The Legacy of Misinformation

Alan Zendell, February 26, 2021

The 2020 election and its aftermath demonstrated that the majority of Americans wanted an end to the lies and hateful rhetoric of the Trump years. They proved that nationally by electing Joe Biden, and in Georgia, under the intense scrutiny of the entire world, by defeating two incumbent Republicans Senators in a cherry-red state, turning it a lovely shade of purple. No amount of extremist media reporting can change what we saw and heard. On the other hand, fifty years after the fact, there are still people who claim the Apollo moon landings were faked.

Back in the day, I worked on the lunar landing craft, (LEM,) so I have no doubt that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin really stepped onto the lunar surface and planted the flag. Even so, having observed the lunar simulator used to train Armstrong and his colleagues first hand, and seeing how incredibly real the (fake) television transmissions from the Long Island training sessions looked, if I didn’t know better, I could see how people might buy into the lie that the missions never happened. If not for the fact that every country with tracking capability followed the path of the Apollo spacecraft independently, and were able to intercept the voice and video transmissions from the Moon themselves, the whole thing could have been a Hollywood special effects coup.

Compare that to the unabashed, shameless campaign to discredit the election. It’s not a creation of the Dark Web. It all occurred in plain sight, starting with the seeds planted by Trump months before the election that there was no way he could lose unless the election was rigged. In fact, many actors attempted to rig it, most notably Russian and Ukrainian hackers, who our entire national security apparatus tell us did their best to help Trump win.

I understand his disappointment and frustration. If not for the pandemic, which gave Americans an opportunity to watch him perform during a national emergency and utterly fail except for allowing funds for vaccine research to flow, Donald Trump may well have been re-elected. But he is incapable of accepting defeat. That’s the only thing that generated the horrifying post-election reality show the world got to see while they were locked down watching television.

While the events leading up to the insurrection at the Capitol were the final straw for many Americans, a sizable number still believe the Big Lie. It’s hard to know how many, although polls suggest that as many as two-thirds of Republicans either still believe it or are willing to support the narrative, because they see Trump as their best hope of regaining power in the future. Political differences are normal and healthy. Without the ability to freely express dissent and opposition, our republic could not survive. But when dissent is based on a massive campaign of deceit, our nation is in serious trouble.

That was brought home to me yesterday, when one of my neighbors, a very decent, intelligent man with whom I hadn’t discussed politics before lectured me about how the Democrats stole the election. I was stunned. He doesn’t even like Trump. He began by saying, “Trump is a jerk,” and went on to repeat right wing media sound bites. It was as if he’d been hypnotized to recite them in a trance. I listened, fascinated, to see if I could discern even a shred of truth. I threw in the towel when he said that in some blue states, the number of votes cast exceeded the total population of the state. He was unable to name any of them, and his only evidence was what some whacko on Newsmax said.

That’s only one of false claims that drive the Big Lie, but it’s worth focusing on because it’s not only untrue, it’s absurd. Every state certified its election results, and more than half were signed off on by Republican administrations. Does he believe that any Secretary of State certifying elections wouldn’t notice if four million votes were cast in a state with a population of three million, a fourth of whom aren’t even of voting age?

We’re about to enter a new arena as state and local prosecutors in several locations investigate Trump’s actions, both as president and private citizen. If what results are indictments, prosecutions, and convictions, what happens next? The thought that Trump and his people may have poisoned the well of truth and believability to the extent that his followers are capable of rejecting everything that disagrees with their narrative is terrifying. Trump has undermined the credibility of the free press in the minds of perhaps a third of Americans. If he succeeds in making law enforcement and the courts irrelevant, how can we possibly move forward from that?

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