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I’ve considered it one of my duties as a citizen to stay informed. I try to get a balance of media, and one element of that has been the NBC evening news. I try to watch even when I don’t agree with them, but I’ll shut it off when it becomes overly tiresome.
This spring and summer, though, I found myself wanting to throw something through the TV screen. And for a month and half after Election Day, I simply stopped watching. I found myself disagreeing not with the facts they presented, but their interpretation, which was presented as if it were fact. If you disagree that Mount Rushmore is evil because it was built on stolen land, and Trump is evil for speaking there, as we were told around Independence Day, then you yourself must be evil.
More recently, we’ve been told about President Trump’s baseless accusations of election fraud. The word ‘baseless’ is never omitted, as if we’re forbidden to consider what happened.
Let’s consider it, shall we? Since the mainstream media won’t even hint that the elections were anything other than squeaky clean, I’ll have to use my alternative news feeds and gut instincts.
- Was there election fraud in the 2020 Presidential election? Almost certainly. It was run by humans, wasn’t it?
- Was there election fraud sufficient to turn a state from one candidate to the other? I think so. I was sure that Pennsylvania would go for Trump, but it didn’t happen, and there were reports of ballots appearing in the middle of the night, and poll watchers denied access. There are reports of similar events in other swing states.
- Can you prove it? Every murderer on Columbo dares the detective to prove he did it, although they don’t say that out loud. But Lieutenant Columbo is trying to unravel a relatively simple personal crime, has all the time in the world, and has a compelling interest in getting to the bottom of things. In this case, we have something far more complicated, which must be resolved in the eleven weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day, and there’s a compelling interest in sweeping it all under the rug. I’m not an election official: it isn’t my job. But there’s plenty of anecdotal and statistical evidence that something was afoot.
- If you can’t prove it, that means it didn’t happen! That’s what’s presumed in a criminal trial. If a person is tried for murder and acquitted, the rest of society must presume the defendant was innocent. Absent extraordinary circumstances, the police and prosecutor can’t go after the defendant again. But that doesn’t change the fact that the murder happened, and the reality of who the perpetrator might have been. In the case of the elections, it’s more than fair to keep questioning and keep looking. That President Trump’s partisans did not prevail on court does not mean that nothing untoward happened. It only means they couldn’t develop adequate proof in the available time.
- OK, then: who did win the election? If I had superpowers, and I could count all the votes, excluding the finagled ones, that would be easy. But all I can do is speculate, the same as everyone else. I can’t say for sure that Trump would have won if only the valid votes were counted, and were counted accurately. So I’ll default to the official result, and acknowledge that Biden won.
- If you acknowledge that Biden won fair and square, what are you yammering about? I didn’t say that Biden won fair and square. There are other ways besides fraud and vote-count shenanigans to manipulate an election. Some of them are even legal. That doesn’t make them right.
And while Joe Biden won the election and is now the President-Elect, Joe Biden the candidate didn’t win: it was, for lack of a better term, Joe Biden the movement. But even that doesn’t quite capture it, because, as far as I can tell, Joe Biden himself had very little to do with it. We need to understand that, and come to terms with what it means.
We now come to the events of 6 January, when Congress’s efforts to finalize the election results were delayed by what has been described as a riot or an insurrection, when some number ‘breached’ the Capitol and interfered with Congress’s deliberations. Five died in the events: one woman was shot by a Capitol Police officer; a Capitol Police officer died from injuries resulting from getting hit by a fire extinguisher; two died from medical conditions; and one death hasn’t been further described in the media. If someone had been killed by an armed private citizen, commonly referred to as a ‘gun nut,’ I’m sure we would have heard about it.
President Trump has been impeached yet again for his remarks that day. The news media have all been presenting this as a dastardly effort by Trump to subvert the will of the American people, not to be considered as anything else. So, once again, off we go:
- Was it an insurrection? No. An ‘insurrection’ presumes a plan by its leaders to wrest control from lawful authority and do something. There’s no evidence of a plan beyond making noise and breaking things. (If there were a serious plan, we’d never hear the end of it!)
- Was it a riot? I think that’s a fair characterization, although as riots go, on a scale of 1 to 10, it was about a 3. The property damage, compared to the riots last spring, was minimal, and Congress got back to business after a few hours.
- Did Trump incite the crowd? Incitement to riot is a well-defined crime. It must be well-defined because it exists alongside the First Amendment right to free speech. By that measure, no, Trump did not incite the crowd. But then again, anything that Trump would have said apart from an abject admission of defeat (and even then!) would have been considered incitement by the opposition.
- How many participated? That’s the real question. Tens of thousands were there for what was almost certainly President Trump’s last rally, and to protest the election results, but how many were there to make trouble? Some fraction of those who ‘breached’ the Capitol were in fact admitted as visitors (Trump regalia and all!) by the Capitol Police. There weren’t very many actual rioters, and a little mayhem goes a long way. The US attorney for the District of Columbia noted that ‘at least 170 people’ were suspect. That seems a more realistic figure. What’s galling is that the news media are perfectly happy, if not eager, to conflate the handful of troublemakers with the vast majority who were peaceful and entirely within their rights.
- Was it appropriate to protest that day? Absolutely. Perhaps the Trump partisans are misguided in their beliefs, but that doesn’t diminish their rights. The Democrats protested Trump’s election and inauguration: sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
It seems pointless to impeach a President who will be out of office anyway later in the month. It remains to be seen whether the Senate will continue the process to remove a President who will have already left office. The intent seems to be to pound Trump into the ground, perhaps to prevent him from running again in 2024 (at which point, he’ll be older than Biden is now, and if Trump is the only alternative to the Democrats at that point, we’ve got other problems), but more as a grim warning: this is what happens if you don’t govern the way the cool kids think you ought to govern.