I’m hearing a lot of crazy talk these days.
I’m hearing that the 2020 presidential election was rigged by a massive, heavily-monied, and carefully coordinated national organization of businesses, unions, activists, special interest groups, social media oligarchs, and political operators determined to prevent Trump from being re-elected.
I thought we’d be over all that by now. Joe Biden is in the White House, the new Congress has been sworn in, and Donald Trump is working on his tan and his golf game down in Florida.
But still there’s talk of conspiracies and cabals.
I’m skeptical of all conspiracy theories because I think competence and discretion diminish so rapidly in inverse proportion to the size of a group that once you get past a tiny handful of people, it’s not credible that anything significant can be coordinated in total secrecy, much less remain secret.
Big conspiracies—a faked moon landing, 9/11 as an inside job, the Kennedy assassination—only work if you’re willing to believe that many people from many different walks of life are able to plan, coordinate, and carry out a complex and dangerous plan without a single misstep—and remain silent about it forever.
I can’t make the leap of faith required to buy into that. I’ve spent too much time around too many people from too many different walks of life.
Not everybody shares my skepticism. I know plenty of people who are willing to embrace all sorts of wild theories: people on the left, people on the right, and people in between. People who genuinely believe that the world is in the thrall of a handful of players, or groups of players, for whom the rest of us are just so many pawns being pushed around the board.
In the run-up to the 2020 election I saw a lot of people whose thinking I ordinarily respect, for example, go completely off the rails: people on the left and right. The QAnon stuff was and remains batshit crazy. The idea of Trump attempting an actual coup was and remains batshit crazy.
My own feelings about the election were similar to my feelings about the Amy Coney Barrett nomination hearings: that there would be massive sound and fury, and there would be ploys and devices enough on both sides to make Wile E. Coyote proud, but in the end we’d find that everyone had more or less played by the rules (and whatever plausible deniability would allow) and the system would see to it that things played out without a lot of drama.
And that’s pretty much how I thought things went, the events of January 6th notwithstanding. There was weirdness and irregularity and there were legal challenges and heated words, but in terms of process and procedure things chugged along as they always do, and Joe Biden was sworn in as scheduled.
I was disappointed that Biden won the election, obviously.
My concerns about the 2020 election, most or all of which were documented on this blog, had nothing to do with anything as grandiose as attempted coups or vote tampering. I was troubled by the way establishment media and big tech went so flagrantly and openly into the tank for one man and one party: the way support for Trump and opposition to Biden were being portrayed not as valid political beliefs espoused by about half the country, but as an ideological virus that had to be snuffed out as urgently as did its biological equivalent from Wuhan.
According to the hot new conspiracy theory, my concerns were spot on, as far as they went, but they didn’t go anywhere near far enough. Not even close.
To the President, something felt amiss. “It was all very, very strange,” Trump said on Dec. 2. “Within days after the election, we witnessed an orchestrated effort to anoint the winner, even while many key states were still being counted.”
In a way, Trump was right.
There was a conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes, one that both curtailed the protests and coordinated the resistance from CEOs. Both surprises were the result of an informal alliance between left-wing activists and business titans.
Yes, I’m quoting a conspiracy theorist just a few paragraphs after explaining my skepticism of conspiracy theories. And I’m doing that because this conspiracy theorist is laying out her theory in a featured article in Time:
The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election, Molly Ball, Time.com, February 4
Have another delicious slice:
The handshake between business and labor was just one component of a vast, cross-partisan campaign to protect the election–an extraordinary shadow effort dedicated not to winning the vote but to ensuring it would be free and fair, credible and uncorrupted. For more than a year, a loosely organized coalition of operatives scrambled to shore up America’s institutions as they came under simultaneous attack from a remorseless pandemic and an autocratically inclined President. Though much of this activity took place on the left, it was separate from the Biden campaign and crossed ideological lines, with crucial contributions by nonpartisan and conservative actors. The scenario the shadow campaigners were desperate to stop was not a Trump victory. It was an election so calamitous that no result could be discerned at all, a failure of the central act of democratic self-governance that has been a hallmark of America since its founding.
In order to ensure a “free and fair, credible and uncorrupted” election, “shadow campaigners” worked diligently to prevent a “calamitous” election.
Job well done, guys:
38% of Americans lack confidence in election fairness: Over two-thirds of respondents reported concern over voter suppression, Stephanie Kulke, Northwestern Now, 23 December 2020
If that’s not a calamitous failure of the central act of democratic self-governance, one can only imagine what would be.
“But it’s mostly Republicans driving those numbers down!”
Another way of saying that would be: it’s mostly Democrats propping those numbers up.
Either way you look at it, when a race is only hailed as fair by the winners (and not even all of them), you obviously have a problem. Would you be comforted to know that “90% of southern white Democrats believed in the fairness of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation: it was only southern blacks and Republicans driving the overall number down below 40%?” Would we interpret those results as meaning that slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation were okay?
In fact, the valiant comrades of the “Shadow Campaign” have plainly achieved the very results they were purportedly working so hard to prevent.
And yet they seem oddly proud of their results.
Which suggests a perception of fairness wasn’t really what they were after.
I have no doubt that a leftist reading Molly Ball’s article will find nothing objectionable. Everything was done in the name of fairness and democracy! They didn’t rig the election, they fortified it! Yay!
To be fair, some of the activities described in the article do in fact sound entirely appropriate.
Former Tennessee Republican Representative Zach Wamp, for example:
…worked through the nonpartisan reform group Issue One to rally Republicans. “We thought we should bring some bipartisan element of unity around what constitutes a free and fair election,” Wamp says. The 22 Democrats and 22 Republicans on the National Council on Election Integrity met on Zoom at least once a week. They ran ads in six states, made statements, wrote articles and alerted local officials to potential problems. “We had rabid Trump supporters who agreed to serve on the council based on the idea that this is honest,” Wamp says. This is going to be just as important, he told them, to convince the liberals when Trump wins. “Whichever way it cuts, we’re going to stick together.”
One can’t help wondering whether there were any “rabid” Biden supporters involved anywhere, or whether such creatures even exist; rabidity aside, however, at least in one small prong of this massive election “fortification” effort there appears to have been something like genuine bipartisan goodwill. (I should emphasize small and appears and something like.)
Elsewhere, not so much. Elsewhere, in fact, it’s quite clear that “bipartisan” and “nonpartisan” are simply being used as synonyms for “anti-Trump.” The assumption underlying the entire conspiracy—their word, not mine—the foundational assumption was that Donald Trump was a dictatorial authoritarian, a tyrant, a clear and present danger to the republic.
That assumption has never been supported with empirical evidence. It’s simply something everyone on the left knows.
I would ask any fair-minded Biden supporter (to the extent there are any) how they would feel reading something like this:
The anti-lockdown protests had shown that people power could have a massive impact. Activists began preparing to reprise the demonstrations if Biden tried to steal the election. “Americans plan widespread protests if Biden interferes with election,” Newsmax reported in October, one of many such stories. More than 150 conservative groups, from the National Right to Life to the NRA to the Walkaway and BLEXIT movements, from Republicans.com to Breitbart.com, joined the “Protect the Results” coalition. The group’s now defunct website had a map listing 400 planned post-election demonstrations, to be activated via text message as soon as Nov. 4. To stop the steal they feared, the right was ready to flood the streets.
Like the sound of that?
It’s straight from the article, just flipping the political orientation.
If I had the time, I think it’d be worthwhile to flip the entire article around that way.
But I don’t have the time.
So for now, all I can do is take Time.com at their word:
The 2020 presidential election was rigged by a massive, heavily-monied, and carefully coordinated national organization of businesses, unions, activists, special interest groups, social media oligarchs, and political operators determined to prevent Trump from being re-elected.
It was a massive conspiracy overseen by a cabal. Molly Ball says so and her editors at Time stand by her.
Conservatives saying the same thing have been and continue to be purged from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, and there’s even talk of rooting them out as terrorists, because you’re only only allowed to “speak truth to power” in a way that’s flattering to power. (Note that the “Big Lie” Grenier refers to in that linked article is Molly Ball’s big truth.)
As Molly Ball concludes:
Democracy won in the end. The will of the people prevailed. But it’s crazy, in retrospect, that this is what it took to put on an election in the United States of America.
Biden won in the end, I think she means.
The will of the right people prevailed, I think she means.
But I’m with her 100% on the craziness.
Ball herself explains why the story had to be told:
This is the inside story of the conspiracy to save the 2020 election, based on access to the group’s inner workings, never-before-seen documents and interviews with dozens of those involved from across the political spectrum. It is the story of an unprecedented, creative and determined campaign whose success also reveals how close the nation came to disaster. “Every attempt to interfere with the proper outcome of the election was defeated,” says Ian Bassin, co-founder of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan rule-of-law advocacy group. “But it’s massively important for the country to understand that it didn’t happen accidentally. The system didn’t work magically. Democracy is not self-executing.”
That’s why the participants want the secret history of the 2020 election told, even though it sounds like a paranoid fever dream–a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information. They were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it. And they believe the public needs to understand the system’s fragility in order to ensure that democracy in America endures.
“Every attempt to interfere with the proper outcome of the election was defeated.”
“They were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it.”
“And they believe the public needs to understand the system’s fragility in order to ensure that democracy in America endures.”
(Those are my emphases.)
Indeed, the system is apparently so fragile that to get a Democrat properly elected over a popular Republican incumbent (51% approval just before the election), the election must be fortified (which is totally not the same as rigging!) or else the Republican might win and American democracy could not endure.
I would have liked to hook into this from a Danish angle, but so far the Danish media have had nothing to say about this revelation. Searching for Molly Ball and Time.com on DR.dk, Berlingske.dk, and TV2.dk turn up nothing.
Ironically, however, the “Udland” (Foreign) section of DR’s news site is still promoting an old story about conspiracy theories “living on”:
“Farewell to Parler – but conspiracy theories and voter fraud stories live on at MeWe.”
Are they still conspiracy theories if the conspiracists have owned up to them?
I mean, if Molly Ball can write about “a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information,” then it’s no longer really a theory, is it?
I don’t believe that the conspiracists wanted the story told to help Americans understand that the republic is fragile and in need of their “influence” to produce the proper outcome. Not for a minute.
They’re not explaining. They’re not even confessing.
It wasn’t enough to vanquish their enemies: they want to completely demoralize them.
It’s not a good look.
And the Nagan Boomerang Principle suggests it’s going to have consequences that will horrify anyone cheering these conspiracists on.