Saturday, November 21, 2020
I don’t need to add my voice to the hundreds of experts who are explaining in detail why the Trump campaign’s claims of nationwide “election-stealing” fraud are demonstrably false and corrosive to democratic norms. I write to point out an additional dimension to the claims’ toxicity: they are direct and calculated assaults on the trust Americans place in their neighbors.
It is one thing to build conspiracies around George Soros, Bill Gates, or other distant figures. The election fraud conspiracy theory being trumpeted by the Trump campaign, though, is fundamentally about hard-working, civic-minded Americans in the communities we call home. As (conservative) Jim Geraghty explains in the (conservative) National Review:
[T]he contention of the Trump campaign’s lawyers is that the outcome of the 2020 presidential election was rigged by a conspiracy of multiple voting-machine-software companies, poll workers across the country, local and county election officials in multiple key states, various secretaries of state, state attorney generals, governors including Republicans, law enforcement at all levels, the Department of Homeland Security, and every judge who has ruled against them so far. Oh, and almost everyone in almost every form of media who covers elections, presumably including me.
Conspiracy theories focused on distant celebrities are nothing new – the belief that Nero set fire to Rome in order to further his political agenda is an early example. Today’s Q Anon claim that Tom Hanks leads a global pedophile ring may be laughable, but it has little impact on our day-to-day lives.
The Trump campaign’s conspiracy story is different. It seeks to sow mistrust in our local communities. The folks who have long earned our respect by getting up before dawn to help run polling sites are now implicated in a global scheme that encompasses Hugo Chavez and Antifa.
This should be especially troubling for Catholics, who -- in keeping with the premise of subsidiarity -- have long championed the empowerment of local communities as essential to our nation’s flourishing. If we believe that the common good is realized from the bottom up and not imposed top down, we need to be very careful stewards of the trust on which our civic life depends.
I am familiar with the court pleadings, and there has been nothing filed to support the outrageous conspiracy claims being made in press conferences and on social media. I’m sure that there were isolated instances of misconduct or mistake in this election, as there are in every national election. But that’s not what the Trump campaign is claiming. If the Obama campaign had made similar claims in 2008 or 2012, conservatives would have been outraged, and they would have rallied to defend the thousands of Americans whose honesty and integrity make our election system work. They would have correctly recognized that the stakes are much greater than the outcome of an election. Now is the time to speak up.