Donald Trump’s current strategy isn’t about winning in court. It’s about disrupting the process in the hope of winning the US election by default
For now, democracy is holding.
As demonstrated by the roughly 50,000 Donald Trump supporters at an event billed as the Million MAGA March, there’s no sign of a national groundswell of support to overturn the election.
The Trump campaign is well within its rights to challenge the election results in court and that process is playing out as the US constitution dictates.
But, like the cheap hair dye running down Rudy Giuliani’s face as he sweated during today’s news conference, Trump’s chances of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat appear to be dissolving by the day.
As Giuliani accused Democrats of engaging in a “national conspiracy” to manipulate vote totals, he also admitted he did not have any evidence of such activity.
There are, no doubt, some reading this who think I’m the one who’s deluded. Perhaps they’re right.
Maybe Giuliani will succeed, and my version of reality will come crashing down around me.
Certainly there were those who expressed concern over Giuliani’s performance even as others mocked it online.
Among the former was Christopher Krebs, who headed up the US Government’s efforts to combat election disinformation until he was fired by Trump earlier this week.
But in a world where falsehoods come from the top and are amplified louder and louder all the way down, we all need to focus on evidence, rather than unsubstantiated bluster.
And we must all be willing to change our minds, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so.
If we can’t do that, it’s not just democracy in danger, but reality itself.
Those dying of COVID-19 refuse to accept reality
After a particularly gruelling shift in the emergency room last weekend, South Dakota nurse Jodi Doering curled up on the couch with her dog and a bowl of ice cream and picked up her phone.
She needed to get something off her chest.
“It’s like a f***ing horror show that never ends,” she wrote on Twitter.
Ms Doering wasn’t so much upset about having to treat the seriously ill patients that were steadily rolling into the hospital.
That’s part of her job.
What moved her most was the fact many of her patients still refused to accept the virus was real, even as they lay in hospital facing the possibility of dying from it.
“Their last dying words are, ‘This can’t be happening. It’s not real,'” Doering said.
“And when they should be … FaceTiming their families, they’re filled with anger and hatred.”
Dangerous divisions are rampant in America
In 1957, social psychologist Leon Festinger published a study about a small cult in Chicago called The Seekers.
Its members spent their days preparing for the arrival of an alien flying saucer, which would carry them to safety as an apocalyptic flood destroyed the Earth.
When it didn’t happen by the prophesised date, a few members on the fringe of the group realised they had made a terrible mistake by giving away all their money and possessions.
But the vast majority of members used the non-event to settle on the less mentally stressful belief that the aliens had in fact decided to give Earth a second chance at existence.
In the face of overwhelming evidence that their core beliefs were wrong, it was easier to warp reality even further, rather than come to terms with the truth.
Festinger called it cognitive dissonance.
And right now in America, cognitive dissonance is thriving.
It’s evident in the widespread scepticism about the seriousness of the coronavirus, even as the nation’s death toll surges past 250,000.
But the refusal to accept reality in regard to COVID-19 is largely a function of the bigger issue that’s afflicting this great and powerful, but dangerously divided, nation.
The divisions evident now are no longer just a political battle between the blue team and the red team.
It’s now clearer than ever that both sides live in completely separate realities, where everyone is entitled not just to their own opinions, but to their own facts as well.
‘Terrifying tools of persuasion and manipulation’
There are a lot of reasons for this, but it’s impossible to ignore the impact of the biggest amplifier of untruths today, social media.
It’s unlikely to be a coincidence that world politics started spearing off the rails around the time Facebook and Twitter started to become ubiquitous in our daily lives.
As Barack Obama told CBS this week: “I don’t hold the tech companies entirely responsible … because this predates social media”.
“It was already there. But social media has turbocharged it.”
In a congressional hearing this week, Democrat senator Richard Blumenthal blasted Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.
“You have made a huge amount of money by strip mining data about our private lives and promoting hate speech and voter suppression.”
Twitter’s boss also came under sustained attack by Republican senators, who accused the platform of bias for placing fact-check warning labels on Trump’s unfounded Tweets about election fraud.
It’s a rare moment when Republicans and Democrats are in agreement, that it’s past time to change the law that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users.
Doublethink has gripped the nation
An amendment to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is unlikely to solve the doublethink that pervades the national psyche.
Where the Republicans simultaneously celebrate Senate wins in states where they claim the vote was rigged.
Where the candidate who looks to have secured 306 of the 270 electoral college votes required to win the presidency, with 6 million more votes than his opponent, is seen by tens of millions of people as the clear loser.
Where Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is accused of incompetence by his fellow Republicans, even subjected to anonymous death threats, for overseeing a process that confirmed his own party lost the state.
Where the man responsible for securing the election, who declared it “the most secure in American history” is fired by the President for daring to debunk baseless conspiracy theories disseminated by the White House.
Where the lawyer tasked with spearheading the President’s challenge of the election result claims “widespread, nationwide voter fraud” in court, before admitting “this is not a fraud case” when questioned by the judge.
Where another Trump attorney, Sidney Powell, claims a multi-nation communist conspiracy — involving Hugo Chaves, George Soros and The Clinton Foundation — rigged the Dominion vote counting machines to ensure a Biden victory in states like Georgia, where a hand recount confirmed the accuracy of the count.
It would be comical, if it wasn’t so serious.
Trump’s ultimate strategy
In the reality this correspondent resides in, Trump’s campaign has shown nothing of substance that comes anywhere close to evidence of mass voter fraud.
A few discrepancies and inconsistencies here or there, but nothing more.
But, as anticipated, it’s becoming clearer that Trump’s game isn’t about winning in court.
It’s about disrupting the process in the hope of winning the election by default.
For three frightening hours this week, the two Republican-appointed officials in Wayne County, Michigan, refused to certify the results of the election, throwing Joe Biden’s 16 electoral votes into doubt as the deadline for certification drew near.
It prompted high praise from the President.
One of his legal advisors, Jenna Ellis, claimed it paved the way for “Republican state legislator[s] [to] select the electors” — an open invitation for the Republican-led legislature to hand the state to Trump, not Biden, in defiance of the will of the people.
This was a state that Biden won by almost 150,000 votes.
Now imagine how the certification process might go in states where the margin is just a few thousand votes.
Trump is now reportedly seeking to subvert the electoral college process directly, by inviting Michigan politicians to meet with him at the White House tomorrow.
It’s unlikely to succeed, with one of the invitees, Michigan Senate Leader Mike Shirkey telling Bridge Michigan news that the Legislature would not move to appoint its own slate of electors.
“That’s not going to happen,” Mr Shirkey said.
It’s a potentially viable strategy if enough people are convinced.