I’ve had two conversations with intelligent people lately that are telling:
One person, generally a moderate Democrat, told me that she was certain Donald Trump was going to win the presidency. He will cheat, lie, steal, intimidate, sue, bully...whatever it takes, just so long as he figures out a way to win. And if it comes down to Nevada, well, hell, that’s just Vegas, and he’s just buy it off. That’s what she said.
Another person, a strong Republican, said that Joe Biden was going to win. We’re no longer a democracy, he said. We’re like Venezuela, a socialist country, where the votes magically appear overnight. Isn’t it interesting that Biden wins all the states that are close? Doesn’t that at least smell funny?
I told both of them that I had a whole lot more faith in the system than that. We’ve been doing this for 240-some years, and we’re good at it. There are systems in place, processes, backups, redundancies, fail-safes. Even if somebody really wanted to cheat, it’d be awfully hard to pull it off. And if they really tried, they would have to be thinking about what happened to Nixon, and about being deposed by Robert Mueller, and so on.
Does that make me a Pollyanna, or at least naive?
I don’t think so. I think it makes me realistic and reasonably sober.
Sure, it’s a relatively upbeat way of looking at America right now. But the alternative is awfully dark. That’s because, if you really believe that the other party — your opponent — is going to cheat, that makes it much easier to cheat as well.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think politics is really about nothing more than naked power, or if you think your opponent treats it that way, then you’re almost obligated to cheat in order to try to win.
It’s like what they say about big-time college basketball: If you’re not cheating, then you’re not trying hard enough.
Where does this belief come from? Well, mostly it’s from the polarization that’s so evident throughout our politics now. We divide ourselves into teams — the reds and the blues — and we villify the other guys. We even choose our own “facts” depending on whether they help our team win.
It’s also probably amped up by television dramas and movies that portray politics that way. And it’s probably goosed by Russian agents, using social media to widen the fissures little by little. Imagine how much more comfortable dictators must feel if the U.S. has to cede the moral high ground about democracy.
So I choose to believe in the system. I think my faith is based on fact and experience. I certainly hope that this election provides further evidence, and that those facts will actually be absorbed by both sides. It will be really easy for people who felt that their candidate lost this election to just retreat bitterly into conspiracy theories. You can see those themes emerging already.