, and only legal votes are counted.
To get anywhere close to that — to move toward that at all — we’ll have to resist familiar, promiscuous charges of racism, voter suppression, etc. We should, of course, be careful not to lend any truth to such charges, but even if we’re all pure in our motives and actions, the charges will still ring loudly and endlessly, because some people value power more than truth.
Here’s the bad news. Or maybe it’s good. I’m not sure. In the larger view there is no purely political or judicial solution to this problem. Hard as soft tyrants may try, we cannot create a sustainable political system so perfect that people don’t have to be morally good — or historically aware or politically wise, in the case of a nation which aspires to freedom.
As for Tomorrow
As for tomorrow (Wednesday, January 6) at the Capitol … I’ll all for House members and Senators objecting to electoral votes from states where there apparently were severe problems. They almost certainly won’t overturn the result, but it’s a legitimate part of the process, and it will be that much harder to bury the issue in coming months and years, if they don’t go completely gently into that good night.
You might say there are rats and cockroaches in our national basement. Four good things happen when we turn on the lights. We interrupt their ratty and roachy business, at least briefly, while they scurry for the shadows. We remind them that light exists. We make it harder for ourselves to forget they’re there. And we remind ourselves how rats and cockroaches behave.
We need all of those just now.
Thanks for reading!
Comments are always welcome, within the bounds of common civility and relevance.
If you’re on Facebook and you liked what you read here, or you hated it and think you should keep an eye on me, please consider liking my page, The Freedom Habit, on Facebook.
To receive new writing from The Freedom Habit your e-mail Inbox every month or so, please subscribe below.
Please note: due to an error I’m still diagnosing, you may need to click near the bottom of the button.