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Wholly unexpectedly (to me, anyway), one committed Christian is making far more rational sense than just about anyone in fairly characterizing why Republicans (and, thus, many, many conservative Christians) have still refused to accept the reality that Donald Trump actually lost the 2020 election.
And why that mass self-delusion presents an existential danger to the American republic.
Indeed, a recent post-election report noted that 40 percent of GOP voters said they believed Trump won a second term, and another 23 percent “said they weren’t sure who won.” Another survey, by Politico/Morning Consult, revealed that 70 percent of Republicans did not believe the election was “free and fair.” Even more of a head-scratcher: The Hill reported that a YouGov Direct poll showed 52 percent of Republicans identified President-elect Joe Biden as the “biggest culprit” behind the right-wing invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6; a scant 26 percent of Republicans thought Trump was responsible.
In his recent Christianity Today op-ed, “We Need to be Better Losers,” Daniel Bennett, an associate professor of political science at John Brown University, assistant director of the Center for Faith and Flourishing, president of Christians in Political Science and a Donald Trump voter in the 2020 presidential election, wrote:
“Ever since the election concluded in November, there have been allegations that the election was taken from President Donald Trump. The president has long perfected the image of being a winner, and some Trump voters could not believe it was possible for him to lose. The only explanation was an insidious plot to steal the election and subvert the will of the American people. Fighting these results therefore became a matter of standing up for America itself. … [boldface mine]
“Speaking as a political scientist and as a Christian who did not vote for Joe Biden in November, I think it is important to say that these allegations are baseless nonsense. They are grounded in selectively presented half-truths, ambiguous and out-of-context videos, and outright falsehoods. They fall apart under the slightest scrutiny.”
He also points out, correctly, that these allegations gained unearned validity in the minds of millions of Trump aficionados because they were groundlessly “amplified by prominent national figures, including the president, members of Congress, and a variety of Christian voices.”
For example, evangelical leader Franklin Graham said “he tends to believe” Trump’s claim that the election was “rigged or stolen,” Bennett asserts.
For a rational person, that would be like tending to believe that invisible, unverifiable deities control our lives. Yet, the faithful were apparently moved by the Rev. Franklin’s cognitive tendencies.
Even Bennett, in his very reasonable assessment of the situation, could only bring himself to paint the bogus “Stop the Steal” movement as built on the sand of “baseless nonsense,” which is true.
But what is truer is that what the president was peddling (and his minions helping), while indeed baseless nonsense, was something far more sinister: baseless nonsense they all knew was baseless nonsense.
That makes it lying. Mendacity. Purposeful deception. Not innocent ignorance.
So, what you get with this type of weaponized lying is thousands of true believers of your message storming the U.S. Capital and killing outright or contributing to the deaths of five innocent people. Because it was their civic duty to stop socialist, secularist Democrats from stealing an election, don’t ya know.
Why? Because “The Donald” very powerfully and very often implied they had to.
Partly because the mainstream news media for a long time was uncomfortable with using the word “lies” in characterizing the president’s lies — they described them as less-judgmental-sounding erroneous misstatements and the like — the Commander in Chief was able in 1,458 days of his first and only term (as of Jan. 17) to spew 30,534 provably “false or misleading claims,” according to the respected Washington Post Fact Checker team.
So, it’s very nice that a prominent conservative Christian Trumpist scientist is calling out the soon-to-be-former president for disseminating “baseless nonsense.” But that sounds too much like he may have just made a terrible mistake.
But, make no mistake, he is not guilty of being mistaken. He is guilty of being criminally dishonest.
Still, Bennett, in his thoughtful restraint, does make a lot of sense. After the election, as hordes of fellow Christians rejected the vote tally as bogus, he said he asked his students:
“[W]hat was more likely: That a consistently unpopular president overseeing a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis [Covid-19] and sputtering economy, who narrowly won his previous election against a deeply polarizing opponent, narrowly lost his current election to a less polarizing and more popular opponent? Or that this same president was the victim of unprecedented fraud and corruption, even though his own party actually overperformed in many down-ballot races?”
I clapped in my mind at the utter saneness of the question, because I had yet to hear an analysis of post-election craziness so reasonably crafted.
But truth and lies, aside, Bennett is actually more focused on the practicality of winning and losing, and how a failure to lose gracefully — as required in American democracy (i.e., the “peaceful transfer of power”) — is dangerous to the republic’s entire program.
Only winners and losers exist in American politics, Bennett stresses, and there’s “no consolation prize for second place.” If election losers can’t bite the bullet with forced grace, we’ve got problems, he worries.
“The legitimacy of the American government is rooted in the legitimacy of our elections,” Bennett writes in his op-ed. “If more and more people turn to conspiracies and outlandish and unsubstantiated claims of fraud to explain electoral outcomes, then a collapse in self-governance may not be far behind.”
What I don’t get is how such a seemingly reasonable, evidence-based guy can still believe spiritual fairy tales are real.