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The death of American patriotism The United States has never been so divided

He's running off to vote for a populist. Credit: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

He's running off to vote for a populist. Credit: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images


June 14, 2021   5 mins

America was invented in 1828 by the lexicographer Noah Webster. Politically of course, the United States had already stumbled into existence. But Webster’s dictionary, published that year, contained a new superglue to hold the whole enterprise together. Not a new language, as some had demanded, but still: new words for the new world. “Skunk,” “squash,” “psychology,” “chowder,” “Americanize,” and “penmanship.” Honour became honor. Though to Webster’s disappointment and for reasons that are lost to history, soup was not to be soop.

And now the whole glorious project of uniting the states might be entering its final stages. I hope, and think, they will pull back from the brink as they did in 1968, that sweaty year of assassinations and street fighting. But it’s possible the United States is heading for the rocks.

The end-times thinking goes like this. The Republican party — only partially committed now to free and fair elections — will probably take back the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections in 2022. It has a good chance of taking the Senate too. If Donald Trump were to run in 2024 and lose, he could do then what he failed to do last time: use raw power and congressional poodles to get statewide votes annulled or altered and even electoral college decisions over-ruled.

The army might object or might not. Either way it would not be pretty. There could be a coup. Worse in many ways than the civil war because neither side would win. It would be the end of Webster’s unifying project.

One of the tasks that Americans must set themselves in the (quite short) space of time there is to come to terms with all this is to focus anew on the things that draw them together — or at least to analyse and address the things that have carved them apart. The ever-brilliant writer George Packer sets an example with his new book, Last Best Hope (out 1st July). In it, he sets out the divisions in a manner that invites reconciliation — or an effort towards it, at least.

One of Packer’s most telling points is simple but devastating. The people doing well in modern America have lost sight of the need for this task to be undertaken at all. They fail, in the modern age, to grasp the need for national myths and identities that can unite nations. “Smart Americans,” Packer says, “are uneasy with patriotism. It’s an unpleasant relic of a more primitive time, like cigarette smoke or dog racing.”

They are fiercely loyal to their families, and to “diversity and efficiency, heirloom tomatoes and self-driving cars.” But not patriotism. Nothing that binds them to their poorer (and increasingly distant) neighbours. “The winners in Smart America have lost the capacity and the need for a national identity, which is why they can’t grasp its importance for others.” But, always assuming they don’t want America to fall apart, they must re-grasp it.

Since these folks enjoy books as much as fancy tomatoes, here’s a suggestion. That they read another new one, Americanon, which brings together, well, the American canon. Not the classics. Not even the Constitution — a text that fewer than half of Americans read. The conceit of Americanon, written by the journalist Jess McHugh, is that it gathers thoughts on thirteen books that Americans have turned to, down the years, in huge numbers. They thus reflect, McHugh argues, the nation better than any other set of works. She includes cookbooks, self-help books. And in pride of place: Webster’s dictionary.

The dictionary was a dramatically successful tool of nationalism, which, McHugh says, “started to establish the idea that American was something anyone could become — as long as they adhered to the rules. It cemented, she says, “the notion of American as an identity that could be both taught and learned.”

And the same goes for the rest of the canon: favourites like The Old Farmers Almanac and Betty Crockers Picture Cook Book are seen by McHugh not just as popular titles but as foundational texts that shaped a shared understanding of the American story. “These how-to books taught people certain skills, all while delivering messages about American beliefs, encoding everything from individualism and self-reliance to meritocracy and personal freedom.”

This was not bottom-up. It was top down. American values were created and shaped by an elite group of authors. That’s an important point, when you consider George Packer’s contention that the modern elites just don’t care about building anything anymore. If they don’t, who will?

Sometimes the books in Americanon were seen as dangerous, such was their power. One night in 1942, a German agent was arrested on a train in New York City’s Penn Station. Among his few possessions, he was carrying a copy of that year’s Old Farmers Almanac in his coat pocket. The US government worried that it might contain too much useful information, in particular about the expected weather, so they considered closing it down. The canon was a window into the soul of America — a risky thing in the hands of an enemy.

In an age when the project of unification seems, to so many, to be going into reverse — what is the modern equivalent of the Almanac or Betty Crocker’s Cook Book? The stress in literature now is on the harms done by America to its own people. Real harms, as McHugh acknowledges, to black people, to native Americans, to all manner of people who have never shared in the promise of the place.

The trouble of course is that concentrating on those harms — and on the simple fact that positive stuff has often been tendentious or plain lying — disbars Americans from wallowing in the unifying features of the canon. And that could well mean that the healing these bestselling books could bring is unavailable, even in the event that any authors wanted to return to the project.

McHugh is sanguine, though. Myth-making, she says, is the amulet to ward off a national death. She thinks it can be revivified, and done so in a modern way: “The narrative is revised to incorporate new fears and fresh trauma, but the story never goes away. Culture, myth, and identity are fashioned over time; cobbled together in moments of doubt as a way of reassuring ourselves not just of who we were but of who we are.”

She suggests a broadening of the horizons of the myths, to tell a new, truer story, as she puts it: “one that does not respond to uncertainty with a rush to create meaning but instead embraces the ambiguity of an ever-changing nation.”

Good luck with that, as the Americans say.

The trouble is that writers who try to follow her advice — to write modern myths that balance the endless talk of distress and dysfunction with a little bit of 4th of July jollity — are either laughed at or edged out of the public space. Or both. The latest to be heading for the knackers yard is poor David Brooks at the New York Times, who has written some sweetly earnest books about the American Dream and still mentions in his columns the long littleness of American life, such as the vital issue of how to get the best sandwich in New York City.

“A deli sandwich was the main thing in his life that day,” said essayist Tressie McMillan Cottom in an interview last year. “I’m deathly terrified of that.” An incoming associate professor at a thing called the School of Information and Library Sciences at the University of North Carolina, Professor Cottom rebukes genial optimists: “We could laugh at David Brooks five years ago. What happened isn’t that David Brooks started being bad … It is that the problems became too real. And now we just can’t waste too much time on these writers.”

We are still united by sandwiches and the weather and apple pie. But in the age of Black Lives Matter, no one will write about them.


Justin Webb presents the Americast podcast and Today on Radio Four. His Panorama documentary “Trump the Sequel”, is available now on  Iplayer

JustinOnWeb

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Fred Oldfield
Fred Oldfield
3 years ago

“The Republican party — only partially committed now to free and fair elections…” Didn’t you get the party wrong there, Justin?

Melissa
Melissa
3 years ago
Reply to  Fred Oldfield

Not to mention only dumb (and poor!) Americans are patriotic. This is such stereotypical elitist drivel.

Robert Pay
Robert Pay
3 years ago
Reply to  Melissa

If you attended an expensive university in the last few decades you will had heard not only American but the whole of Western Civilization sneered at. Although the Beeb never lets its correspondents stay long enough to understand the country, Justin was getting there. George Packer is a reliable guide only to his own kind…but when even Americans dislike their own country (have you heard the Squad or some of the new Senators?) the West is in a bad way/done.

Melissa
Melissa
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Pay

I had to read Rules for Radicals in grad school 25 years ago.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
3 years ago
Reply to  Fred Oldfield

Quite. He speculates that the Republicans might gerrymander the elections – and expects to be heeded with respect. But suggest that just such gerrymandering might already have been carried out by their opponents – thank you, Arizona – and one is called all sorts of names – the politest among these being “conspiracy theorist.” In the same way, it was considered perfectly pukka to cast doubt on Trump’s legitimacy all through his term of office; so admirable, in fact, that many in civil service positions sought to destabilise him with risible allegations. But hint at Biden’s frailty or fatigue and – again – one is branded with the litany of odious labels. Poor Webb. He’s really trying to get back to the free and fair approach of the classical BBC man; but he remains snared in the assumptions and shibboleths of the London dinner party.

Robert Pay
Robert Pay
3 years ago
Reply to  Fred Oldfield

Justin, you need to read around…the voter suppression is an old trope! The partisan media makes getting at the truth difficult and the BBC never looks beyond the corporate media which means it endlessly recycles stories often shown to be untrue after a day or so.

Last edited 3 years ago by Robert Pay
John Hope
John Hope
3 years ago

I think you really ought to check your facts when you say things like, “The Republican Party, only partially committed to free and fair elections.” I assume you’re referring to the state legislation that secures voting rights for free and fair elections. These bills, in bottle GA and TX, so far secure elections and make voting easier, and the voting options broader and more accessible than it currently is in the Joe Biden’s home state. You really ought to conduct more accurate research.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  John Hope

Part of what he is referring to is surely the Republican party refusing to accept the result of a free and fair election, and claiming without evidence that ‘it was stolen’?

Last edited 3 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
George Glashan
George Glashan
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

why is Rasmus getting downvoted? you’se might not like it but it is what the Republican party did in response to the election. The only reason the Republicans aren’t the worst party in America is because the Democrats beat them to it.

David Owsley
David Owsley
3 years ago
Reply to  George Glashan

I presume he is getting downvoted for this phrase: “…refusing to accept the result of a free and fair election…“. Everyone who claims it was a free an fair have done little reading or research: there is literally piles more reasons in the 2020 POTUS election than in many ‘third-world’ elections when the West has decried en masse that the elections were not free and fair.
The BBC provided a handy article about vote rigging in Gabon in 2016, amusingly all the signs and more on show in the USA and nobody bats an eyelid. On top of all those red-flags re vote-rigging there is the facts that President Trump received more votes than any previous incumbent seeking re-election. Ninety-five percent of Republicans voted for him. He earned the highest share of all minority votes for a Republican since 1960; increased his share of the national Hispanic vote to 35 percent. Bellwether states swung further in Trump’s direction than in 2016. Florida, Ohio and Iowa each defied America’s media polls with huge wins for Trump. Only once since 1852 has a candidate lost after winning this trio (in 1960; John F. Kennedy’s victory is still the subject of great suspicion). 
Biden’s black vote spiked only in exactly the locations necessary to secure victory. He did not receive comparable levels of support among comparable demographic groups in comparable states, which is highly unusual for the presidential victor. 
We are told that Biden won more votes nationally than any presidential candidate in history. But he won a record low of 17 percent of counties…yet somehow outdid Obama in total votes. 
The Republicans held the Senate and enjoyed a ‘red wave’ in the House, where they gained many seats while winning all 27 toss-up contests. Trump’s party did not lose a single state legislature and made gains at the state level. 
Non-polling metrics: party registrations trends/ primary votes/ candidate enthusiasm/ social media followings/ broadcast and digital media ratings/ online searches/ the number of small donors/ the number of individuals betting on each candidate. These metrics have a 100% percent record predicting the winner during the modern era. Every non-polling metric forecast Trump’s re-election. For Trump… to lose, not only did one or more of these metrics have to be wrong for the first time ever, but every single one had to be wrong, and at the very same time… 

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  David Owsley

If you can point me to the evidence of vote-rigging and what those red flags are, that would be really useful. To declare fraud, you need some evidence that it happened and how.

What you are saying yourself does not go beyond ‘we were doing so well that we could not *possibly* lose’, which does not cut much ice. There is a simple explanation, which is that it was an unusual election: There was BLM, and there was COVID. Trump was unusually divisive – adored by hardcore republicans, loathed by hardcore democrats, appealing to an unusual demographic profile, and apparently distrusted by just too many in the middle. That could skew the metrics. That would explain why the Republicans did worse in the presidential election than lower down the ticket. Anyway, if the Democrats were able to win the presidential election by fraud without leaving a trace, why did they not steal a few senate seats, while they were at it? The 17% of counties is not that strange, it is well known that the Democrat’s wote is heavily concentrated in large cities. As for your metrics, they are correlation not causation. For many years, which team won the super bowl gave a perfect prediction of which party would win the presidency – until one day it stopped working.

Last edited 3 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

true-and why the downvoting-in this platform designed for free expression of opinions etc ??

Robert Pay
Robert Pay
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The Party did accept it with a few exceptions…Trump’s own election was never accepted by many in the media or Bush before him…Stacey Abrams, lost by 50k, but still claims she won the Georgia governorship and is lionized!

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

The Republican party — only partially committed now to free and fair elections

As opposed to the Democrat party that reflexively wants to impeach any President of whom it disapproves and only accepts results that go its way.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Clinton v. Kenneth Starr?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Impeachment is supposed to remove a corrupt president, but has never done so. Democrat politicians have attempted to impeach Ronald Reagan, George Bush, George W Bush, and Donald Trump. In all cases their offence was to have been elected.

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Clinton ultimately admitted to the crime (perjury) for which he was impeached.
Trump was charged the 1st time with what? Abuse of power?? Any party could go after a president of the oppossig party with such a vague charge). For asking the president of Ukraine to investigate corruption which has subsequently been confirmed (see Tony Bobulinski)? That is absurd!

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago

Of course in the end it comes down to cover-ups and how they handle the process. But Trumps original accusation was pressuring a foreign government to come up with some dirt on his domestic political rivals. Clintons original accusation was to have had extra-marital sex with an adult and fully consenting woman. We can each decide which we think is more serious.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Were the accusations true? Did the foreign government come up with some dirt? Did Clinton actually lie under oath? Trump’s phone call can be interpreted in a variety of ways and wasn’t a smoking gun. The blue dress was smoking.

Robert Pay
Robert Pay
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Clinton had near total air cover from the media…

J Bryant
J Bryant
3 years ago

I agree with the other commenters that the article started with an unnecessary and inaccurate dig at the republican party. It was a pointless move that needlessly politicized an otherwise interesting article.
The question of whether America has reached the end stage of its history, or at least its history as a great power, is disturbingly real (I speak as an American). The US is profoundly divided to the point where I’m not sure reconciliation is possible. I doubt there’s enough agreement about what it means to be American anymore to allow the creation of common myths that bind the nation together.
I would go so far as to say that on the political left, new myths are arising around ideas of oppression and discrimination. The stories being told go far beyond fact. They are much more religious in nature. Those myths might help to bind the left but they alienate everyone else. My sense is the US could, at some point, start to come apart with blocks of states seceding from the union. I know that sounds alarmist and extreme but I do think that option is no longer inconceivable.

William McKinney
William McKinney
3 years ago

One imagines that, by contrast, JB Pritzker’s recent gerrymandering in Illinois demonstrates the Democrats’ absolute commitment to free and fair elections. Hard to take seriously an author so blatantly partisan. But then he’s with the Beeb so what can one expect.

Andrew Richardson
Andrew Richardson
3 years ago

I have just joined Unherd because I have really enjoyed and been stimulated by the contributions. And then in the first article, I have read since joining, I hear that it is the Republican Party and Trump who are the enemies of democracy and free and fair elections. If I read any more tendentious lies like this, I think I will have to ask for a rebate.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

Webb’s not typical, Andrew. He’s just your ordinary vanilla Guardian-reading BBC gob5hite. The difference is that here, unlike at the Guardian or the BBC, you can tell him so, and you’re not forced to pay for him.

Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
3 years ago

If you’re only interested in hearing your own opinion then probably this site isn’t for you.

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
3 years ago

The misinformed dig at Republican attempts to improve electron integrity might discourage some from reading the rest of a overwise good, thought provoking article. New state level voting laws in FL, GA, and TX allow for more voting options than the author’s home country, the UK, as anyone with internet access can prove for themselves. The UK does not have early in-person voting like these states allow. The UK, like these states, allows postal voting, but UK regulations employ the racist “voter-suppression” requirements of: voter must apply for postal vote (not automatically mailed to all registered voters), voter signatures on ballot, unique identification numbers for postal ballots, and god-forbid, the requirement that ballots be received by election day!

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
3 years ago

‘Electron integrity’ sounds like the sort of fundamental, decent target any party should hitch their wagon to. But of course modem diversity notions mean we have to stand up for those pesky quarks and gauge bosons too. I intend to remain neutron.

PS I think Webb is entitled to this very mild dig, given Trump’s poor tactical post-election manoeuvres.

Lemuel Lasher
Lemuel Lasher
3 years ago

This is the first article I have read after initiating my subscription. I must say I am disappointed to read such drivel. I might as well have subscribed to the NYT or WaPo. I look forward to higher quality contributions going forward.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
3 years ago
Reply to  Lemuel Lasher

It’s been a weak few days for UnHerd (in my own view). But there will be reversion to the mean and sometimes performance beyond the mean. Not to worry.

Roger le Clercq
Roger le Clercq
3 years ago

Pasted from the BBC mission statement. Oh dear.

Saul D
Saul D
3 years ago

The US is very strongly divided at present. The two sides can’t even agree on what are credible facts at the moment – not helped by media taking partisan lines and omitting to report on things they don’t like, or failing to even try to understand opposing viewpoints – just call them _blank_ and ignore.
From the active political sites I look at Republicans are more aware of what the Democrats are saying and doing, than the reverse. Those on the Democrat side seem to relying on hand-waving and cartoon caricatures from ‘their’ media – often with very outdated perspectives such as the fine people hoax or still making claims about Putin – instead of actually going an finding out directly what Republicans are saying.
The number of times someone who is Democrat-leaning uses the NYT as their primary source about what Republicans think or are planning is untrue.
And the reluctance to look across the aisle seems deliberately manufactured. There are always comments trying to scare people away from going to find out what Republicans think – can’t go there it’s right-wing – as if Democrats don’t have the mental strength to read an opposing opinion. And this is true even on supposedly intelligent sites like 538 that should have a broader cross-market perspective.
Conversely, Republicans don’t seek out Democrat-leaning media, but they have no problem taking a look now and then and keeping themselves abreast of what the other side is actually saying – not just imagining it.
Better quality journalists could help bridge the gap by actually crossing the divide themselves too, to keep both sides better informed. Election concerns were mostly swept under the carpet for Democrats, but remains a very big issue to Republicans.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

On the issue of ‘election concerns’, could you tell me where to go for some evidence on the presence of the election frauds that new Republican laws are desiged to stop? The MSM (as you know) keep saying that there is no such evidence, but maybe you or someone else on this forum knows where I should look?

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I have yet to find a single compendium that is not riddled with errors (i.e. Peter Navarro reports). Yet there still was a large amount of fraud. For example GA is prosecuting 35 individuals for fraud involving involving thousands of votes & registrations.
https://sos.ga.gov/index.php/elections/state_election_board_refers_voter_fraud_cases_for_prosecution
The problem for those claiming massive fraud is “what % of fraud is detected?” The truth is no one knows, I would guess that without a full-scale audit like the one currently occurring in AZ, the detection rate is <10% and maybe <1%. Either value, combined with the fraud cases being prosecuted in GA, bring that state’s narrow 2020 result into doubt, and that is just one state. The AZ audit result will be very instrumental in determining if other audits follow.
Also, it is very important to note that “fraud” prosecution requires establishing intent. The # of documented election “irregularities” where intent cannot be established and thus prosecuted is certainly much larger.

Peter Kriens
Peter Kriens
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Look for Real Clear Investigations.
My personal assessment was that the elections were not more fraudulent than usual but that Zuckerberg et. al.’s investment of $400,000,000 ‘helping’ election offices, the media that suppressed the Hunter Biden story, and the massive use of mail in ballots was more than enough for me to regard the last elections as quite unfair even without fraud.
However, some stories are persistent and the obstruction to investigate them thoroughly makes it clear some people are uncannily worried that this can of worms will be opened. Which is becoming a really good reason to actually take a serious look. After all, if fraud is as rare as people like you seem to be convinced of, what is the harm to actually take a deeper look if so many people are suspicious?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Kriens

Why is mail voting unfair?

Taking obstruction as evidence of fraud is a bit heads-I-win-tails-you-lose. If nobody objects, you have headlines about fraud being investigated every week for a year. If somebody objects that is evidence of fraud. Either serves to give the impression that there was indeed something wrong. When Bush won his cliffhanger victory the supreme court stopped the recount and declared a winner pretty early on, and that was the result. Here, again, the normal process has run, and nothing untowards has been found. Given that Republicans are as much part of that system as the Democrats, why is that not enough?

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

nothing untowards has been found” – Except they have been found in New Hampshire. Claims in Michigan. Claims in Georgia. Who knows in Arizona. If a court refuses to hear evidence and allow testimony because they don’t want to get political, nobody can know truth.

John McKee
John McKee
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

NONSENSE!!!!!!!!! NO evidence would satisfy you.

Saul D
Saul D
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Err Google… It’s not exactly secret if you actually look. However, for an interesting academic backgrounder from 2006 – all the same issues as now such as integrity vs participation and the same politicisation – this isn’t new and neither are the answers being proposed: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=925611

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Something this controversial cannot be dealt with by reading Wikipedia. I’d have to do a full literature survey, filter out the dross, find the strongest arguments on either side and evaluate them. Too much work outside working hours. But if someone can point me in the right direction I have a chance. Thanks for your contribution(s).

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

hang in there Rasmus and all power to you -many of us would like more clarity – rather than the fait accompli attitude that seems often to be the norm on Unherd. Even if the Unherd ‘mainstream’ are correct open robust debate etc is crucial to the exploration an issue. Preferably without the downvoting !!! I am getting somewhat pissed off with that-downvoting should be about bad attitude NOT content !!!!!!!

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Thanks!

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Thanks, all, for your links. I’d have to say none of them say anything about the point that matters most: Is there a problem of significant voting fraud in the US? If so where and how? If not, why change the law to solve a non-problem?

The Georgia link shows that fraud happens (not very surprising), but not that it makes a difference. Besides, the big numbers of voters there come from cases of procedural errors: sneaking in after a registration deadline, or mishandling memory sticks. Wrong, of course, but (unless there is more) not about people voting who should never have been allowed to vote.

John R Lott (to be found behind several links) can mainly say that the voter ID laws of 2006 did not have an obvious effect on voter turnout. That does not prove that ID laws do not actually have any effect – unless his models are good enough to predict what the turnout would have been in the absence of the new laws, which they are manifestly not. He sees examples of stricter ID laws followed by higher turnout and waffles about people possibly being deterred from voting because they think the system is corrupt and being reassured by the new rules. All speculation, all without any evidence about what people are actually feeling or what effect it has on their votes, let alone about whether there is significant voter fraud. What he should say is ‘We do not understand it and cannot speculate’.
Then he makes all these generalisations based on data from Mexico (!) without considering that US politics likely work a bit differently, Or he argues that lots of countries have voter ID requirements, without considering that the situation is quite different for countries with mandatory ID cards (unlike the UK, US, or Denmark, none of whom require an ID for voting). Or countries with documented large-scale vote-buying.

Of course I can offer no evidence to prove that fraud is *not* a problem in US elections (I am not that well informed, either way). But it does look like a lot of people are convinced there is a a problem without necessarily having that much evidence to back it up.

Last edited 3 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Saul D
Saul D
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I also don’t know if there was significant fraud. However, before the election I was predicting that the election would be seen to be unfair (by whoever lost – Democrats moan as much as Republicans) because of the mix of in-person and mail-in voting.
This was predictable because Democrats vote early by mail and Republicans vote in person. So as the count switched from counting in-person to counting mail-in votes there were bound to be huge swings in the numbers (this effect had already been seen in some earlier special elections).
Now elections are a process. The point of the process is to ensure that everyone can see that the voting has been open, transparent and fair. The process is supposed to be designed to ensure all claims of irregularity can be checked and dismissed. Unlike other legal situations, it’s not on the claimant to prove the fraud, but on the election process to demonstrate it didn’t and couldn’t happen. And the system is thus normally designed with this in mind – chain of custody, sealed ballot boxes, ID checks (in Europe), observers from candidates supporters, recounts, prevention of ballot harvesting, privacy in the vote itself etc. Proving the election to be fraud free is the point of the process.
In 2020 with numbers swinging by large amounts – predictably because of the in-person, mail-in split – the losing side was absolutely bound to demand all the avenues to test the probity of the election are checked. It doesn’t mean there was fraud, but the point of the election process is ultimately to win over the losing side to accept the outcome, because there are no other possibilities but the count itself.
And any fraud itself would most likely be targeted, not widespread – so scale doesn’t matter. Targeted manipulation at key swing states is enough to change an election. This is why the process is so vitally important. The electoral system proves the election integrity.
The push-back, from Democrat side is that too much integrity process dissuades marginalised voters. There is clearly a balance. But since the Republicans feel cheated, they are back to demanding stronger rules on integrity.
Given the wild swings in the count for 2020, there’s an argument that more legal testing of the election process in the courts, post the count, was necessary, not less. By not doing the due diligence in the courts things have been allowed to fester, when solid oversight would have proven the correctness of the count. The key is to have an election system that is robust to challenges, while fair to voters.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Now, this makes some sense. The voting process does indeed have to convince all sides that the system is reliable. It cannot stretch as far as proving fraud is impossible, though, since that cold never be done. I would argue that the normal system of checks, legally in place and long accepted, was there, and did not signal anything wrong. The courts were there to deal with a lot of objections, which (as I understand it) were dismissed because the complaints lacked either legal or factual basis, not because the courts refused to be heard. So the checks that had always been relied on were there. What you cannot do is ask the courts to rule on the election or counting rules, after the election has been run.

The trouble with your argument is that it rewards paranoia. If you feel you should have won, without any facts to support our arguments, you get to rewrite the rules to favour you in future elections. Considering some of the far-fetched theories about fraud that have been going the rounds, and some of the exceedingly poor arguments that have been made, it seems unlikely that any legal testing could have convinced either Trump or his fanbase that they lost fairly. Let us not even ask what it would have taken to convince QAnon.

Another problem is that both sides would have to accept the integrity of the system. Democrats feel that Republicans are running a systematic and highly successful effort to prevent Democrats from voting. That is not integrity either. And the Democrats can point to lots of laws and administrative actions in the public record to support their case, whereas Republicans have not (AFAIK) come up with any well-founded argument that anything untoward happened in either voting or counting. If you want a system where you can have an election and both sides accept the result as legitimate – how are you going to achieve that by just giving the Republicans what they want?

Saul D
Saul D
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The key point is absolutely both sides (or more in bigger elections) have to accept the integrity of the process.
The point of the election is that they should be open to any form of challenge, and the process should be robust enough to examine any challenge – even far fetched, because the more far fetched the easier it is to show that it is false.
The suspicion from 2020 lingers because of the great swings of votes on the night. It is totally valid to want that explained and validated – that means checking the whole set of documents relating to the process (as they are doing in Arizona).
The media is spinning this as Republicans being anti-democratic. But the Democrat’s HR1 policies could also be seen as plying anti-democratic policies by loosening the integrity standards – eg automatic voter registration based on looser ID standards, that might allow non-citizens to vote, and restricting the ability to clean voter records, and such things as voting rights for felons. So what you have are both sides looking to reform the electoral system, both with a vested interest in how that reform is done, both proposing a number of sensible reforms, but also including reforms that potentially boost votes for their party.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Hmmm. Trouble is that the number of possible far-fetched challenges in infinite – just like it is well known that any fool can ask a question that ten wise men cannot answer. Here is an example. If you use a lot of court time to prove this is false 1) you give it a lot of legitimacy, 2) true believers will simply say that the court is part of the conspiracy, 3) there will immediately be another far-fetched theory to disprove. And another. You cannot prove anything to people who refuse to listen.

The swings were (as you yourself said) predicted well before the election. There is nothing to explain. And the procedures for validating election results have to be agreed *before* the election. You cannot insist on ever more additional checks afterwards, even if you dislike the result.

There is no doubt that both sides are pushing the changes that benefit them. But before Republican ID measures etc. can qualify as sensible reforms, surely they need to provide evidence that there is a real problem to solve. You cannot claim a measure that disadvantages your opponents as sensible if the only justifications for it is to calm our own baseless fears.

Last edited 3 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Saul D
Saul D
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

“But before Republican ID Democrat measures etc. can qualify as sensible reforms, surely they need to provide evidence that there is a real problem to solve.” Same issue.
Remember there is a real big problem here. Around 35% of voters believe there was fraud – 65%+ Republicans. That is a hugely bad problem and can’t just be waved away. You might not be willing to see the evidence, but bad process points, like covering up windows, turning away observers, afadafits from election officials, missing chain of documents, state officials changing rules without legislative oversight, dismissing cases about rule changes pre-election as too early to show harm, and then dismissing challenges to the same rules post election as moot. I don’t know if these really affected the outcome, but bad practice and bad process undermines integrity. And the swings are so large that even though they were predicted, they need to be checked and validated. Prove the election for the benefit of all.
In the UK the solution would be easy – a national independent committee charged with a full review of the elections and election processes. The US did this in 2004 with the Carter commission – but it’s reforms (pro VoterID and cautious on mail-in voting) weren’t widely implemented. Time to go to the evidence and repeat.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

I am very willing to see the evidence, but I do not have time to make what amounts to a thesis project on US elections. If there is a lot of convincing evidence of fraud, and someone tells me where to find it (please?), I am willing to be convinced. The MSM reports that e.g. ‘turning away observers’ was a case of following normal rules that capped their number, and that both Republican and Democrat observers were present, as usual. In short, that all the process points you pick on are minor nits or misunderstandings, and that people just take them as excuses because they refuse to accept that they could lose. Certainly it is a big problem that so many people chose to believe there was fraud, but if the basic point is that people refuse to accept the election result and grab whatever excuse they can to hang their hat on, neither reforms nor proofs are going to help.

As for Democrat concerns, they seem to be on rather firmer ground. Republican initiatives on ‘election security’, purging voter records etc. are matters of public record, and you do not have to be Einstein to accept that making it harder to vote will lead to fewer people voting, particularly those who have fewer resources to overcome problems.

Your attitude reminds me a bit of critical race theory (which might become the Democrat countermove, eventually). If most Democrats believe that shadowy ‘structural’ forces are keeping them out of power, they might simply refuse to accept any result that does not give them what they want, and demand rule changes until they are sure to win. I do not know the best way to avoid this kind of outcome, but telling people hat they are right and changing eh rules in their favour does not sound like a likely win.

Saul D
Saul D
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Consider this as a political problem – that means understanding both the Republican viewpoint and the Democrat viewpoint. That you’re not watching both sides, as you keep saying, and are unwilling to look, means you have embedded a one-sided picture. The problem ultimately is about integrity and trust in the elections – how do you mend that for both sides? The key fears from the Republican side are about fake ballots and ballot harvesting. How do you prove these are not an issue? The key fears from Democrats are voter suppression. How do you solve both?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

How do you prove fake ballots is not an issue? I would start with gathering the available evidence (the stuff I keep asking for a link to), and making a dispassionate analysis. Then I would expect people from both sides to say clearly to their supporters what that evidence shows. If you can show there is a problem, you look at how to solve it. If the evidence shows that there is no reason to think ballot stuffing is a problem, Republicans and Democrats both should tell their supporters that ballot stuffing is not a problem. That should start calming things down. Then, but not before, you can look at bipartisan ways of increasing election security. As long as your party and your (ex) president are doing their best to stoke fear and distrust, you can hardly expect people to start trusting the electoral system..

Of course, if you prefer maximising your party advantage rather than (re)establish trust in the democratic process, you might prefer doing it differently.

Last edited 3 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Saul D
Saul D
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

On your behalf, I looked at the first 100 results on Google (prior to 2016 to avoid ‘noise’) for your list.
I like the irony of this one as it’s written by Glenn Simpson (in pre FusionGPS days) about evidence of the dangers of absentee voting: wsj.com/articles/SB97718372846852342
The Heritage Foundation (rightwing advocacy group) also popped up with a database – don’t know how reliable it is. Look up ‘voterfraud’ on their site.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Thanks. I am sorry, and it would be understandable if you lost patience with me at this point, but this does not mean anything to me. The American Heritage Foundation site boasts1328 proven instances of voter fraud. They are collected from as far back as 1982 (‘recent’?) and in importance go as far down as the First Ward Alderman Democratic primary election in Aberdeen, Mississippi,.

If I was to use this for anything I would have to first download their database (which does not seem to be possible) and look at it. How many fraudulent votes are we talking about here? How does that compare with the number of votes cast in the elections? Are we talking about aldermen, ballot initiatives, or presidents? How are their ‘instances’ distributed across different categories, duplicate voting, fraudulent registration, misuse of absentee ballots, interfering with the count? How likely is it that each phenomenon can make a difference on a large scale? – a lot of cases seem to be ‘NN forged his daughter’s signature on a postal ballot’ and the like, which sounds hard to scale up. Where and when do we find the incidents that matter (there are some in the database, even to a cursory look)? Where, in short, are the real problems here?

And – just as important – how does the very long list of measures that American heritage proposes solve those problems? If the big problems are ballot harvesting for city council elections and /or corrupt election officials, insisting on photo id for voters is clearly not going to help. If the main vulnerability is mail-in votes (a known vulnerability,yes), reducing same-day registration will not make a difference. If nobody can tell us what the real problems are and how the proposed measures solve them, one might almost suspect that people had ulterior motives?

If this was about COVID I might just about give it a go, because there I know enough at least to search for significant publications and to some extent evaluate what they say. As it is, I have to fall back on the American Heritage Foundation. They, say, under ‘Read more’ on their front page “The big problem is that nobody really knows the extent of election fraud, including us.”. And I answer them: “Well, go and find out, then, and come back when you have evidence that there is an actual problem, and can tell me where it is”.

Last edited 3 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
John McKee
John McKee
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Look at Margot Cleveland’s articles on the subject for the Federalist. She is an experienced lawyer who carefully documents her claims

mike otter
mike otter
3 years ago

What a barrel of monkeys!

Simon Coulthard
Simon Coulthard
3 years ago

Eh

Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
3 years ago

The problem with “smart America” is that it is populated by college educated liberals whose intelligence and wisdom is guaranteed more by the unanimity of opinion of the smart people that they are the smart people than by any measurable value of their smartness to the nation. While the elites, safe and comfortable in their extremely white leftist enclaves, congratulate themselves for being enlightened, the rest of America has to get up in the morning and actually do s*** that keeps the whole dream-of-America-thing alive. I don’t know who this BBC navel gazer is, but he doesn’t know much about the part of this country that can’t afford to live in the abstractions of commentariat bulls***.