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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

 

You don't get points for that

by Tom Sullivan

Google "mass hysteria wiki" and you'll get a long list of mass hysterias, some of which are surprisingly contemporary. The list does not include other popular delusions such as the tulip mania of 1637 or moral panics such as the ritual satanic abuse panic of the 1980s. Belief in widespread, undetected voter fraud should be among them. Unlike the others, this one did not develop organically. It had help.

This month that help is coming from the GOP's candidate for president and his campaign. Spreading wild rumors of stolen elections via dog whistles at county party Republican dinners or at T-party rallies and websites (or even Washington salons) is one thing. The Republican standard bearer broadcasting conspiracy theories from a national platform is making even conservative pundits nervous:

Such incendiary talk is an affront to elementary democratic decency and a breach of the boundaries of American political discourse. In democracies, the electoral process is a subtle and elaborate substitute for combat, the age-old way of settling struggles for power. But that sublimation works only if there is mutual agreement to accept both the legitimacy of the result (which Trump keeps undermining with charges that the very process is “rigged”) and the boundaries of the contest.
For Donald Trump, this conspiracy theory is not new. But the size of his audience is.

The New York Times Editorial Board weighs in:

It may be too late for the Republican Party to save itself from the rolling disaster of Donald Trump, but the party’s top leaders still have the duty to speak out and help save the country from his reckless rhetoric. The most frightening example is Mr. Trump’s frenzied claim that the presidential election is being “rigged” against him — a claim he has ramped up as his chances of winning the presidency have gone down.

Instead of disavowing this absurdity outright, Republican leaders sit by in spineless silence. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, are the two most powerful Republicans in the country and should be willing to put the national interest above their own. Both know full well that there is no “rigging,” and yet between them they have managed one tepid response to Mr. Trump’s outrageous accusations: “Our democracy relies on confidence in election results,” Mr. Ryan’s spokeswoman said, “and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.”

This is like standing back while an arsonist pours gasoline all over your house, then expressing confidence that the fire department will get there in time.
The Times also calls out Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani for feeding the fires.

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern details the recent sordid history of the fraud myth that dates back decades. Stern spoke with The Nation's Ari Berman:
“Trump just poured gasoline on a fire that was already burning,” Berman told me. “For nearly two decades, Republicans have been insisting—without any evidence—that Democrats are stealing elections. The idea has always been to gain an electoral advantage by preventing the fastest growing Democratic demographics from voting.”

Would Berman give any credit for the conflagration to Republicans like Husted, who are now arguing against Trump’s stolen election conspiracy theories?

“These Republicans are criticizing Trump for the ‘rigged election’ talk, sure,” he said, “but they aren’t backing off their own party’s efforts to make it harder to vote. Denouncing Trump’s rhetoric without taking responsibility for your own party’s voter suppression is total BS.”
Republicans have been stoking voter fraud hysteria among their base for decades — studiously keeping the coals hot — to build support for the kinds of "election integrity" laws federal courts across the country are lately overthrowing as discriminatory and unconstitutional. Now that the Republican standard bearer and his acolytes are fanning the coals into a roaring fire, loudly and publicly broadcasting the conspiracy, a few Republicans are shocked, shocked.

Yet another Frankenstein monster of their own creation (to mix metaphors) has broken loose of its chains and a few Republicans are belatedly pushing back. But as President Obama said of Republicans who revoked their support for Trump in the wake of the "Access Hollywood" tapes, "You don't get points for that."