Q: How can a columnist debunk election denialism?
A: She can’t.
A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
I recently spoke at a nonpartisan event at the Paul Sawyier Public Library in Frankfort. During the Q&A, a man asked a question I’ve been grappling with ever since. “What are you doing as a writer to offset the naysayers and the people who believe that elections are rigged and don’t count?”
At the time, I answered that having Sen. Adrienne Southworth, one of Kentucky’s most flagrant election deniers, living in and representing Anderson County, also my home, makes this a lot more difficult. When I talk to locals, I ask them straight out if they think our county clerk (who most of them know, respect or like personally) cheats or rigs elections and, if not, what makes them think other county clerks are cheaters?
Not one person has ever answered this question and they often look at me skeptically, like it’s some kind of trick.
The most accurate and unfortunate answer to this man’s question is that election deniers probably aren’t reading what I write, about elections or anything else, because I am not in their silo. They do not trust me as a source.
I first started writing about politics in 2016, with the release of the Access Hollywood tape. https://www.kentucky.com/opinion/op-ed/article107845782.html Donald Trump had not yet become president, but he easily convinced millions of Americans that the tape was nothing but “locker room talk,” a coordinated effort by Hillary Clinton and the so-called liberal, coastal elite, media machine who looked down on them and their “way of life.” A month later, he won the presidency.
What does the Access Hollywood tape have to do with today’s election deniers? Everything.
Throughout his candidacy and presidency, Trump used Facebook, Twitter, FOX News, and the dozens of media microphones pointed his way before he boarded Marine One as his personal, free, 24/7 marketing blitz to drive home that writers like me are “fake news” and being paid to dupe them.
Sure, his Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as all of those microphones are now gone, but it is too late. The cake is baked. How do we un-bake it?
Whether they are Trump loyalists or what I now call regular Republicans, even my own family members, lifelong friends, and my own father do not read what I write. They never ask about my work or acknowledge that I am a columnist. Even for those who love me, I am the embodiment of “fake news.” And why would they read fake news?
Case in point: Last July, I wrote a widely circulated argument for abortion rights that opened with the line, “The day before Roe v. Wade was overturned, I opened the door to a funeral home in Missouri and locked eyes with the man who molested me when I was a teenager.” https://www.kentucky.com/opinion/op-ed/article263252808.html#storylink=cpy I have only told this story to a handful of people back home, so as soon as the story ran, I assumed I would hear from both childhood friends and family members, including my father, asking not only what happened but who the perpetrator was. I braced myself for these difficult conversations.
And then, nothing. Not a single friend or family member contacted me about this story. Why? Because they do not read newspaper articles written by Democrats, the “fake news” media, or people with so-called “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” and they certainly do not read stories about abortion rights.
Election deniers tend to be conspiracy theorists generally. They believe Dr. Fauci is a criminal, that President Biden is not really the president, that the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021 was a hoax or, if real, led by Antifa. Trying to convince them that elections are not rigged, that dead people are not voting, that voting machines are not being remotely controlled by Hillary Clinton using Hunter Biden’s laptop in the basement of a Washington D.C. restaurant called “Swamp Pizza” — as comical as it sounds — is impossible.
To answer the man’s question from the Paul Sawyier Public Library in Frankfort, the sad news is that I could write a weekly column challenging Sen. Southworth’s dangerous, absurd, election conspiracies and not make a dent because the true believers don’t want to hear it. I am reminded of my husband’s grandmother who, when she did not want to hear what we were talking about in the kitchen, would just turn off her hearing aids.
The most critical answer to the man’s question is this: As long as former President and current GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump continues to insist his election was stolen, that all of our elections are rigged, and as long as powerful, elected Republicans repeatedly state, on the record, that they will vote for him if he is the nominee, I can write about election fraud being a fraud until my fingers bleed, and it will not matter one iota.
From the Access Hollywood tape to today, people like me trying to correct the volume of disinformation being spread by everyone from Sen. Southworth to Mr. Trump is like trying to catch a fish with your bare hand.
From a speed boat.
On the ocean.
Until elected Republicans join forces and come out en masse to repudiate Trump for his many, many lies and desecration of democratic norms — and I do not see this happening, do you? — we can expect the population of election naysayers and deniers to keep on growing. This is now the legacy of the Republican Party.
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