The problem with spouting falsehoods is not that people necessarily believe the lie. It’s that they come to question verifiable facts and not believe anything.
That is the post-truth society to which the United States has devolved. That is the division being exploited in lawsuits filed recently in Clark County and two other Washington counties.
The lawsuits, filed by Republican operatives, claim widespread fraud in the November 2020 election. The result will not be to overturn election results or even uncover fraud; it is a specious claim. The result will be to sow doubt about our elections and the very foundations of our democracy, creating fissures that allow for future exploitation.
“This is the new reality on the ground for election administrators,” said Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Washington’s top election official. “It doesn’t matter how wide a margin in the results. You call everything into question, and it undermines the validity of everything in the process.”
The suits contend that about 6,000 votes were “flipped” and more than 400,000 were added or removed in one or more statewide races. They argue that Clark County was part of that.
Mind you, no evidence is presented to support these allegations. That is because there is no evidence — and there is much evidence to the contrary.
In Washington, we vote by paper ballot, allowing for easy auditing of votes or recounts if there are legitimate questions.
The Seattle Times reports that hand-count audits of more than 100,000 ballots were conducted following the November election. Columnist Danny Westneat writes: “Guess how much the final margins were changed by this human-versus-machine showdown? Two votes. The victory margin for state Sen. Mark Mullet in the 5th District increased from 57 to 58, and (Donald) Trump picked up a single vote in one Snohomish County precinct. That’s it.”
But that does not stop radical Republicans from promulgating the lie that the election was fraudulent. And, unfortunately, it does not stop us from reporting or commenting on it. The result is an endless cycle of lies thrust into the marketplace of ideas — lies that undermine the public’s faith in our elections even if people do not believe them.
Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister in Nazi Germany, reportedly said, “Repeat a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth.” That has become the mantra of the Trump wing of the Republican Party, where re-litigating an election from 10 months ago is cause for righteous indignation devoid of evidence. It is the last refuge of failed candidacies that were soundly rejected by voters. It is an attempt to till the soil, allowing for the next lie to take root.
Donald Trump and his acolytes filed some 60 lawsuits challenging the election results; they were rejected by the courts, including dozens by Trump-appointed judges. When faced with a defamation suit surrounding the election lies, one Trump lawyer offered an odd defense: “No reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.”
Alas, there are many unreasonable people out there, and they are persistently drawn to the lies, engaging in wishful thinking of what they imagine the truth to be rather than the facts in evidence.
We hope that they remain a minority. The threat to our democracy is very real, with the drip-drip-drip of lies eroding the foundation of our nation. Those who believe in this nation must cling to the truth, even when the lies seek to sow doubt.