What’s the worst American fiction of the 21st century?
Last month, in preparation for the baseball season, I read Brendan Boyd’s 1991 novel Blue Ruin, based on the 1919 Black Sox scandal. It was overwrought, annoyingly clever, and depressingly bleak, hardly the thing to get me in the mood. But it did remind me of a line I’d mostly forgotten from The Great Gatsby, written five years after the scandal came to light. I googled what I remembered and hit paydirt.
Fictional character Nick Carraway is speaking about fictional character Meyer Wolfstein, modeled on the actual Arnold Rothstein: “It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people — with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.”
The “fifty million” were the fans who believed that the national pastime could never be rigged. It was.
A century later, we’re witnessing something weirdly similar but far more serious. Donald Trump asserts that the 2020 Presidential election was rigged, and he’s convinced fifty million Americans – two-thirds of those who voted for him in 2020 – that it was. It wasn’t.
It doesn’t matter if those who repeat this nonsense believe it or simply pretend to. I don’t know whether Trump himself believes it, though I suspect he does. This is a man whose fragility compelled him to refer to his bankruptcies as wins. This is bad fiction.
Obligatory but pointless reminder of what we know: Trump allies filed over 50 lawsuits challenging the results. They lost them all or saw them dismissed, often by Trump-appointed judges. Every recount in the contested states confirmed original results. Independent audits found nothing close to the widespread fraud necessary to overturn the verdict in even one of these states. Trump’s own Justice Department, headed by a sycophant Attorney General whose sycophancy had limits, confirmed it was a fair election.
With every loss, Trump’s rhetoric intensified. Last week he said he won Michigan by a landslide. He lost by over 150,000 votes.
The irony is that securing a free and fair election in 2020 was a Trump Administration win. Trump’s people did a better job with the election than Obama’s did in 2016.
Journalists report that almost all elected officials in Washington know that Biden won the election, though most Republicans will only say this off the record. Since Trump’s first condition for endorsing candidates is that they embrace his fiction, and since he endorsed my representative in Washington, Randy Weber, and my representative in Austin, Mayes Middleton, I was curious what they were willing to say in writing.
Ten days ago I asked their offices whether their bosses believed the presidential election was rigged, and whether they thought Mike Pence acted irresponsibly when he certified the Electoral College results. Neither office has responded.
Republicans in red states point to the public’s lack of trust in the electoral process as justification for changing how electoral results are certified at the state level. Rather than say out loud what the vast majority of them know to be true – that the election was free and fair – and offend their base, they’ve worked to politicize a functioning system and replace it with something easier to rig if the opposition gets more votes.
The results may be catastrophic. Here’s what’s happened already: A significant plurality of Americans no longer believe our electoral system is sound. Today, it’s Republicans who lack faith. In 2024, it’s likely to be Democrats. A bedrock faith all of us once took for granted, one that made America genuinely exceptional, is gone.
A serial liar and narcissist set this in motion. But he needed the cowardice of elected officials to assure its extinction.