There is a steady stream of very concerned pieces coming out from mainstream media outlets and the organs of the NeverTrump Right about the very bad and really not good sentiment among Trump supporters that the 2020 election was not all on the up and up. Take just one example recently from the Washington Post, “Inside the ‘shadow reality world’ promoting the lie that the presidential election was stolen.” It seems that about 30% of Americans and 60% of Republicans think Biden’s election was fraudulent.
The Left and the NeverTrump Right attribute this to misinformation and conspiracy-mongering from the far reaches of the internet and other new media, stoked by dog whistles and nods of encouragement from the Usurper himself, rotting in internal exile. Never mind the obvious fact of all kinds of “legal” fraud in the run-up to the election, exacerbated and enabled by COVID (never let a crisis go to waste!): in several key swing states, executive officials either waived or ignored statutory requirements for everything ranging from signature verification and deadlines to absentee balloting rules, among other legislative trickery to subvert the will of the people. And then the mainstream media and Big Tech suppressed as best they could any information that might damage Biden and benefit Trump (the most glaring example being the suppression of the New York Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop and corruption).
Americans’ sense of fair play was taxed quite a bit over the course of the 2020 election season. The insults of “kook,” “insurrectionist,” and even “traitor” are now hurled nastily at anyone who continues to raise the issue. But skepticism about the 2020 election is a proxy argument for our larger cold civil war.
The 2016 and 2020 elections, for a good portion of the Right, are the latest examples of the intractability of the oligarchy. In 2016, Trump marshalled a national political coalition together by speaking to the issues of the GOP base and a portion of independents and Democrats that had been neglected by the Washington establishment: immigration, trade, and a non-hubristic foreign policy. He was then stymied in implementing this agenda, as often as not from within his own administration as much as by Congress and the courts. To many Americans, 2020 looked a lot like an all-out effort by every leading political, corporate, and cultural institution in the country to thumb the scales in favor of a Trump loss.
For the Left, Trump’s election in 2016 was proximally illegitimate because of Russian collusion … but the larger reason is the same reason the Left has thought every election (give or take change) since Nixon’s per se illegitimate. The Left’s embrace of Hegelian historicism—the belief that “history” moves always towards greater progress—means that retrograde Republicans and their voters, clinging as they do to the old rather than the “living” Constitution, should have gone extinct at least a half century ago. “Our Democracy,” in this context, means the living Constitution of post-1932, and especially post-1964. As my colleague Seth Barron wrote in February, “When we hear ‘our democracy,’ then, we should hear it as a description of possession. They aren’t saying that it belongs to all of us. It is theirs, and they will do anything they can to defend it.”
These are the continuing and deep battle lines in our domestic constitutional struggle. Not every participant holds these in some thorough and principled way—but they are the unconscious biases shaping our cold civil war. The passions and strife of the 2016 and 2020 elections need to be understood in this context—including a substantial portion of the population’s lingering notion that our national political arguments and electoral fights are not being conducted freely and fairly.
You would think Joe Biden, the self-proclaimed national healer and uniter, would welcome a full and thorough audit in all the swing states to calm the unease of so many of his fellow citizens, enhancing public opinion in favor of his legitimacy and in service of his legacy. The message is instead: shut up, get with the times, and stop threatening “our democracy.” In a free republic, this will not do.