See what you missed, Houston Chronicle?

Two months ago I set aside these yay, truth! exercises to focus on a proposal for a book on Harry Nilsson. Spending time on Nilsson was loads more fun.

Among the latest signs that our shared reality is on the ropes: According to a joint survey of 1,500 Americans administered by The Economist and YouGov, 41% believe a shadow government rules the world, and 31% believe Democratic leaders are engaged in child sex-trafficking.

I used to question whether answers to surveys like this were more about signaling tribal affiliation than actual belief, but the past few years seem to bear out the bonkers premise.

The midterms were two days ago, and most observers think the results represent a modest reprieve for reality (and, incidentally, for democracy). I do, too, but that’s more a reflection of how pessimistic I was before the elections. The week before election day, I submitted the following to The Houston Chronicle as a guest op-ed. They didn’t publish it. But I thought it was a decent summary of why six reality-denying Congressional candidates from the Houston area, along with Texas’s two anti-anti-election-denialists in the Senate, can’t be trusted. Five of the six were elected, and handily. What follows is my unseen editorial.

Brian Badin, Wesley Hunt, Morgan Luttrell, Carmen Maria Montiel, Troy Nehls, and Randy Weber have two things in common. Each is a Republican Congressional candidate from the Houston area and, according to The Washington Post, each believes Donald Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 election.

Looked at another way, each believes that Trump was the first American president to fail at ensuring a fair presidential election. In fact, Trump’s people did a better job of running a fair election than the Obama administration did in 2016.

The media calls Trump’s claim of a stolen election “the big lie.” I’m not sure that’s accurate. To call something a lie presumes the liar knows the truth. It’s frequently difficult to tell when Trump’s lying and when he’s merely been fooled into believing what he needs to believe.

In one of his spasms of accidental candor, Rudy Giuliani said about Trump’s claim, “We have theories, we don’t have evidence.” I don’t know if the Republicans above believe Trump or merely pretend to. Are they unable to tell fact from fiction, or do they think so little of facts that they prefer the Trump-approved fiction?

One thing is certain: Most Republicans have followed Trump down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, all of them engineered to protect Trump’s self-image. Our nation’s self-image, our image abroad, and our nation’s future are collateral damage.

Psychologists tell us that confronting facts that contradict cherished beliefs is more likely to reinforce rather than weaken them. We dig in our heels. So let’s set aside the 60 court cases, the testimony of election officials, state-authorized recounts, independent audits, and the assurances of Trump’s election security official. Instead, let’s revisit what Trump has said about other elections.

In 2004 and 2005, The Apprentice was nominated but failed to win an Emmy. Years later, he tweeted, “The Emmys are all politics. That’s why, despite nominations, The Apprentice never won – even though it should have won many times over.”

In November 2012, after Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama, Trump claimed the election was rigged, that Romney actually beat Obama, and called for a revolution.

In October 2016, a month before the election, Trump said that if he lost, it would be because it was stolen. After the election, in which he won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote, he tweeted, “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

In the months leading up to the 2020 election, he said the only way he could lose is if it was rigged. But this time, he actually did lose.

Trump warned us in 2016 and 2020 what he’d do if the voting went against him. Steve Bannon told us too, five days before the 2020 election. “He’s just going to say he’s a winner. When you wake up Wednesday morning, it’s going to be a firestorm.”

We had to wait until January 6 for the firestorm. Thanks to candidates and voters in thrall to Trump and his cherished fiction, I doubt it will be the last.

January 6 was evidence, if anyone needed it, that beliefs matter. Those who broke into the Capitol were acting on a belief that their candidate had won. Trump told them that, and they believed him. Naturally, they were enraged.

But Trump’s fiction would be toothless without the complicity of politicians who either embrace the fiction or, like Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, shrink from the responsibility of saying, loudly and repeatedly, what they know: that Trump lost. As a result, 35% of the country has swallowed whole the words of a pathological liar (Cruz’s words) and con-artist (Marco Rubio’s). Naturally, the 35% are enraged.

For 250 years, the chief American achievement has been the peaceful transfer of power between administrations. For fledgling democracies, America was the model for how political enemies could set aside differences and unite for the sake of the country. Trump took a wrecking ball to that.

The belief that Trump won in 2020 is toxic, because it goes to the heart of the American experiment in self-rule. Disagree with Biden all you want. Feel free to hate him. Call him a socialist, call him senile, call his supporters idiots. But the idiots won.

This is still America. Do we accept the verdict of elections or do we not? The Republican candidates above have made their choice. 

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