Republican ‘fraud’ strategy only works because people want to believe the lies

Photo courtesy Thomas Guest

Ever since post-Election-Day ballot counts started showing that Kyrsten Sinema was cutting into the small lead that Martha McSally held, Republicans have embarked on a scorched-earth strategy that has involved accusing elections officials of breaking the law by counting ballots, suing to stop said counting, baselessly claiming that Democrats are “stealing” the election and demonizing the elections overseer in the largest county.

That the whole conspiracy is fabricated is not shocking, I suppose. That it’s being directed from the top of the GOP shouldn’t be, in the age of Trump (who, naturally, weighed in with a fact-less assertion on Twitter).

The whole ordeal is a disgusting attempt by a political party to undermine the elections in the raw pursuit of seeking and maintaining power. It is bad for Arizona and bad for America, not just that those in positions of leadership are opting to tell lies about the election system in response to losing at the polls, but that so many voters are willing to ignore what they know to be real and true in order to willingly believe the lies.

America is renowned the world over for the integrity of its election system. The peaceful transfer of power is among the chief reasons our country has truly been great – and something that has separated us from many other countries’ attempts to democratic and republican (with the small “d” and “r,” respectively) forms of government.

The people who are leading the charge, and those who repeat the calls to action, know this to be true. They know that voter fraud is exceptionally rare, and that study after study after study has shown it to be so. They also know, deep down, that a loss in an election is because their favored side lost in the marketplace of ideas and failed to convince enough voters it would be the best leader.

But they want to believe, with as much sincerity as they’re able to trick themselves into faking, the fantasy that there is fraud, that there is a conspiracy to steal political power away from them, that their political opponents are evil and their time in positions of power will be nightmarish. Facts that refute the lie are instead used as evidence of the conspiracy, and truth-tellers become conspirators.

Why?

Well, fantasies – and nightmares, in particular – are exciting. The day-to-day existence can be mundane: cleaning the litter box, the drudgery of our jobs, doing laundry, and our orderly and peaceful elections. The prospect of a massive evil conspiracy of evil conspirators conspiring to do evil spices things up.

They’re having fun. They’re enjoying this. It delights them. A make-believe session of feigned indignation over imaginary outrages is a close substitute for emotional fulfillment.

They faintly realize that there are tangible repercussions to delegitimizing elections, both short-term and long-term. But that is outweighed by the moral superiority provided by pretending that you’re a hero, a righteous champion battling evil.

While this is a strategy of the Republican reaction to the 2018 elections, it is by no means a problem with roots in any partisan ideology – it is very much a human foible.

The quest to find some outrageous evil “other” to compare ourselves favorably against will be desperate, and always seem empty because it doesn’t address the persistent sense that we are not as good as we should be or can be.

But it’s hard to become better, and human nature often leads us to the path of least resistance – in this case, imagining new “others” who are vastly evil.

C.S. Lewis, the author, scholar and Christian philosopher, warned about this very phenomenon in his book “Mere Christianity,” which is widely considered to be one of the most influential books on Christian apologetics ever written. He cautioned that it only can end with a self-destroying “universe of pure hatred.”

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything – God and our friends and ourselves included – as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

About 70 percent of Americans are Christians, as are 82 percent of Republicans. I am sure that a good many of them have read Lewis’ books, but they have rejected his advice and failed his test.

Fueled by a president with no regard for anything but his ego and power, and enabled by so-called leaders whose morals are subservient to their thirst for power, the response of American conservatism to its apparent losses in last week’s election has been shaped by exactly what Lewis was warning about: an insatiable desire for “the sheer pleasure of thinking (our) enemies are as bad as possible.”

When the leaders say, “Democrats are stealing the election,” it’s irrelevant that this is not true. What matters is how it feels to imagine what it would mean if it were true – the “sheer pleasure” of being able to tell ourselves that the evil deeds of the others equates to our own righteousness.

We need to be better, lest we become the devils Lewis predicted.

 

Jim Small
Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.

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