Commentary

Column: Stolen 2020 election myth imposes loyalty test on Republicans

November 4, 2021 8:20 am

Pro-Trump supporters outside the Georgia Capitol, December 2020 | Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

The narrative about a stolen election is completely fabricated. None of it is true. None of it happened.

None of it, not in Arizona, not in Georgia, not in Michigan, not anywhere, none of it. All “evidence” offered to support that narrative is likewise a mirage; it vanishes completely upon closer inspection. It’s just a fiction, a fiction with the same grounding in reality as tales of flying, fire-breathing dragons or little green men invading Earth from Mars.

Unlike those stories, however, this one is functional fiction. Its creation was conscious and intentional; it was designed not to entertain or instruct or titillate, but to further a criminal conspiracy. It was designed as an excuse by people who needed one, concocted out of nothing to try to justify the overthrow of a legal election and thus destroy American democracy, and it was carried out by those frustrated because that democracy would not produce the outcome that they demanded.

If you only support democracy that gives you the outcome that you want, then you never supported democracy in the first place.

Since the failed attempt on Jan. 6 to reinstate the election loser as president, the narrative has also come to serve a secondary but still quite powerful purpose. For this particular purpose, it doesn’t matter that the story is ridiculous, that no facts or evidence or testimony could be found to support it. To the contrary, the lack of supporting evidence has made it more powerful and useful.

Over the past two decades, the Republican Party has defined itself through two dynamics, one internal and one external. Externally, they seek to define themselves through the opposition that they provoke from others, which is how “triggering the libs” became so central to their identity. They don’t want acceptance; they want rejection. They seek to create distance from the cultural and political mainstream, and anything that gives them that distance is good, which explains, to some degree, their infatuation with Donald Trump.

Internally, they have defined themselves through the loyalty tests they impose on each other, and anyone who expresses doubt or less than total commitment risks expulsion as a RINO. Trump has proved useful in that regard as well, forcing Republicans to demonstrate to themselves and each other just how deep their loyalty to the tribe really goes. Does that tribal loyalty outweigh any concerns they might have about Trump’s extraordinary character, behavior, racism or intellect? For most, unfortunately, their answer has been yes.

The more ridiculous the required belief, the more groundless and absurd it might be, the more effective it becomes as a test of loyalty. Anyone can believe something that is true, or that might be true. Only the true believer can believe the truly unbelievable, and if you can be swayed to the other side by such things as fact and evidence, then you weren’t really one of us anyway.

– Jay Bookman

The belief that the 2020 election was stolen has now been embraced as the latest such loyalty test. It serves both definitional purposes, external and internal. If the majority of Americans reject that belief as well as those who espouse it, great! It creates the distance that conservatives need to define themselves. And if a small number of supposed Republicans can’t reconcile their loyalty to democracy with their loyalty to the party, great again. If the likes of U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) choose to defend the Constitution and the republic over Trump and the GOP, then let the purification rites continue; let she and others be cast aside.

Again, the more ridiculous the required belief, the more groundless and absurd it might be, the more effective it becomes as a test of loyalty. Anyone can believe something that is true, or that might be true. Only the true believer can believe the truly unbelievable, and if you can be swayed to the other side by such things as fact and evidence, then you weren’t really one of us anyway.

It’s also critical to note that for many, this is not a passive belief; believing it requires that action be taken.

Once you have been convinced, by yourself or others, that the election was stolen, then the assault on the Capitol was not merely acceptable, it becomes necessary and patriotic.

Once you believe the election was stolen, then you can only support those politicians and leaders and media figures who will overturn it and future elections.

Put another way, this fiction was designed to have consequences, and if it is not fought and defeated, those consequences will be dire.

This column first ran in the Advance‘s sister outlet, the Georgia Recorder. Read it here.

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Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman

Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.

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