How do we know what to believe?

“Nearly three-quarters of Republicans doubt that President Biden’s 2020 electoral victory was legitimate,” The Hill reports (story here). Believing lies doesn’t make them true. But how do we really know what’s true or isn’t? People can legitimately believe things that turn out to be mistaken. If they’ve made their best effort to evaluate the evidence and discern the truth, that’s forgivable. Finding truth often requires making honest mistakes along the way. This is true of everything in life, not just politics.

But there’s no evidence to support the belief by 71% of Republicans that Biden lost and the 2020 election was “stolen.” That’s a blatant lie, easily disproven, propagated by Trump and rightwing media. In America, people can believe political lies if they like, and there’s no legal penalty for that, but there are social penalties. These take several forms: Rebuttal, ridicule, or simply tuning them out and dismissing them as cranks.

More concerning than the fantasies of diehard Trumpers are the GOP’s efforts, motivated and impelled by Trumper lies, to overthrow our system of democratic elections. Some of these efforts have been feeble and feckless, such as the Arizona GOP’s clownish “audit” that confirmed the official result. At the extreme, Republicans are scheming to replace electors chosen by voters. This hasn’t occurred yet, so we don’t know what it would look like in practice, but it’s clearly undemocratic and some would call it fascism.

If you’re genuinely open-minded and seeking truth, a good way to start is by choosing your sources carefully. Science, academia, and serious journalism are more reliable sources of information than political propaganda. No news media is perfect, but journalists operating under professional standards try to report events accurately and objectively. Fox News talk shows are propaganda, not journalism. Many rightwing websites peddle false conspiracy theories. You can find untrustworthy sources on the left, too. In editing and writing this blog, I rely on the kinds of generally-reliable sources described above.

Bill Carter is a reputable journalist who covers the media (CNN describes him as a “media analyst”). In an opinion piece here, worth reading, he says the “biggest story of 2021” is not the pandemic but “our imperiled democracy.” He describes the January 6 insurrection as “the first serious attempted coup in US history” and thinks we’re in danger that “the American experiment in a government of the people, for the people and by the people” could “perish from the earth.” This sentence from his essay is worth emphasizing:

“This isn’t a case of over-the-top partisan politics gone a bit too far, where one side pushes this way and the other side pushes back. It’s a slowly unfolding horror movie.”

I agree. Today’s GOP isn’t just a combative political party pushing and shoving within the rules of a democratic system. They’re attacking democracy itself. That makes the GOP an existential threat to our freedom. You can’t vote for Republicans today if you want to continue living in a democracy tomorrow. Trumpism is a fascist movement built on a foundation of falsehoods, scapegoating, and threats of violence. The “stolen election” myth doesn’t reflect an honest disagreement over what is true or not. It’s a dangerous challenge to our right to govern ourselves.

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