2020 Election Redux: My Opinion is as Valid as Yours! When Do We Declare Someone to Be Unreasonable?Read Now
I have debated many conspiracy theorists on Twitter. In the majority of the cases the arguments they put forth are a mishmash of innuendo, hearsay, selective quoting of the evidence, exaggeration, misinformation, and ignorance. After some back and forth where I rebut their claims with evidence and facts, we reach a point where these individuals argue that in the end, it’s my opinion against theirs, and that I have my trusted sources and they have theirs. The implication is, of course, that both are equivalent. But when it comes to certain issues, nothing could be further from the truth. Take for example the notion that the 2020 election was fraudulent, and that Mr. Trump really won by a landslide.
Although this may seem like a political issue that I should not be discussing in a science blog, I have already explained that the questions “Who won the election?” and “Was the election fraudulent?” are both scientific questions because they can be answered with evidence. Thus, in my exchanges with 2020 election conspiracists I present the facts:
Out of 64 cases that Trump and his allies brought to federal courts, he lost 63. Conspiracists claim that most of these cases were dismissed on technical or procedural grounds without considering the merits of the cases, but this is not true. Only 20 of these cases were dismissed before hearing the merits, whereas 30 cases were dismissed after considering the merits of the case, and 14 were withdrawn by Trump and his backers before the hearing of the merits. In several of the cases the courts, which also included Trump-appointed judges, issued stinging rebukes of the unsupported claims of election fraud. A group of prominent conservatives has systematically reviewed the claims brought about by the Trump campaign and their allies in each of these lawsuits and found them to be unsupported by the evidence.
The Department of Justice led by Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, found no evidence of election fraud. Neither did the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) of the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies. Multiple audits and recounts of the results in swing states affirmed that Mr. Trump lost. A Michigan Republican state senator, Ed McBroom, led an 8 month investigation into the legitimacy of the Michigan election and found no evidence of fraud. A GOP-backed review of the Arizona election found that indeed Biden had won. Official examination of voter fraud claims in Georgia did not reveal any fraud of a magnitude to overturn the election. The Trump campaign employed a research firm to review voting data from six swing states, but the firm did not find anything that would have overturned the result of the 2020 election. Trump was told he lost by some of his inner circle of advisers, but he ignored them.
There were no major problems with drop boxes for mailed ballots. The expansion of postal voting did not lead to widespread fraud. Mail-in-ballots are secure and widely used in the United States even before the 2020 election. There is no evidence that Biden received more than 8 million excess votes in the 2020 election. A scientific study analyzed statistical claims of alleged systematic voter fraud in the 2020 election, and found them to be unconvincing. The movie “2000 Mules” which posits that people aligned with Democrats were paid to illegally collect and drop ballot boxes in several swing states has been conclusively debunked. The type of affidavits claiming voter fraud presented by Trump and his allies to the courts were mostly hearsay, guesses, speculation, or ignorance of election procedures, and could not be taken as proof of voter fraud.
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has been suspended from practicing law in New York for making false claims about the 2020 election. Another Trump layer, Jenna Ellis, was censured in Colorado for making false claims about the 2020 election. Trump’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, who is being sued by a voting machine company, Dominion, for claiming that the company stole the election from Trump, is arguing that “No Reasonable Person’ Would Believe Her Dominion Conspiracy Theories Were ‘Statements of Fact’.”
The Dominion lawsuit has also uncovered that the talking heads and executives of the Fox News channel did not believe the election fraud claims of Trump and his allies, but nevertheless they kept giving them airtime to avoid losing viewers. Thus, all the people who relied on Fox News as a trusted information outlet for commentary on the election fraud issue were willfully deceived by individuals who did not believe that what they were communicating to them was true. But there is still a majority of Republicans who think that the election was stolen and that there is solid evidence for it.
So far the evidence indicating that there was no fraud in the 2020 election of a scale that would alter its outcome is truly formidable. Nevertheless, election conspiracy advocates dismiss the investigations carried out by election officials, elected representatives, watchdog groups, the media, and government agencies as biased or indecisive, and they dismiss the court case results as not being based on merits. They also label any Republicans involved (many of whom voted for Trump) “RINOS” (Republicans In Name Only), while claiming that others are not to be trusted because they are part of the “Deep State”, part of the “fake news” media, etc.
There is a criterion to decide whether someone is acting reasonably or not. This involves asking them, “What evidence would change your mind?” If the person cannot answer this question and commit to changing their mind if the evidence is produced, then we can assume that this person is being unreasonable. The opinion of an unreasonable person is not equivalent to that of a reasonable one, and this is not a trivial point. When unreasonable persons act and/or sway others to act based on falsehoods, this can lead to dire consequences such as the storming of the Capitol on January 6th 2021 by a mob enraged over an election that was never stolen.
Being reasonable matters.
Image by El Sun from Pixabay is free to use for commercial and non-commercial purposes.
In 1799, the Spanish painter Francisco Goya published a compilation of 80 aquatinted etchings (the Caprichos series) in which he criticized the irrationality and ignorance rampant in the Spanish society of his time. The most famous of these etchings depicts a writer asleep at his desk surrounded by bats, owls, and other creatures swarming about him that in Spanish folklore were associated with the mysterious and evil. The title of the etching, written on the desk of the writer, is “the sleep of reason produces monsters”.
I am writing this post in the year 2021 in the United States, and although a gulf of 222 years and more than 3,000 miles separate me from the Spain of Goya, it is my opinion that Goya’s thinking is very relevant to our society today. In the past few years, we have all witnessed with growing frequency how reason has slumbered in the minds of millions foisting a number of monsters upon our society.
We have seen firsthand how disinformation and misinformation have spread like cancers capturing the imagination and wills of people and spawning things like disdain for journalists and scientists, COVID-19 severity denial, and vaccine hesitancy. We have experienced an unprecedented level of polarization in our society to the point that those seeking a middle ground are attacked and ridiculed. We have seen how millions have insulated themselves from ideas and opinions that go against their beliefs, preferring instead to listen to those that tell them what they want to hear. We have seen the rise of philosophies, narratives, and frameworks of knowledge that run contrary to reality, ranging from isolated unfounded conspiracy theories to warped world views like QAnon.
One example of a particularly dangerous monster is the skepticism regarding the 2020 election. Many Americans have been fed misinformation that this election was a fraud, and many Americans have believed it despite the fact that no evidence has been uncovered that indicates this is the case. And perhaps one of the most memorable portrayals of the mindset of the fraud believers was revealed in Jan 4, 2021 during the Fox Business Network program “Lou Dobbs Tonight” by its host Lou Dobbs who had been a frequent broadcaster of conspiracy theories. Dobbs was interviewing the director of a pro-Trump Political Action Committee (PAC), and he said the following:
We’re eight weeks from the election, and we still don’t have verifiable, tangible support for the crimes that everyone knows were committed, that is, defrauding other citizens who voted with fraudulent votes. We know that’s the case in Nevada, we know it’s the case in Pennsylvania and a number of other states, but we have had a devil of a time finding actual proof. Why?
Many eyes opened wide, and jaws dropped that day. Here it was, revealed in all its brutal matter of fact casualness for all the world to see: the sleep of reason.
Although Dobbs to his credit, and unlike many fraud believers, did admit that there is no evidence for the fraud claims, he then goes on to state that everyone KNOWS that such fraud happened, and wonders why it is so hard to find the evidence. The disconnection is glaring! We normally base our knowledge that something has happened on evidence, therefore lack of evidence cannot support such knowledge. Reasonable people would accept that knowledge that is unsupported by evidence is not trustworthy and, in fact, is not knowledge at all – reasonable people. Only two days later Americans came face to face with the monster spawned by this irrationality when a mob of Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol seeking to overturn the results of the election and to harm or kill our elected representatives.
While many dismiss the storming of the Capitol as the actions of a few, there are millions of people that still believe that there was fraud in the elections. And while most of these people don’t sanction the extreme behavior exhibited by the criminals who stormed the Capitol, these people can vote and request that their elected representatives act on their will.
At the time Goya made his famous etchings, the system of government in Spain and many other countries was a monarchy. In such a system the average citizen has little influence on the actions of their government and how it affects them. However, the United States is a democracy. In this system, the people elect their leaders and can pressure them into taking certain actions. This is the strength of democracy, but it can also be its weakness if a significant number of people who are not acquainted with reality elect and pressure their representatives into supporting fictions. The current modifications to election practices that are being enacted in several states are an example of this.
It is not my intention to issue an opinion on the merits of these modifications, but I just want to point out that these modifications are being implemented mostly in response to skepticism about the validity of the 2020 election. However, because based on the evidence this skepticism is unwarranted, it follows that the enactment of these modifications is unwarranted too. Rather than being proud of the fair and transparent 2020 elections with a historic turnout, a significant part of our population views them with suspicion or is convinced that fraud took place and that something must be done about it. And this, of course, can affect the dynamics of reality. If a substantial number of people elects and pressures their leaders to uphold a fiction, this fiction in terms of its consequences paradoxically will turn into a de facto reality that will affect others.
It is important to counter misinformation and fight for the wills of those who have accepted it or who are considering accepting it. It is important to awake reason and vanish the monsters that its slumber has begotten. Goya understood the danger of the sleep of reason more than 200 years ago, and we must also understand it today, and with more urgency because in a democracy the people have the power to alter the dynamics of reality. And we cannot allow reality to be compromised.
The etching by Goya is in the public domain.