Northeastern University’s website offers this account of US President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the election results in the runup to the Electoral College’s declaring Joe Biden the next president of the United States: “While no proof of tampering has emerged so far, the president has repeatedly claimed that his election was rigged or stolen, fired members of his administration who didn’t go along with the allegations, and pressured state officials to overturn results.”
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Last week Trump was in Florida campaigning for the two Republican Senate candidates in next month’s special election. He also warned Georgians to expect more rigging: “They cheated and they rigged our presidential election, and they’re gonna try to rig this election too.”
Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:
Fitted out with the ropes, sails, pulleys and other equipment needed for a ship to sail, a traditional maritime labor that politicians long ago realized could be adapted to the needs of the democracies they felt predestined to control.
The author of the article, Peter Ramjug, cites a survey conducted in November that reveals this astonishing fact: “More than half of Republican voters either believe President Donald Trump actually won the 2020 race or aren’t entirely sure who did win.” This should surprise no one. After all, when polled in 2006, a clear majority of Republicans believed Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, even though none were found in the end. As late as 2015, a majority of Republicans still believed that. This stands as a clear demonstration of the power of faith among Republicans, many of whom view Fox News as the Newer Testament.
Another finding from the survey may seem more surprising, namely that 34% of independents polled apparently either believed Trump was the winner or “weren’t sure who was.” That’s an impressive number for people who have no apparent reasons to prove their loyalty to a political party.
Ramjug alludes to the fact, often noted by pundits, that Americans have been showing a growing distrust not only of the nation’s institutions but of each other. The trend is toward solipsism and narcissism, the character traits Trump so perfectly exemplifies. A Pew survey published in July 2019 drew this troubling conclusion: “Many Americans see declining levels of trust in the country, whether it is their confidence in the federal government and elected officials or their trust of each other.”
It’s worth noting that this 2019 survey dates from what we now look back on as the halcyon epoch when there was no pandemic to fear and only the vaguest stirrings of the quadrennial psychodrama known as presidential election campaigns that was about to unfold. The survey contained some good news. It found that 84% of those polled “think the decline in trust can be turned around.” It would be interesting to find out what that figure might be today. Our guess is that it would be below 50%.
Ramjung cites the demographic breakdown that reveals “20 percent of white respondents overall believing Trump won, compared to 14 percent of Hispanic respondents, 9 percent of Asian respondents, and 7 percent of Black respondents.” The numbers for Hispanics, Asians and blacks correspond roughly to the percentage of each group that actually voted for Trump. This would appear to confirm the growing tendency of Americans to confuse their wishes with the truth or more simply to cast the notion of truth aside and cling to a belief in the “reality” of their wishes. And they aren’t wrong. Their wishes are real, even the ones that have no connection to reality.
The Pew survey found that more than “two-thirds (69%) of Americans say the federal government intentionally withholds important information from the public that it could safely release, and 61% say the news media intentionally ignores stories that are important to the public.” In this case, their perception is correct on both counts.
Every citizen should be cognizant of the fact that all governments — even in democracies — manage the news and that corporate media have their own criteria, related to their obsessive quest for ratings, governing their selection of stories. The New York Times claims it reports “all the news that’s fit to print.” It fails to remind us of what everyone spontaneously understands, that commercial interests have the power to define what’s “fit.” The Times consistently ignores important stories and magnifies rumors and lies.
One lesson everyone in the US should have learned — despite what the government and media choose to teach or suppress — is that everyone has the duty to market their own agenda. It’s a competitive world. If not quite dog eat dog, it has at least become dog tweet dog. You have to get your message across as frequently and volubly as possible. In such a system, who can distinguish truth from lies?
Joan Didion, an acute observer of US culture, captured one essential truth in an essay written 50 years ago. She was attempting to come to grips with the disaffection and alienation that had become evident through the disruptive events of the 1960s: “It occurred to me finally that I was listening to a true underground, the voice of all those who have felt themselves not merely shocked but personally betrayed by recent history. It was supposed to have been their time. It was not.”
Time has always been an important notion in US culture. Depriving people of their “time” or even of the feeling that their time might soon be coming is akin to an attack on their soul. We now know that Joe Biden wants to restore “the soul of the nation.” If he is serious, he should think about a way to give the nation the time for the soul. Amazon, the nation’s most successful company, and the contemporary symbol of American commercialism, literally steals the time of its employees as it holds them accountable for every minute of their presence, monitoring and measuring their time and punishing them for seconds wasted.
At the end of the 1960s — the age of the hippies and Vietnam War protests — the underground culture Didion was describing existed in the form of a restricted but vociferous minority. Its members strove to define a mission to which they could dedicate their time. It might be ending the war, returning to nature in a commune or chanting “Om” on a street corner with the Hare Krishnas. Those who feel betrayed today may no longer be a minority. But they have no mission, and they increasingly feel there is no exit.
Many of them cling to their admiration for and identification with celebrities. They confide their hope in them and offer them their trust. Donald Trump was the first pure celebrity to profit politically from that trend. Ronald Reagan may have paved the way in the 1980s, but he was a mere figurehead, a stand-in for the abstract idea of celebrity. He provided a name, a face and a voice, but all three were associated with an absence of personality. He robotically acted out the script of standard US patriotism. If people thought of him as a celebrity, it was as a cardboard cutout of celebrity. Trump is the opposite.
The hyperreal world of democratic politics Trump exploited requires sophisticated constructions designed to funnel votes in an intended direction, just as the masts, sails and rigging of an imposing 19th-century clipper or frigate were designed to harness the power of the winds to maximum effect. In the end, whether it’s a massive sailing ship, a movie set on the scale of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” or James Cameron’s “Titanic,” the rigging is what holds everything together.
The rigging of elections in the US starts long before people can even think about voting. Between passing laws that make voting difficult for specific categories of people (the art of voter suppression), gerrymandering and the lock-hold on politics of the two-party system itself, the political class has consistently demonstrated its resourcefulness in preventing democracy from expressing and implementing the will of the people. For Trump this year, the Republicans’ rigging simply couldn’t match the Democrats’. It isn’t about shenanigans like stuffing ballot boxes or getting the dead to vote. It’s about equipping a ship that can sail for the next four years.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.