President Trump has once again alleged widespread voter fraud during the 2016 election, claiming between three and five million illegal votes were cast across the country. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was unequivocal in repeating this long-discarded mantra during his comments from the press room podium on Tuesday. So, what’s wrong with this picture? Everything.
The president’s gambit, whenever he utters wildly illogical claims, or initiates ad hominem attacks on persons or institutions, comes off as a deep-seated compulsion to play to the gullibility of people who do not know how to take in facts, process those facts against perceptions, factor in biases of competing voices, and arrive at a conclusion based solely on the facts minus those biases.
A significant number of people voted for Mr. Trump because his I-can-fool-you gambit paid off. This recurring voter fraud claim by the president, repeated, if not self-sacrificially propounded, by Sean Spicer at the press room podium, is just one more example of Mr. Trump’s belief in his bait-with-claims gambit. It is disturbing that Mr. Trump continues to put Mr. Spicer and other media-visible members of his staff in front of reporters to keep the myth of voter fraud alive. A recent BloombergView article by Tyler Cohen, Why Trump’s Staff is Lying, may shed some illumination on that unnerving side of this most curious dark anti-amusement park ride.
As he did during his campaign, the president appears to be betting that some portion of his base will take this voter fraud myth as gospel. In that assumption, he’s probably right. But by pressing such a claim after he’s won the election—under the rules of our system, like them or not—he risks eroding even that base, because his claim debases the votes of even his most ardent supporters. He also risks his (and the nation’s ambassadorial cadre’s) credibility with world leaders who, in sensitive negotiations with the president, may be reluctant to share critical information for fear that the president may choose to recast the information to his own, unfathomable purposes.
A claim, by itself, is a subjective statement, and should be treated initially as if it has a biased foundation. Skepticism is a healthy tool when considering any claim. Claims alone have nothing to do with facts, and a claim absent facts short-changes—perhaps short-circuits is a better description—the issue at hand, in this case, allegations of voter fraud on a massive scale. This is all about claims vs. facts, or in this case, facts vs. the president’s intent to deceive for some ulterior motive. It has been repeated ad nauseum that one may be entitled to one’s opinion, but not to one’s facts. The facts debunking the claims of wide-spread voter fraud are crystal clear and unambiguous: there was no voter fraud on such a scale as the president has alleged. His claims are not facts.
The credibility of facts are not dependent on claims—no matter from where they are pronounced, or how loud, or Biblically averred. I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s comment,
“If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”
To quote an observation by one of my favorite theoretical physicists, Wolfgang Pauli, when dismissing a poorly written paper, Mr. Trump’s claim is “not even wrong.”
Claims are subject to facts and facts are credible by definition. Claims are not credible by themselves. And when a sitting president—whether in office five days or five years—claims widespread voter fraud absent corroborating facts, he is casting doubt on the very credibility of the facts underpinning our free and fair election system. And he is casting aspersions on the men and women at voting stations throughout America who pledge to faithfully conduct those elections in every venue.
There are so many ramifications to the president’s kudzu-like choking of the truth here: Public trust in the election process, at every level, is damaged by his illogical and histrionic rejection of the sanctity and security of the election; the president’s credibility among governors, the 50 state secretaries of state and state attorneys general hangs on implicit trust that is now hanging by 50 threads; and the outcomes of every election, from the top of the ticket on down to municipal choices of candidates for city councils and local issues, are placed into question by the president’s bizarre logic.
If the president’s claim was true―which it is not, because the facts and logic simply don’t support him―then it would be logical to assume that all 50 state secretaries of state—whose duty it is to assure the public a fair election process—are lying and engaged in a massive cover-up, and thousands of precinct workers nationwide are guilty of supporting such rampant fraud. If we follow that logic chain, then every ballot allegedly tainted by a fraudulent vote should be discredited. And since we cannot pin down all the millions of fraudulent votes alleged by the president, we might as well just discredit the whole shebang of votes. That’s not just for the presidency...that would be every down-ballot item cast by a fraudulent voter, because illegitimacy for a dime is illegitimacy for a dollar.
How Sean Spicer can stand at his podium and deliver such a message defies every ethical fiber of my once-federal-employee being and leaves my retired self truly gobsmacked by this administration’s first five days of dealing cards of alternative facts to a nation the president believes consists of gullible Trump chumps.
Maybe he can keep up the game with his believers, but a lot of us never sat down at the table. The stakes are just too high, and the deck is stacked with lies that we see and hear every day. That’s not a claim; that’s a fact.