The election of Donald Trump has brought American political discourse to its nadir—no small feat, given that Donald Trump himself previously brought it lower than anyone before him. But we’ve hit bedrock, in a way: the histrionics, the frothing conspiracy theories, the emotional meltdowns—all of it coming almost exclusively from the left—is a sorry sight for a political heritage that includes the Gettysburg Address and “I Have a Dream” and the Federalist Papers.
How bad has it become? Consider:
52% of Democrats believe Russia tampered with vote tallies to get Trump elected (per Economist/YouGov poll).
There’s no evidence for this.
So, two months after the election and a few weeks before the new president is to be sworn in, a quarter of the electorate believes a falsehood: that Russia “hacked” the election—literally hacked it, mind you: we’re not talking about the slipshod, wild-eyed usage of “hacked” employed by deranged New York Times opinion writers, but a genuine conviction that the election results are fraudulent. Looking at the full poll data, the numbers are actually worse: only 16% of Democrats are willing to believe that the Russian vote hacking conspiracy theory is “definitely not true.” Which is to say that as much as 84% of the Democratic electorate—over 4/5 of it—believes that Donald Trump’s electoral victory is illegitimate.
This is troubling for a unique and important reason. The full data of this poll actually reveal that a lot of Americans believe a whole host of kooky conspiracies—that Obama was born in Kenya, that a cabal of Wall Street bankers orchestrated the 2008 recession, that the September 11th attacks were planned by the United States government, that Hillary Clinton was involved in some sort of pedophile pizza scandal—and belief in many of these theories largely breaks down along party lines depending on the issue. But these wacky convictions persist, overwhelmingly, in spite of the reported facts of the matter, not because of them: the media have aggressively debunked the “Pizzagate” controversy, for instance; there have never been any credible indications that the United States had a hand in planning 9/11; every major media outlet and 99% of the minor ones has refuted the Obama-is-a-Kenyan conspiracy; and so forth.
The exact opposite thing has happened regarding the Russian election controversy: the media have aggressively promoted the false narrative that Russia “hacked” the election. The New York Times called Russia’s actions “election hacking.” So did the BBC. So did the Wall Street Journal. So did ABC News. So did USA Today. So did the Atlantic. So did countless other outlets and pundits and writers. It was the political term du jour, bolstered by an echo-chamber media full of partisans desperately searching for an explanation as to why Hillary Clinton lost: rather than her own wooden, robotic unelectability, she had to be the victim of an “election” “hack.”
“Election hacking” is the wrong way to describe what Russia did: so far as we can tell, Russian meddling in the election was limited to a data breach of DNC e-mails and a phishing scam of John Podesta. There is good reason to be seriously concerned about these actions. But to call these exploits “election hacking” is intellectually dishonest and quite obviously opportunistic. The term “election hacking” conjures up precisely the types of images the media know it conjures up: Russian operatives digitally manipulating voter ballots in swing states in order to hand the election to Donald Trump.
You don’t get the same effect from a headline that announces, say,
“Hillary Clinton’s terminally clueless and incompetent campaign chairman got nailed by the Russian equivalent of a Nigerian prince scam.”
All of these outlets could have easily written “e-mail hacking” or “DNC hacking” or “campaign hacking;” instead, they ran with the provocative and misleading “election hack” angle, thus helping to ensure that perhaps more than 75% of Democrats believe Donald Trump is the beneficiary of international voter fraud.
All of which is to say that, in spite of what we believed during the primaries and the general election, our political discourse can in fact get lower. What is most ironic is that we were warned, leading up to the election, that Russia’s principle aim was not to elect Donald Trump but to sow doubt among Americans regarding the integrity of our voting system and our democratic republic. They apparently succeeded, in large part because our media remain heroically determined to explain away the humiliating defeat of Hillary Clinton. The media are unwittingly playing the role of Russian dupes, and half of all Democrats went right along with them.
Daniel Payne is a writer living in Virginia. He publishes regularly at The Federalist, where he is a senior contributor; his work has also been featured at National Review, Reason, Front Porch Republic and elsewhere. His spare time is spent building compost piles and reading Midatlantic colonial history.
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Source: Trial of the Century