So what to do about election denialism, the widespread claims that the election was stolen?
If polls are right, something like 50 million fellow citizens, almost all of them Republicans, believe the election was stolen.
That’s a lot of healing to do.
Will polls show that Biden’s passionate and convincing plea in his inaugural address for decency and unity won some GOP hearts and minds? Maybe.
The pleas for healing the divided nation, that theme of the moment, usually see the solution in a change of attitude. To remember our manners. To walk a mile in their shoes. Sit down with that Trump-supporting neighbor for a heart-to-heart.
Usually the pitch for a more civil style is unrelated to the substance of what divides us.
It’s hard to picture how this good Christian advice applies to a lot of our more bitterly divisive issues such as abortion or when, for instance, those shoes you’re supposed to walk a mile in belong to a white supremacist.
And of course when it comes to by far the most divisive issue of the moment, the claims that the election was stolen, there can be no feeling the pain of those making the claims.
If 50 million fellow Americans fervently believe the election was stolen, isn’t that a reason to listen to their side of the story? No, not really. Not if the argument repeatedly given for their mistrust is the mistrust itself. (50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong?) That, and that Trump himself says he knows he won by a landslide.
There is no question that 50 million citizens persist in believing that the election was stolen and that a usurper sits in the White House is a worrisome source of instability.
Is there anything that can be done to address this most harmful division of all?
It should in fact be a comfort for those who base their belief on the belief itself of so many of them to point out that the great majority of Americans believe that a substantial majority voted for Biden.
Beyond that, we can only appeal to the logic of separating real news from “fake news” when it comes to counting the votes How do we find out what the numbers really are?
Start with the commonsense fact that the facts don’t speak for themselves. You know how you voted, maybe you are pretty sure how family and friends voted But in this huge country, the election results can’t report themselves to us personally. Only God, if there were one, omniscient and ubiquitous, can know the whole truth of the election, of the voting. Failing that (and a believable fellow human into whose ear God has whispered the Truth), it takes fellow humans to do the counting and reporting.
Of the contending versions of the election we have on the one side the truth as ascertained by a bi-partisan procedure .involving thousands of witnesses of both parties, votes counted and recounted (and recounted), then certified. And then tested in dozens of court cases.
On the other side the fact that millions of Trump loyalists don’t trust the official count. And the frequent claim by the loser that he won by a landslide.
Given those alternatives, does even the most ardent and disgruntled Trump supporter expect others to simply accept the magical thinking of Trump’s or QAnon’s word on the election result or the argument that “lots of people” think there was election fraud over that democratic procedure established by both parties at state and national level?
So why do they persist in the delusional belief themselves?
To deny the bipartisan democratic procedures for counting the vote in favor of the opinion of the loser or his supporters is to violate the premise of democracy itself in favor of dictatorial populism.
All this assumes that election deniers are interested in the truth of the matter. It’s clear that Trump was not. He said long before there were any votes to count, that his losing the election would be evidence of fraud.
Maybe it would help the healing if thousands of GOP poll workers and election officials were to make a public statement to fellow Republicans: People, we were there, eyewitnesses. We were half the process. Stop fretting (and take your fingers off those triggers): it was as fair as elections get.