GELFAND’S WORLD--Sunday, November 22, 2020 -- Los Angeles, California -- I wonder how many of my peers happened to glance at the date and got the cold chills.
It was the anniversary of the murder of John F. Kennedy -- not an even anniversary like the 50th, but an anniversary nevertheless.
Perhaps the odd number is why I didn't see any comment in the news, but the election of November, 1960 and the assassination on November 22, 1963 were days that changed us.
Modern historians have tended to downgrade Kennedy's accomplishments, but the combined work of Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson led to the forward motion of a civil rights movement that was a century overdue and is still ongoing. All we have to do is look at the results of this year's election, where the formerly confederate states of Georgia and Virginia voted for a pro-civil rights presidential candidate.
This was due in no small part to the votes of African-American citizens. And those votes were possible due to the progress against Jim Crow in the American south. Mind you, voter suppression is not gone, but the results of recent elections show that our national union has made progress.
And on to the story
At the same moment, we are engulfed in a national crisis of emotion because Donald Trump and his supporters refuse to admit defeat. They understand full well that the now almost-official vote totals give the election to Biden. But a lot of them buy into the notion that the whole election must have been rigged. It's not so much that they have personal knowledge of some latter day Boss Tweed overseeing the stuffing of ballot boxes. They just imagine that something of the sort must have happened, because, just because.
I was reminded of an era we went through a couple of decades ago exemplified by the election of Democrat Jane Harmon to congress. Her opponent simply could not accept (or even believe, apparently) that she had lost to Harmon. Since it was logically impossible (in her mind) that any sane majority could vote for a Democrat, it had to be illegal votes cast by illegal voters that tipped the scales.
And it was a not uncommon syndrome in those days. An activist California Republican Party simply could not believe that any reasonable person would ever vote for a Democrat. They didn't always say it in exactly those words, but the attitude was clear.
And now Trump, not to mention millions of Republican voters, are all singing from the same songbook. As far as they are concerned, there is no way that Joe Biden won because there is no way that they can imagine him winning.
But that lack of imagination is not equal to a logical proof or even a pretty good argument. It's just a logical fallacy. It is at about the same level as the anti-evolutionists whose argument is that evolution is too complicated to be true -- in other words, they can't imagine how it could happen so therefore it didn't happen. In truth, logic doesn't work that way. Your lack of imagination doesn't prove that evolution didn't occur, any more than it proves that it did occur. It's just an irrelevancy.
And the argument originated by Donald Trump that he could only lose if the election were rigged -- that argument is exactly equivalent to all those other arguments based on lack of imagination. So take it from me Donald: There is at least one person who chose to vote for your opponent, and it's me. If we were to survey people all over the 50 states, we would find people who felt as I did and managed to cast their ballots. Actually we're looking at something like 79 or 80 million of us by the time all the Biden votes are counted. We're not hard to find and we're not keeping it a secret. I learned that a neighbor of mine was a Biden voter simply because, on the Saturday morning when they called the election for Biden, he was standing in his open door drinking champagne from a goblet and accepting my congratulations.
What I'm trying to get into here is that the stolen election you're talking about didn't occur. There are just too many of us who really wanted Trump gone, and we organized and got out the vote and eventually won.
At this point, I'm a bit torn. I'm pretty sure (like about 98% sure) that the election is all over and there will be 270 electoral votes signed, sealed, and delivered to Biden by statewide certifications over the next few days. Only a few truly corrupt judges could change the result, and I'd like to think that even the Trump appointees wouldn't go there. And that's a profoundly optimistic view of this American republic, one that several of my more cynical friends and colleagues would reject.
So there it is. Will the system work as it is supposed to? In practice, what this means is that statewide election boards will respect the work -- and therefore the results -- from thousands of poll workers -- normal people -- who signed in voters, collected the ballots, and counted them. It's a pretty normal thing that I'm expecting, even if Donald Trump and millions of his followers hope to pervert it.
And while I remain torn over Trump's weird, wholly unacceptable behavior, I wonder if it's possible to extend the teensiest olive branch to Trump voters who also happen to be my colleagues in writing for CityWatch. The first remark I am going to make -- and please don't take this as sarcastic or patronizing -- is that this is not the end of the world. It was not the end of the world when Barack Obama won, or when Bill Clinton won, and it won't be under a Biden presidency.
And there is a reason for this: There is a lot of conservativism built into American liberalism. Let me point out a few principles that have been maintained for hundreds of years and therefore are, by definition, the essence of conservatism:
It is the primary duty of the government to maintain the peace. In maintaining the peace, we convict the guilty and free the innocent through a system of courts of law that are required to follow the rules of evidence. We have a system of private property that is defended by courts and deeds. We have a banking system that makes all of this possible, and is regulated by law and federal agencies.
When Trump accused the Democratic candidates of being socialist, he couldn't have been talking about maintaining this system. Please understand that the communist fantasy warned of by Trump is not part of American liberalism any more than it is part of European Social Democracy.
I would hazard that there is a pretty broad middle ground where true liberals and staunch conservatives can comingle. But I will agree with my CityWatch colleague Jim O'Sullivan that agreement is difficult if we come to the discussion with completely different sources of the facts we rely on, and ultimately rely on completely different versions of the facts.
How we get to any middle ground about the sources for our facts is probably going to be the toughest part of political growth in this country. That's because I don't take Fox News seriously, and people who watch Fox News seem to have a penchant for disbelieving sources that I take most seriously, such as the Washington Post and New York Times. We could and should be having a conversation about the veracity of our sources (and journalism in general). Out of that conversation, we may find that many of us can find a middle ground, or we may find that there is no middle ground to be found. But I think it may be worth a try.
This is actually a conversation I would like to have with my conservative colleagues. I think the single most serious danger to mankind in the near future is global warming, yet there was, for a long time, a resistance to the very reality of global warming that came from members of the right wing. I think it is painfully obvious that global warming is not only occurring but accelerating. What I would like to share with the conservatives is that they should take a second look at the logic, data, and yes, the motives of those who denied global warming, and they should learn from that history of deception.
But to have a productive conversation, you have to come to the discussion with some semblance of an open mind. And it is up to the conservatives to explain to me in what way my mind needs to be opened.
I should like to take a shot at defending at least one element of the national election we just experienced. And for that, I will refer to the formerly confederate, until recently Jim Crow, and largely Republican state of Georgia. We will limit our discussion, for the moment, to the accuracy of the count of ballots that actually existed and were turned in at polling places and ballot boxes and postal boxes. The question is whether some set of crooks could have conjured vote totals out of thin air rather than from tangible ballots.
What's of interest is the way the Georgia vote and recount progressed. Hand recounts occurred in each county, which means that people of multiple races and multiple political parties participated and observed each others' actions. Lots of these counties were strongly Republican and returned strongly pro-Trump totals. Yet the recounts were, in general, almost exactly what the original totals were. Yet, as one wag explained, the Trump campaign was outraged because Georgia had actually counted the ballots in the recount.
The only excuse that the Trump side has remaining is that somehow, a lot of those ballots were obtained (presumably from county election boards within the state of Georgia), filled out fraudulently by Democratic Party operatives, and returned under fake names, or names of the dead, or whatnot. And a little thought would indicate that (under the assumption that Donald Trump had actually won by a sizable margin, say 30 or 40 thousand votes), that the Democratic thieves would have had to have cast at least 50,000 such fraudulent votes.
Think about what it would have meant for the illegal ballots to have been such a substantial fraction of the total. An audit of the votes, looking at thousands and thousands of ballots and checking them against the voter rolls, would surely have revealed that many of them were faked. The Republicans could easily have done their own investigation by contacting people on the voter rolls who looked to have voted. So far, I haven't seen or heard of any factual data regarding registered voters who claim to have never cast the votes that were attributed to them.
Put it this way. When I went to vote, my name was checked off against the rolls of registered voters. It was the same for mail-in ballots. You had to be registered, even if you walked up on election day and registered right then and there. There had to be a person at some point in the process.
It may have been that back in the bad old days of big city political machines and hand written ballots, that it was possible to do ballot box stuffing and get away with it. But in the experience of my relatives who lived in a place as machine-like as there could possibly be (1930s Chicago), the machine knew how to turn out voters in their own way. Parking tickets were fixed, and people who needed jobs were found jobs. And they all voted. The machine didn't have to invent votes because it already had the voters.
Did ballot box stuffing ever occur in a time of less technology? Probably.
But with today's improved systems which combine paper ballot permanent records with fast electronic counting, it is a lot harder. And what makes it harder still is the system by which Republicans and Democrats work elbow-to-elbow in the same counting rooms, watching what each other does. What good intentions cannot achieve, suspicion and general skepticism will.
Yet the Trump campaign continues to claim fraud. Not just fraud in Georgia, but a massive fraud that would have had to have happened all over the country, in every swing state that went for Joe Biden. And this fraud would have had to have occurred in spite of the best efforts of professional election analysts who have been preparing for this election (and against the possible intervention by Russia and/or China) for years. There was one government employee who was in charge of the work and publicly remarked on the fact that this election was clean -- and for telling the truth as he saw it, Trump fired him for not sticking to the party line.
As I say, it would be interesting to have the conversation with my CityWatch colleagues (and others) who voted on the other side. I suspect that the first point I would want to make is that American liberals are not the people that the talk radio hosts describe. I wonder what true conservatives are really like.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)