First of all, we must begin to recognize that what transpired at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was the result of a Big Lie. The incumbent president, who shall not be named herein, set the predicate of this lie months before Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. He declared over and over at incendiary COVID super-spreader rallies that he could not lose unless the election was “rigged.” So, of course, when he lost–decisively–to Joe Biden, he used the Big Lie to incite thousands of his followers, who he invited through Twitter rants, to commit violent acts of sedition intended to thwart Congress’ constitutional duty of confirming the Electoral College vote that would end President 45’s White House reign.
The marauding mob, shouting threats to hang Mike Pence because he refused to overturn the will of the American majority, came within minutes of confronting the vice president face to face. Thankfully, both he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also targeted for death, were ultimately protected from the rioters. But it was 45’s desperate Big Lie that put their lives and those of many others in Congress at risk, as well as six who perished as a result of the violence.
It is virtually impossible for anyone–not the Feds, Democrats or Republicans, not even Russians–to rig a presidential election. American elections are conducted by states. And within the 50 states plus territories, each county or municipality therein–more than 3,000 of them–is responsible for the election nuts and bolts, including hiring poll workers, recruiting bipartisan polls watchers and collecting the ballots. In most precincts, voters see neighbors they know, voting or conducting the vote.
Think of it. Do you imagine they are in on rigging a presidential election? If you’re still suspicious, consider that in 98 percent of precincts, votes are cast by machine backed by paper ballots. Georgia, for instance, conducted three recounts of the election–two by machine and one by hand–plus an audit conducted for certification. Yet the losing presidential candidate still bullied state officials to “find” 12,000 more votes that would turn the state in his favor. Even had he “won,” he would have remained 42 electoral votes short. Only two states conduct machine-only voting with no paper-ballot backup for recounts or investigations. Both were carried by the incumbent president. As for massive fraud–the president insisted thousands of dead people voted in Georgia–the correct number, the Republican secretary of state said, was two. Both fake ballots, reportedly, were for the incumbent.
Suspicion that the vote was rigged grew out of Republican state legislature rules in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that barred counting mail-in ballots until Election Day or even after polls closed. Mail-in ballots heavily favored Democrats, largely because the incumbent president denigrated them even as many Americans saw mail-in as a means of voting safely during a pandemic.
To rig a presidential election, a candidate would have to get individual state and county officials in at least a dozen or more targeted states to go along with violating their oath of office.
The president had every reason to create the Big Lie. He faces many state charges in New York, possibly Florida and now, most likely, Georgia and the District of Columbia. Re-election would save him from immediate legal jeopardy. Not to mention the stripping of his bully-pulpit power and the ruining of his brand. Believe him at you peril if you choose, but not at your nation’s peril. Rigging a presidential election would require such a massive conspiracy that surely some evidence would have surfaced by now. None did. Not in any of the 60 or so cases brought before courts–including the U.S. Supreme Court–dominated by nominees of the now-defeated president. All were summarily dismissed. Get real. Get over it. Donald–there, I named him–is done.
On a local level, our First Congressional District Republican representative, Andy Harris, distinguished him as a fellow presidential sore loser. Even after the violent invasion of the Capitol, after House and Senate chambers were cleared of the mob that would undo America, Harris nearly got into fisticuffs with a Democratic colleague. They had to be separated by the deputy sergeant-of-arms. A congresswoman reported that Harris indicated by word or gesture, “You want a piece of me?” The Democrat was not innocent of provocation, according to the same witness. But Harris went on after the vituperative debate to vote for the president’s Big Lie. Worse, when it became time for Harris to vote up or down on impeachment, he ducked voting on the record.
His excuse was patient care. Harris is an anesthesiologist. Also, a doctor who doesn’t believe in affordable health care. He chose to attend a surgery, which is an entirely defensible professional decision. Still, I have little doubt, considering his craven support to the president whose name should be banished forever from civilized public discourse, that he feared for his political future in casting either a vote to impeach of not to impeach. I hope his cop-out forestalls any political future. Go back to treating your patients fulltime, Andy. Maybe they can afford you after Biden & Friends fix health care.
What is the solution, if any, of defending against the next Big Lie, or serial lies, that contribute to widespread electoral gullibility? It begins with social media–especially the behemoths thereof. I remember back in the day, the mid-’60s, when we had such a thing as civics classes in high school. It was a time when everyone I knew, when folks we all knew, got their information from the same sources, more or less. Millennials can’t imagine a time when TV news came from three sources–Walter Cronkite on CBS, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC, Howard K. Smith on ABC, and a bit later with PBS Newshour. Every major city had two or three newspapers and every town, yes, Easton, Chestertown and Cambridge, too, had a weekly or daily paper.
I don’t long for a non-digital world. You never go back. I recall as a journalist the time when we gave up typewriters in the newsroom for word-processors. There’s no way I’d ever go back, even considering that as I was writing THIS story, I hit the wrong button and had to start all over again. (My bad.)
But the reach of the digital world has gotten way out of hand. Facebook started out as a dorm-room discovery that there might be a big market in finding out who’s dating whom and, more to the point, who’s broken up with whom. Who’s available. The concept of socially driven algorithms grew out of that. Now, instead of fixing you up with your next date, such digital computations drive to your next online obsession. If you were to show interest in, say, opposing diversity regarding college admissions, you could be driven a little at a time toward actual racial animosity. Or from an interest in opposing pedophilia in general into believing Q-Anon theories that Democrats and “Deep State” liberals are all child-trafficking pedophiles who suck the blood and even eat organs of babies to nourish their longevity.
Who believes this craziness? I confess to all kinds of doubts about Republicans, but I would never think them capable of bloodsucking depravity except, perhaps, the two Q-Anons just elected to Congress. Look out for them. They’re nuts.
What to do about the viral spread of hate and what I would call nonsense, except that it’s so potentially deadly?
Congress and the president now have a stick to hold over Facebook, Google and Twitter and others who may attain monopoly status in a digital world that now dominates our communication with one other. Each platform, under threat by an attorney general who now works for America (I’m looking forward to you, Merrick Garland) instead of a lame-duck president, could impose restrictions demanding that algorithms require as a default Real News. That means establishing a commission of media experts who decide real journalism from fake. (Sorry Breitbart, Newsmax, OAN and maybe Fox if you don’t expel your opinion flame-throwers.) Every mainstream newspaper, TV/cable network, local newspaper still surviving, and periodicals on every subject worth noting would become the top few choices of any substantive question presented on Facebook, for instance. Speech concerns would be addressed by the freedom to search any of these social media platforms for your desired answer. But your anticipated preferences would never again be shoved into your face. Almost as importantly, Real News sources that are clicked on via Facebook, Google etc. will collect a nickel, a penny or whatever agreed upon reward for every hit. That would help sustain a business model that now projects demise of real journalism as we know it.
Steve Parks is a retired journalist for Newsday who now lives in Easton, Maryland.