How can we blunt political chicanery with neither relevant laws nor rational voters?

How can we blunt political chicanery with neither relevant laws nor rational voters? November 8, 2021

donald trump glenn youngkin voting racism critical race theory dishonesty politics
Characature of former U.S. President Donald Trump as fraud victim. (DonkeyHotey, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Several pundits on cable news the day after Virginia’s gubernatorial election said roughly the same thing: Former Democratic Gov. Terry McCauliffe lost to his Republican challenger, now Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, partly, if not largely, because Youngkin laser-focused his campaign on supposedly at-risk parental authority in education (though actually the phoney target was critical race theory), while the eventual loser focused on attaching his rival, unsuccessfully, to Donald Trump’s hip.

It’s true that McCauliffe tried to slime Youngkin with Trump, while the eventual victor was trying mightily to ghost the controversial and toxic former president from his campaign and keeping him as far away from Virginia as possible, while at the same time appeasing him.

Regarding Youngkins’ touchless dance with Trump, the New York Times wrote:

Early on in his own campaign, Mr. Youngkin, a former private equity executive, recognized Mr. Trump’s usefulness to his political prospects. In the spring, during the Republican nominating contest in Virginia, Mr. Youngkin echoed Mr. Trump’s false claims of election fraud. After winning the G.O.P. nomination at a party convention in May, Mr. Trump endorsed him and Mr. Youngkin told a conservative radio host that he was honored.

“President Trump represents so much of why I’m running,” Mr. Youngkin said at the time.

But thereafter, Mr. Youngkin mainly kept quiet about the former president. Mr. Trump, in turn, made no public demands of fealty and encouraged his Virginia supporters to flood the polls, something he refused to do ahead of the January special elections in Georgia that gave Democrats control of the Senate.

But it’s not true that Youngkin was honestly promoting parents’ fundamental right to have a voice in their children’s education.

No. He was trying to scare and thus rile-up his base (which is also Trump’s base) into thinking that educators were trying to insert curricula into Virginia schools that holds present-day whites (and their children) responsible for long-ago slavery and all the social ills that that “curious institution” bequeathed to America up to now.

That’s the bogus meme about critical race theory (I posted about it earlier, here): that it will demonize white youth and traumatize and discriminate against them unjustly, while holding them liable for the social sins of their white forefathers. In fact, it doesn’t do that.

Still, the cynical deception worked for Youngkin (worked really well) because his supporters are either too lazy or ill-informed, or both, to sift fact from bogus political propaganda, or they just like to get worked up over literally nothing.

The point is, Youngkin can now at least partly credit his elevation to the Virginia governor’s mansion to not one but two big, fat lies — that Trump was robbed of the 2020 election, and that critical race theory (CRT) is taught in Virginia schools.

And even the mainstream media (meaning not fact-averse right-wing outlets like Fox, One America News Network (OANN), Breitbart, etc.) keeps mentioning “critical race theory in schools” (CRT) just to debunk it as something not taught in pre-college schools nationwide and therefore irrelevant to parents and their elementary- and secondary-school offspring.

But in trying to objectively report on Youngkins’ (and other Republicans’) lies about CRT, mainstream media during Youngkins’ campaign only infrequently called it what it is — false propaganda, a lie — and inadvertently gave it oxygen by implying it was a valid part of the political conversation (it’s not, except to report on the GOP’s attempt to use it to deceive voters). I don’t recall reporters fairly and aggressively challenging Youngkin on this full-on deception that he so prominently and constantly evoked during his campaign, to reveal him as either clueless or dishonest. There’s no middle ground with this.

In any event, news media putting Youngkin’s feet to the fire may have been ineffective, as were questions put to him about why Donald Trump wasn’t coming to Virginia to support him or why a rally was held in his honor (he didn’t attend) that glorified an American flag brandished at the Jan. 6 insurrection. He gave evasive non-answers to both those questions.

The nation’s political system is in deep trouble, as I’ve been saying for a while now, when influential politicians’ obvious and chronic disinformation dumped on citizens is allowed to corrupt election outcomes.

Free speech? Nonsense.

It should be no more legal for a political candidate to spread lies to falsely inflame voters than it is to falsely yell “Fire!!” in a crowded theater where none exists just to cause a stampede. Both can have serious, even deadly consequences to others (i.e., the Trump-incited U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, which resulted in five deaths). As you may recall, the lie that Trump told at an inciteful rally near the Capitol that day was that the 2020 presidential election had been “stolen” from him. It hadn’t.

But, still, the Trumpian faithful believed.

Pundits are ever fond of saying Americans are smart enough to know truth from untruth and to recognize authentic, honorable leaders from self-serving charlatans. You know, more speech cancels out bad speech.

As if.

I keep imagining a new enforcement arm of the Department of Justice whose job is to police and punish political mendacity — with ample due process, of course. I’m not talking about targeting exaggerated political rhetoric but purposeful lying and deceit — endemic to the GOP under the Trump administration — whose purpose is to undermine American democratic institutions and sabotage a fair electoral process that requires voters know truth.

We have precedent in the U.S. with laws against libel and slander, which aim to indict malicious, destructive falsities. Why should politicians get a pass?

Yes, we want politicians to be as free to speak their mind as practicable but not to the point that they can cynically and purposefully distort democracy for their own twisted purposes because they are uniquely charismatic and because people far too often are willing to believe literally anything from an authority figure if their grievances are ignited and their rage stoked.

Once again, lying has won in American politics.

Just as government protects us against unsafe medicines, why can it also protect us against the potentially deadly poison of shameless political mendacity?

Along with criminal and civil courts, why not consider truth courts? I know that reminds some folks of the classic dystopian novel 1984 and “Big Brother,” but, honestly, what do you think Trumpism was mightily laboring toward these past few years but an authoritarian lock on the nation by subverting democracy?

Let’s completely rethink this.

Clearly, unbridled “free speech” in the American political realm ain’t working. Except far too often for the bad guys.

I know people say Youngkin is a good Christian family guy. But how good can he be, and how trustworthy, when he lies like a thief just to get elected?

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