Critical thinking on US electoral fraud

11 Nov

In my last years as an academic a good deal was being written about, and careers founded on, an alleged need to ‘teach critical thinking skills’ to undergraduates. Me, I was coming to a view of critical thinking as not so much a set of skills, or even a cultivated cognitive outlook, as one of a vast range of tools at the service of egoic investment. Over and over I’d watch colleagues make obeisance to the God of Critical Thinking, only to toss teddies from prams the moment their own ambitions were frustrated, their own fears of loss – here material, there of face and standing – aroused.

And I saw the same movement in myself. As I noted in my May reads post:

A tragi-comedy of the human condition is our pairing  of marvellously sophisticated reasoning power with the emotional maturity of an adolescent chimpanzee …

(No slight intended on our closest rels.)

So I’m not altogether surprised at the vehemence with which a liberal intelligentsia now rejects – out of hand and a-priori – any suggestion that Team Trump just might have a point about the election being stolen. I’m less surprised still when neoliberal media – joined by neocon outlets now dumping the Donald – declare such charges baseless.

(Easily done, given the man’s singular gracelessness, and that other human trait: a tendency, its rough and ready economism no doubt evolutionarily useful, towards confirmation bias. Give a dog a bad name and all that. If I’ve learned little else from 68.1 spins round the sun, I’ve learned how easily we are played by those who come at us with (a) an agenda, (b) access to the means of mass opinion formation – or in the interpersonal realm a few tips and tools for mind-fuckery – and (c) a working grasp of what makes folk tick.)

Some media reject Trump’s claims by simple fiat, their proof the rejection itself; some by citing this judge or that. Will they do the same, I wonder, when ‘this judge or that’ happens to be Amy Barrett, swinging the Supreme Court vote on a Roe v Wade rematch?

I’m sorry your election results are being disputed as fraudulent, America. Have you tried not having the single worst electoral system in the western world?

Caitlin Johnstone

If you read my recent posts – The king is dead: long live the king!Forgive my not dancing in the streets … and (more obscure, I grant you) US Election: poison or bullet? – you’ll know I view America’s democracy as an even greater chimera than Britain’s. My grounds for saying so are given in the second of those cited posts:

Never mind voter fraud issues raised by Team Trump – baseless, we’re assured, by media I can barely trust with the football scores.1 Never mind the manufacture of opinion, vital to squaring class rule with the trappings of democracy, by media whose business model puts them in thrall to market forces.2 To these aspects of the circus now winding down we can add that the cost of running for the top job currently stands – How Much Does it Cost to Become US President? – at $2-3 billion. Meditate on that fact. It says all we need to know about ‘bipartisan’ commitment to the end, though there be growing division over means, of preserving Wall Street dominance of the planet and all its resources.

So has the US presidential election been stolen, to rob Donald Trump of his second term? Pass. But for the reasons sketched out above, I don’t see how any serious person, striving to cultivate an open mind – a tougher challenge than is commonly supposed when the subject is one that we care about – can rule this out.

Here’s an exchange on this site yesterday. Below the line of Forgive my not dancing … George quotes me on the sentence which also opens the extract given above:

“Never mind voter fraud issues raised by Team Trump – baseless, we’re assured, by media I can barely trust with the football scores.”

It’s funny to think we are assured that this election is free of fraud by the same media which, with equal vehemence, assured us that the election which gave us Trump was fixed by the Russians.

I reply:

Ain’t it just! Me, I’ve no idea whether there’s any merit to Team Trump’s claims. I’m more interested in the unquestioning assumption that there can’t possibly be …

That was last night, and there I’d thought to leave it. But the first thing I read this morning was a piece by Pepe Escobar, the Brazilian journalist often cited on this site. Like Michael Hudson, he’s one of my go-to sources on Sino-US relations, which I now regard – along with capitalism’s war on nature – as the most pressing issue of our time. My second read, discovered while checking out Escobar’s claims, is a Guardian piece from April 2019. Both prompted me to add this:

I’ve just read this from the Guardian last year. Though very much informed by Guardian Russophobia it unwittingly shows how maybe – just maybe – Team Trump have a point.

Pepe Escobar wrote yesterday on election interference systems – Hammer and Scorecard – devised for pursuit of empire agendas overseas but usable in the US. Pepe is always worth a read, if excitable of tone. Referring to Murdoch’s switch of allegiances – akin to that from Major to Blair in the UK – he notes:

The Fox News/ New York Post angle is enticing. Why are they suddenly supporting Biden? … Murdoch made it very clear, via the laptop from hell caper, that he has all sorts of kompromat on the Bidens. So they will do whatever he wants. Murdoch does not need Trump anymore.
Nor, in theory, does the GOP. Former CIA insiders assure of serious backroom shenanigans going on between GOP honchos and the Biden-Harris gang. Trade-offs bypassing Trump – which [whom?] most of the GOP hates with a vengeance. The most important man in Washington will be GOP Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

To which a BTL comment adds: “no one gets to be presidential possible elect unless there’s plenty of dirt against him /her should they get out of line”.

Sorry, my liberal friends, but I can’t promise I won’t be writing more on this. I’ve long been suspicious of the way “conspiracy theorist” is used by folk I consider not, shall we say, fully awake as a means of dismissing – without the inconvenience of addressing their specifics – arguments they don’t like.

* * *

  1. “Media I can barely trust”? I do not say individual journalists are conscious liars. A few are. Most, I suspect, aren’t. But journalists, fewer and fewer of whom actually get out and investigate, are no less credulous than the next guy. Worse, journos who know what’s good for them please editors. Editors who know what’s good for them please proprietors. And proprietors? Be they Citizen Kane style kingmakers like Murdoch and Rothermere, or Trusts like Guardian Media Group, footnote 2 applies.
  2. Noam Chomsky: “media are big businesses selling privileged audiences to other big businesses. Now the question is, what pictures of the world would a rational person expect from this arrangement?”

22 Replies to “Critical thinking on US electoral fraud

  1. Thanks for your latest incisive comments on the voter fraud issue, Phil. But I’m afraid I’m not very impressed with this line of thinking at the moment, despite my own ‘a plague on both their houses’ political stance towards Republicans and Democrats. Like conspiracy theories generally, much depends here on what we think is imaginable, possible or likely on grounds of political principle, rather than on empirical plausibility or factual concerns. So I’m as inclined to accept that the Dems are capable of voter fraud as anyone else. Indeed, I’m inclined to accept that the Dems are as capable of voter fraud as the Republicans have already been shown to be (eg Greg Palast’s great work on voter suppression by both Republicans and Democrats), but thereby hangs the tale/tail. On general political grounds, is it likely that the Democrats were the only political party engaging in electoral fraud here, and that the Republicans (with known record, motive, opportunity and means) were squeaky clean? But this would make the whole thing a battle of competing electoral fraud machines: in that case, how come the Dems won? And why no counter-claims by the Dems of voter fraud against the Republicans in that case? ‘Because the Dems won’, you might say. But Trump was making allegations of voter fraud and voting irregularities WHILE HE WAS ACTUALLY AHEAD IN THE VOTING IN MANY STATES (whereas the Dems, possibly about to lose, were making no such claims). That’s why he was trying to stop the count. Secondly, if the Dems were really so skilful at rigging elections, why didn’t they do the same job for the Senate?? Thirdly, if it is the case that mainstream (and even neo-con) media have accepted a Biden win and rejected the Trump allegations, it is at least plausibly because they have seen (privately or publicly) no evidence to support these allegations and some of the charges have already been thrown out by the courts, as I understand it. From what I have seen myself, the allegations about dead people receiving ballot papers (and consequently a co-ordinated postal ballot fraud) are based on falsehoods or a misunderstanding of how various processes work. In short, then, I don’t have much time for the voter fraud allegations and I think we’re missing the main point: the mobilisation by Trump and supporters of a huge, extra-judicial , armed and potentially violent extreme right-wing movement aimed at holding or seizing power.

    • Dashing out Pete, so may want to come back on the basis of more considered reflection. For now, a few ToH responses.

      My point is that we do well to either investigate these things empirically, else maintain a stance of Not Knowing.

      Your points on Dems v GOP are premised on this being about which wing of US Empire wins an election. With Rep Mitchell [correction at 16:45, I mean Mitch McConnell] arguably the most powerful man (at least in overt terms) in the US political machinery and able to work with Biden, I think we might see a Trump ouster as to do less with party politics, viewed by you and me both as largely a sham, more about getting rid of a maverick past his sell-by date.

      On the wider problems of ‘democracy’ I need no lectures. I’ve been blogging on the subject for at least five years! So to be clear, my scorning of this particular charade does not hang upon ‘voter fraud’ charges I neither accept nor reject.

      Excuse my being unswayed by whether or not you “have time for” such claims.

      • Excuse also the needlessly abrupt tone in that final line of my initial response. I’m back now from walking the woofers. You wrote:

        I think we’re missing the main point: the mobilisation by Trump and supporters of a huge, extra-judicial , armed and potentially violent extreme right-wing movement aimed at holding or seizing power.

        I doubt the existence of any such entity remotely able to seize power in the USA right now. I could be wrong on this, and even if right we’d do well to appreciate that the situation may change fast given the crisis in which capitalism generally, US imperialism in particular, now stand. Exacerbated of course by CV-19 and responses to it.

        In a recent post I used Trotsky’s parable – gun v poison – from Germany of the thirties. I tried to make clear my view that the situation then was not to be compared with that of today, but it’s a post I slightly regret: an instance of my tendency to paint too many different things on too small a canvas. But I stand by my claim of there being no mass socialist movement in America, hence zero incentive for any significant wing of its ruling class to back a fascist grouping which, for the same reason, is not a mass movement.

        Without such backing the prospects of an “extreme right-wing movement … holding or seizing power” strike me as vanishingly small.

    • As I mentioned to Phil before, the claims of electoral fraud thrown out by Trump recall similar claims endlessly circulated on the mainstream media concerning Russian cyber interfrence in the election of Trump. Of course both are “conspiracy theories” (if you must) but it’s interesting to see how the one made by Trump was derided BEFORE it even had the chance to be announced (Trump being interrupted even as he made it) while the other (the one about Russian) was circulated all over the media constantly. This latter phenomenon is something that fascinates me i.e. how the media can just insinuate a story into the very fabric of our perceived reality.

      • … it’s interesting to see how the [claim of electoral fraud] made by Trump was derided BEFORE it even had the chance to be announced …

        My point exactly. This I think has bearing on the fact that in those swing states an early Trump lead, followed after November 3 by its steady erosion as postal votes were counted, had been predicted. Even before Trump urged supporters to vote in person, I gather that Republican voters were significantly less likely to go postal than were Dem voters.

        I’ve been happy to explore with Pete the quite separate question of whether or not US fascism poses a credible threat here and now, but thanks for bringing things back to the thrust of my post.

  2. .. if the Dems were really so skillful at rigging elections, why didn’t they do the same job for the Senate??..

    They aren’t really concerned about the Senate. Or even the House, where they lost several seats. They aren’t concerned about the State Legislatures either. There are various reasons but the main one is that the people who control the Democratic Party find that their interests are best served by right wingers. Republicans favour their interests whereas radicals in the Democratic Party are the greatest threat to them. Biden served their purpose because he defeated Sanders and the radicals. Had he not, and he would not have been able to without the enormous political and financial support he got from the oligarchy, it would have been Trump vs Sanders – a nightmare contest for the ruling class which would have ended up as a bidding war for working class support (Sanders’ reformism against Trump’s Protectionism and racism).

    Such calculations do not apply to most House or Senate contests.

    It is no coincidence that Obama was very content to see both House and Senate lurch rightwards in 2010, thus relieving him of the necessity of telling his reform supporters that he had only been faking it. Instead he was able to tell them that he was hog tied by Congress.

    Biden wants to be in the same position.

    • On matters of Senate, HoR and State Legislature I bow to your greater knowledge, as an unusually well informed Canadian, of how US politics work. Thanks bevin.

  3. Fair enough on the Senate etc and I concede my scenario was over the top. But the main problem with the vote rigging claims still stands I think, and from latest news it certainly appears that a coup attempt is a little more than mere fantasy.

    • Pete, anyone who backed me as you did on Roddis v Sheffield Hallam gets allowed to talk bollocks from time to time.

      Just kidding …

      We should remember that media have every interest – regardless of political position within the Overton Window – in offering fear porn: stoking wild fantasies of millions of armed fascist militia taking to the streets come January. It titillates, and ups readership.

      Footnote 6 of Forgive my not dancing says this:

      The much touted fantasy of Trump Refusing To Go is a textbook case of lust, probably hard wired into our species, for comic book villains. We can get seriously high on the righteous indignation of it all, and on a vision of the Good Guys storming in, Navy Seal style, to evict the Bad Guy. (Our narrative managers play on this addiction to childish morality tales – Assad, Assange, Mugabe, Putin et al.) The truth, as Caitlin [Johnstone] says, is that Trump lacks the power base for any such thing. Any usefulness he may once have had for US imperialism’s neocon wing is spent. He has no viable plan – which would have outweighed any amount of embarrassment – for stopping China’s rise.

  4. Hi Phil!
    I take your comment in the spirit in which it is intended! 🙂 Plus your support for our work has more than made up for anything I’ve ever done for you!
    But Trump Refusing to Go is no longer a fantasy and it’s more than just Trump… But let’s see how this plays out!
    Very best as always!

    • TBH I’m more concerned about what happens in four or eight years time when, right wing Dems having failed to solve the deepening structural problems of US capitalism, a new authoritarian presents him or herself. One with a solid and highly focused power base and an agenda far clearer than Trump – no less surprised by his winning the 2016 Primaries than Jezza had been at winning the Labour leadership – ever had.

      God knows, I’ve given George Monbiot a few kickings on this site but, credit where it’s due, he grasps this truth in a surprisingly good piece in yesterday’s Graun

  5. The problem here is that it’s dead easy to be sat several thousand miles away, dependent upon a clearly partisan media, and construct various scenarios of what might or might not be the case based on our own prejudices.

    George has hit the nail on the head. It took several years before the “evidence” shoved down our throats about Russian interference in 2016 to unravel. Anyone who took the Steele dossier at face value clearly did not learn anything from the previous crock of bullshit fed to the willingly gullible about “unimpeachable” evidence by Colin Powell at the UN; or the Kuwaiti babies “torn” from incubators in the first Gulf War; the Gulf of Tonkin; the Zioniov letter; Dhouma; Salisbury; etc. etc. etc.

    And George’s point works both ways. Given the steaming pile of poo conspiracy theories (for that is what they were and are) fed to us by a billionaire owned and controlled Establishment and Elite media of the 0.01% about “Russiagate” et al, any sane and rational approach would be taking the same rush to judgement from these same sources that there is nothing to see here with the same skepticism as you would with an email from a Nigerian Prince wanting to shove several million pounds through your bank account.

    Instantaneous rush to judgement on events with no serious scrutiny or consideration of the evidence – because it’s not all available to us – does not represent any kind of valid approach. Lies can go three times around the world whilst the truth is still getting it’s boots on.

    And what you end up with is a permanent confirmation bias. It is more often than not that careful consideration and scrutiny of evidence over time (one example might be, say, Roddis v Sheffield Hallam) results in previous perceptions and rushed instantaneous judgements being confounded and turning out to be wrong/factually inaccurate/not congruent with what happened.

    Unfortunately, in Rove’s world in which those with the power create their own “reality” and that of everyone else, the majority tend to cling to the belief formed via instantaneous judgements made before the time consuming task of sifting the actual evidence, if permitted, rather than taking Keynes’s position of changing the original conclusion when the facts change.

    Try going out into the street and testing this at random. How many people would you have to stop and ask, say, whether they thought de Menzes was an actual terrorist rather than an innocent victim; or that the Liverpool fans at Hillsborough brought in on themselves instead of being smeared, before finding someone who gave a response congruent with the actual evidence rather than the instantaneous media managed and packaged lies?

    Just because it’s Trump saying something, or anyone else who we “disapprove” of does not make something either true or untrue. That’ s not a viable approach to or basis for assessing a claim. Only the time consuming approach of sifting through and publicly hearing and seeing the evidence provides a meaningful and valid way of considering the world.

    As my old mate John Shelton used to say, ‘Where there’s money, there’s a fiddle.’ The trick is finding the fiddle rather than becoming a willing victim of it, either way.

    • “George’s point works both ways”

      Maybe – but I still think it funny when Trump didn’t even have time to finish the sentence before this little head popped up and said – haltingly and obviously improvised in real time – that, effectively, there was “Nothing to see here folks!” Brits like me like to sneer at how naive the Americans seem – which is probably being unfair to them. Nevertheless, the American media seem to be ferocious in their determination to keep up a Disneyish presentation of …well, everything really.

      Incidentally, the little head that popped up was famliar to me from Fox News. I recall him standing in – probably the Gaza strip – while Israeli tanks were trundling in. And he was reporting and he seemed to hit an embarrassing patch where he was struggling to find the most acceptable word. He finally came up with, “this invasion” and added, “I don’t know what else to call it”. And I thought he seemed desperate to stay on the right side of permitted public opinion.

  6. After the DNC destruction of Sanders and the Russiagate fantasies, which most journalists still regard as fact, I wouldn’t rule anything out of court, although what fraud did take place was probably marginal.

    I agree that talk of an imminent coup is incorrect. The bourgeoisie is still able to float on a sea of fictitious capital, extracted from wages and crumbling state infrastructures. The conditions for a fascist last throw of the dice don’t yet exist. Their increasingly overt parasitism is not threatened by a revolutionary crisis.

    However, a lot of combustible material is accumulating. One indicator is that around 50% of young people in the USA are favourably disposed towards socialism, which only signifies at present hatred of inequality. Fake left figures such as Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez and outfits like the Democratic Socialists of America are currently the main beneficiaries, harmless safety valves like Corbyn. On the other hand many members of the middle class and working class, facing falling living standards and even ruin, have turned towards the right.

    Pace Kerry-Anne Mendoza’s recent outburst on the Canary website, it is as wrong and counterproductive to attack these people as Nazis, as it is to dance in the streets to welcome a new leader of American imperialism. Fascism has not been defeated. It has not yet arrived. However, the foundations for its emergence are being laid, as are the foundations for the expropriation of the expropriators.

    • Good assessment, Colin. As for the Canary, I haven’t seen Mendoza’s piece but though that outlet comes out with good stuff, it also churns out a lot of dangerously superficial rubbish. I recall commenting – probably the last time I did so – below a piece bewailing Trump’s 2016 victory that it could have been written by Deborah Orr or Suzanne Moore at the Guardian.

      • Agreed Philip, but its usefulness is more than offset by its politics, a thin blend of morality and left Labourism, which is to say unity with and under the right. A broad church needs a Hierarch. On this occasion Mendoza labelled Trump’s 70 million voters as “the Nazis who just lost” and pins her hopes on Biden to “shift America away from disaster capitalism” – as opposed to that other kind of capitalism.

        • How many of those 70 million who voted for Trump had previously voted for Obama?

          And why? Writing off every single voter who didn’t vote Biden as a Nazi isn’t serious analysis its just playing at being in a gang in the school playground.

          Treating voters as though they have nowhere else to go is really grown up politics isn’t it.

          One also wonders how much mission creep will occur in this “initiative”.

          A project which begs the question of how long will it be before that principle is applied to those in the Biden/Obama/Clinton administrations – along with their voters?

    • Hey Alain, good to hear from you. Hope you’re keeping an eye on that weasel, Macron!

      Not that I have owt – that’s Yorkshire for rien, quelque chose or tout ce que – against weasels. As a boy I had a polecat ferret for a pet, instilling in me a lifelong respect and affection for a genus which takes in otters, pine martens, stoats and a few other worthy critturs.

      So let me rephrase: watch that twat, Macron.

  7. I know it’s facetious but I loved a comment from Rich Hall when he guested on “Have I Got News For You” just after an American election and he was asked what he thought of the outcome. He said, ‘It’s like a sign over a porn cinema that says, “Under New Management”. Who cares?’

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