United only in hate
From The New Criterion.
December 31, 2020.
Even his admirers — and I have to declare myself to be among them — must admit that Donald John Trump has one or two things in common with Charles Foster Kane. So when the former announced on election night, just as the vote appeared to turn against him in key states, that he had been the victim of fraud, one was inevitably reminded of the hero of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane who, on the night before an election that he was about to lose, prepared two different banner headlines for the newspaper he owned: “Kane Elected!” in case he won and “Fraud at Polls!” if he lost. In other words, to use what I was once told was Twitter shorthand, Mandy Rice-Davies applies: “He would [say that], wouldn’t he?”
Yes, one can readily imagine that calling foul was automatic with this president. It’s one of the reasons why his many detractors not only disapprove of him but actively hate him, though like Nancy Pelosi they are usually reluctant to admit it. That he might well have cried fraud even after losing the most immaculately clean election there has ever been seems all too plausible. But readers will not need reminding that this does not mean that what happened on November 3rd was the most immaculately clean election there has ever been — or that there was no Fraud at Polls which caused him to lose it. Let's not forget that Citizen Kane was a newspaperman before he was a politician, and a newspaperman who said that people would think what he told them to think.
For Mandy Rice-Davies applies to the media and the Democrats as well. What else are we to think of the Washington Post’s headline on the morning after election day: “Presidential election hangs in balance as Trump falsely asserts fraud and makes a claim of victory”? For four long years, the Post’s reporters and editors have given ample proof of their willingness to call anything the President says a falsehood, whether or not they know it — or can know it — to be one. Surely the claim that this president has said something contrary to fact is at least as automatic with the Post (and many, many others, in the media and out of it) as anything he has ever said. How can these manifestly partisan journalists possibly know that the President’s assertion is false at the very moment he makes it?
Perhaps in the same way that the Post’s so-called “fact checkers” purport to know that he has made 20,000-plus “false or misleading” statements in his four years in office — that is, simply by claiming to know what they cannot possibly know on the basis that Mr Trump has asserted the contrary. When you begin from the assumption that a man is lying, as the Post and its fact-checkers have done over and over again, then it is not only possible but necessary to identify anything he says of which the truth is unknown as a lie. Or, to put it another way, if Mr Trump is lying — or falsely asserting something — then the Post is too, since the basis on which the accusation is made, that he doesn’t know the thing to be true, applies equally to those who don’t know it to be false when they claim that it is.
It must also be admitted that Mr Trump himself sometimes seems to assume a thing to be true merely because he has said it, but in this as in so many other ways he is simply reflecting what is standard operating procedure in the media. That’s the beauty of abandoning objectivity and even-handedness for partisanship as the media and the Democrats did long ago, though many Republicans remain more squeamish about it than Mr Trump does. You know that you can henceforth pronounce with absolute certainty anything that you want to be true: because the other side will call it false in any case while your fellow partisans will accept it as implicitly true and never demand that you admit to error, let alone to lying.
I wonder if, having grown used to the liberating feeling of no longer having to conceal their biases under President Trump — since they could assume that all their readers shared them — the media also do not bother to conceal the fact that they are impervious to evidence and will reject any which may emerge that he is right about the fraud. After all, they’ve been telling us for years that there is “no evidence” of electoral fraud every time somebody wants to tighten up election security. It’s become a mantra with them, even though it is manifestly untrue, as many of us outside the media’s magic circle have pointed out, and it always leads to the the counter-charge that the security-conscious are trying to “suppress the vote” of minorities by such measures.
If they are so wedded to the conviction that there is no evidence of electoral fraud, what do you suppose are the chances of their admitting such fraud exists even if such evidence is served up to them on a plate with watercress around it? Not high, I think you’ll agree, when they’ve already determined, without evidence, that the claim of fraud is false. Nor did anyone at The Washington Post that I’m aware of rebuke Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden when both claimed that there was at least the possibility of fraud on the other side by saying there was no way the President could win re-election without it. What happened to “without evidence”? What do they know that they aren’t telling us? If this was not mere Trump-style bravado and they knew this, as they claimed to know it, in advance, doesn’t that suggest that they also knew of some “irregularities” to be exploited by their own side and the media — who were also reporting prior to the election a huge lead in the polls for Vice President Biden that turned out to be false? Talk about suppressing the vote!
For me the most persuasive indication that something was wrong with this election, at least in its immediate aftermath, came on the Thursday after election day when CBS, MSNBC, ABC and NBC as well as the video feed from USA Today cut away in the middle of a speech in which Mr Trump was repeating his claim of fraud, denying their viewers even the opportunity to hear what they were insisting was false. Why, if the President wanted to make a fool of himself by repeating such self-evidently false allegations, wouldn’t these perennial detractors let him do so — and then laugh at him for it along with everyone else? It suggests that they think he is on to something, even if he isn’t.
As with Twitter’s censorship of Mr Trump’s election eve tweet about what he saw as some official enablers of fraud in Philadelphia — where electoral fraud has been taken for granted by both parties, though it has been denied by the media, for decades — the effect seems to me only to lend more credence to his words than they might otherwise command. Only a fool would bother to censor lies, for only truth can ever be dangerous enough to make those who have the power to suppress it want and need to exercise that power. When all the media gang up together to stop something from being said, you can pretty much take it to the bank that there is enough truth in it to be harmful, if it is ever known, to the media themselves and their political darlings.
There has never been, to put it mildly, much grace in those who are, as I write, loudly complaining about President Trump’s gracelessness in pursuing his claims of fraud and refusing to concede defeat. But, ever devoid of self-awareness, such people can never see in themselves anything of what they condemn in Mr Trump, any more than the cataloguers of his 20,000 lies (excuse me, “false and misleading statements”) have ever noticed even one of their own lies which has crept into that number unnoticed — such as claiming as false every one of the many Trump dicta to the effect that the Mueller investigation was a “hoax” or a “witch hunt," which to any unbiased observer, it must now appear to have been. Likewise, the media hive hail the presumptively victorious Mr Biden’s call for post-election unity as the statesmanlike thing to do and are utterly blind to his own gracelessness.
To me, and I imagine to many others, Joe Biden’s call for unity seems merely insulting. It sounds as if he were saying: “I and my Democratic colleagues have just spent four years calling President Trump and, by extension, those who support him Nazis and racists. Now we’re not only not retracting that claim but are making the additional claim that our election victory must have justified it, by its repudiation of the President, even though half the country still supports him. We still hate you, in other words, but, if you know what’s good for you, you Nazis and racists will admit you are Nazis and racists, will repent of your Naziism and racism and come back into the fold of decency with us good people — who by the way would never lie or cheat.” Yeah, that will unify the country all right.
Even Joe Biden can hardly be unaware that such an appeal is so far from being genuinely conciliatory as to amount to rubbing salt in the wounds of his defeated adversaries. If he really wanted to play Lincoln and bind up the nation’s wounds, as well as to assure the country that he is confident in the cleanness of his win, he would be joining with Mr Trump in calling for independent investigations of voting irregularities wherever they may be supposed to exist. I don’t believe anybody on either side of the political divide can be holding his or her breath waiting for him to do that.
For it is not possible to see the post-election wrangling, which I imagine will still be going on by the time you read these words, apart from the context of the past four years during which the Democrats, sporting their “Resistance” banners, in alliance with the media and the deep state, have wanted nothing whatsoever to do with national unity under the hated Orange Man. The behavior of these hyperpartisans, acting in concert, has not only made it impossible for many of us to see the Biden calls for unity as having been made in good faith; it has made them tantamount to flaunting their bad faith. Nor can they imagine that the Trump-ites have forgotten the manufactured scandals, the lies and distortions (Nazis as “very fine people” or injecting bleach to cure Covid, for example) constantly repeated though constantly debunked and, above all, the open and relentlessly pursued determination in the media and the Democratic controlled Congress to terminate the Trump presidency by any means necessary ever since he was elected.
Those who have been engaging in such graceless behavior since 2016 can have no standing now to complain of the President’s ungraciousness in refusing to concede defeat. The so-called “Resistance” has waged open war à outrance on Mr Trump and his supporters in and out of government; how can they complain if he is fighting against them in the same spirit — and this without even any consideration of whatever merits there may be in his claims of fraud? The media’s vehement denial of those claims when they cannot possibly know whether they have any merit or not seems to me a tell. I’m betting that there was indeed fraud, and probably decisive fraud (for what would be the point of fraud on behalf of a candidate who was going to win anyway?), if only because the media are so insistent, “without evidence,” that there wasn’t. The corruption in both media and government revealed in the last four years of legal and illegal “Resistance” to an elected president can hardly have been absent from the election which is currently supposed to have defeated him.
It’s as if the election was to the media’s resisters nothing more than a re-run of the impeachment of a year ago, or of the Mueller hoax of the year before that, in a version that they thought promised them a better chance of success. Just look at the headlines on the New York Times’s opinion page on the Sunday after the election: “We Are Finally Getting Rid of Him,” wrote Michelle Goldberg. “Don’t undersell the triumph of ousting Trump.” Maureen Dowd was more succinct “We Hereby Dump Trump.” Does this sound like nothing more than the ungracious but not abnormal electoral victors’ gloating over a vanquished opponent? Or is it rather the sigh of relief of someone whose four years of unavailing efforts to accomplish just such an “ousting” have at last met with success? And if the latter, why should we assume the successful ousting has been any more legitimately founded than the unsuccessful ones?
The media have been giving themselves a pass for eschewing honesty and fair-mindedness for four years on account of the gravity of the threat to the country, in their view, posed by Mr Trump. To use the Goldberg-Dowd “we,” we’re all agreed that we hate Trump, aren’t we? So what’s the big deal if we cheat a little if it means getting rid of him? Nothing has been too bad to allege, or believe, about him and no grounds too flimsy to stop the Trump-haters from alleging or believing it. Are we now to suppose that they are being honest and fair-minded in denying that there could have been any fraud in their apparent victory, when it will have accomplished that removal of the President from office for which they have been bending every effort for four years?
That Mr Biden is apparently willing to accept an inevitably tainted victory rather than call for an investigation himself is also a powerful argument for fraud, since he knows he can count on the media to cover for this stonewalling. One must suppose that they have nothing but contempt for that half of the country which doesn’t believe the media. But the media’s power as official custodians of what has been called the Overton window — the range of socially acceptable political beliefs at any given time — goes well beyond their power to compel literal belief in the supposed facts they report. And the greater part of that power, shared with the entertainment arm of the media, belongs to ridicule.
This is why the New York Times and the Washington Post now dutifully report on Sunday on whatever satirical barbs have been launched against the President on Saturday Night Live — so that even those who, like me, find the show unwatchable in its smug self-righteousness can keep up to date with what is thought to be plausible and what is assuredly ridiculous. As one who has too often sought in vain to get a peek out of that Overton window, I can be pretty confident that I am courting such ridicule myself in suggesting so many reasons for belief in the possibility, even the probability, of fraud. But as the pre-election polls showed once again, many more people harbor socially unacceptable beliefs than will admit to them, even to a stranger. Enough in this case, at any rate, to suggest that there can be zero prospect of national unity in the four years to come — as, I believe, even Joe Biden must know. But then, if unity were really what he was after, he would have run a very different sort of campaign.