November 28, 2020
I left the Republican party when it stopped being a party of principles and ideals. Becoming instead a party of grievance.
The grievances have been economic, cultural, and ethnic, all mashed together. Rustbelt working class resentments about an economy leaving them behind; a culture that seemingly doesn’t care, and disrespects them; displacing them with people who don’t resemble them, whose preferment feels undeserved.
Throw into the mix yet another kind of grievance, over abortion. It’s a legitimate (and difficult) moral issue. But it’s become an obsession out of all proportion to its real societal import. Pro-lifers throw every other moral concern under the bus in pursuing this one White Whale.
President Obama was a vessel for all these grievances — a perfect storm, whipping them up into a toxic stew. Out of which popped another perfect storm: Trump. Whose whole personhood is a grievance machine. He gave voice and vent to the grievances, while doing nothing to resolve them. Instead cynically ratcheting them up.
But at least all those grievances have some tether to reality. Rustbelt economic malaise is real. The nation’s cultural divide is real. Likewise its changing population mix. And abortions actually occur. All complex issues. However, today a new and different kind of grievance beast is rising up, one unique to Republicans, and one divorced from the real world: the mythos of The Stolen Election. Taking hold like the South’s post-Civil War “lost cause” mythologization.
We always knew Trump’s psyche could not accept losing. Crying fraud in advance was his preparatory defense mechanism. Probably his diseased mind actually believes he “won.” But now most of the Republican party seems to be following him down that rabbit hole. Obsessing over this new grievance which, unlike those others discussed, is quite simply a lie.
Polls show 77% to 86% of Trump voters embrace the election theft lie, whose stridency rises even as its credibility collapses. Republican officialdom goes along, afraid to antagonize their base. This rejection of our government’s very legitimacy is deeply poisonous for us as a nation going forward.
And it’s crazy on multiple levels. In the first place, there’s simply no actual evidence for the vast multi-state conspiracy theorized. Secondly, thinking Trump could only have lost by fraud makes no sense. I can understand (sort of) why people voted for him. Can his supporters really not understand so many voting against him? And — if Democrats so easily stole votes, wouldn’t Republicans (surely more unscrupulous) have stolen at least as many? After all, they control more election infrastructure than do Dems. And if Democrats stole the presidency, how come they neglected to steal the Senate and other downballot races?
But a popular trope goes, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” A similar epistemology seems operative for Trump cultists. He’s their god, he says “massive fraud,” so they believe it. Never mind his consistently blatant pathological lying. In for a penny, in for a pound.
America was already suffering an epistemological crisis. Epistemology refers to how we know things. For matters of public concern, we cannot obtain information directly, but must rely on trusted sources. And how do we know which to trust? In such judgments too many people discard plain common sense, often rejecting responsible mainstream sources with proven track records while instead putting faith in obvious fraudsters (like Trump). And with today’s proliferation of sources, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re getting information from a broad variety of them while actually still inhabiting a partisan bubble. With a picture of the world that’s just fundamentally false. Frankly this now afflicts the right far more than the left. I say that objectively, as someone who always considered himself conservative.
America has long been undergoing a schism into two different nations, with two different realities. The disaffection between them aggravated by this toxic new Stolen Election myth. It’s not the only Trumpland lie, just another piled on top of a mountain of them. And without a common understanding of factual reality, the kinds of reasoned public debates that are essential for democracy to function are impossible. Lincoln said America could not endure half slave and half free. We cannot endure half in reality and half outside it.