Like many people who grew up in North America, this writer’s early childhood was filled with magical stories of a fat, jolly old elf who, once a year, flew around the world in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, delivering toys to children everywhere. Santa Claus would land on rooftops and descend through the chimney, partaking of snacks left for him, leaving gifts, and then bounding back up the chimney on his way to the next house. Children talked excitedly about him among themselves before Christmas, anticipating what he would bring, and after, discussing what he actually delivered.
There are many potential advantages of this tale for children, not the least of which is encouraging imagination. When handled properly, there can also be lessons about selfless generosity.
However, in time, like most children, this writer started to question some of the stories about old Santa. His best childhood friend didn’t have a chimney, and he still received presents. And flying reindeer? And why was there a specific closet in his home that was suddenly off limits in December? And why, beneath the beard and red and white outfit, was Santa one year his next-door neighbor?
In the normal course of maturity, one puts aside their childhood fantasies, and accepts reality.
Following the November, 2020 presidential election, another fat, but a lot less jolly, man, became both the instigator and the beneficiary of his own myth, that the election had been stolen from him. Many, many people bought into this fantasy, despite these interesting details:
+ President Trump’s own appointee, responsible for assuring a fair election, said that it was the fairest election in U.S. history. That statement cost him his job.
+ Attorney General William Barr, a complete Trump toady if ever there was one, proclaimed that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud. He promptly resigned.
+ The Republican Attorney General of Georgia, one of the states most contested by Trump, said that there was no evidence of voter fraud in that state. Trump was outraged by this statement.
+ Multiple lawsuits were filed purporting that the election was fraudulent; some went as far as the Supreme Court where three, ill-qualified, Trump appointees sit. The cases were dismissed.
+ Numerous recounts were performed, with nothing found to support a fraudulent election.
Now, one might understand that when Trump, who had been proclaiming for months that the only way he could lose the election was if it were rigged, first said the election had been stolen from him, some people might have believed him. After all, this writer initially believed in Santa Claus. So an original, knee-jerk reaction of ‘the election was rigged!’ could be believed by Trump’s numerous groupies around the nation. But, like the slow realization that reindeer don’t really fly, one might expect that these devotees of the Great Orange One would gradually see that there was, in fact, nothing to his various proclamations about voter fraud. After all, don’t children slowly realize that one sled can’t possibly hold enough toys for all the children in the world? Certainly, they do. It is part of the normal process of growing up. So why, one might reasonably ask, do Trump’s followers refuse to accept the fact that there was no voter fraud in the 2020 election, as they accept that there is no Santa Claus?
Well, there may be a few reasons for this. Sociologists tell us that people like belonging, and generally belong to specific interest groups. It can be difficult to transition from one group to another, so continuing to buy-in to Trump’s fantastic fabrications gives one status and a sense of belonging in one’s chosen group. The people who follow FOX News and Newsmax feel a sense of camaraderie with others who get their ‘news’ from the same source. They can discuss the dastardly Democratic plots to subvert the will of the people, and therefore build each other up and reinforce their place in the group.
Another reason is that the ‘news’ programs they listen to have depicted the Democrats as communist pedophiles who are constantly on the verge of arrest. Therefore, the narrative of stealing the election to continue their nefarious practices fits in with the twisted Trump world view. Let this writer say that other, more ‘liberal’ programs describe the Republicans as racist, Islamophobic, misogynist, white supremacists. And while he decries such generalizations, there is probably a lot more truth to the latter than there is to the former, although there is plenty wrong with the Democratic Party. That is a topic for another essay.
But the question posed by this writer is this: Why do these Trumpists not follow the same model they did as children? Start with acceptance of something they were told, ride with that a while, then start to see some things that don’t add up, and finally realize that what they originally believed was sheer nonsense.
A reverse situation may be the Covid vaccine. We are constantly hearing reports of people who disdained the vaccine, said the pandemic was a hoax, and they certainly weren’t going to be vaccinated, and then hear of their final texts from their hospital beds, where they beg their loved ones (very soon becoming their survivors), to get the vaccine. They started out as skeptics, and then, when it was too late, became believers.
The Trump fantasy does serve to assist the Republicans in power. Several states have made it more difficult for poor people and people of color, who consistently vote Democratic, to cast ballots. This is being done, we are all told, to ensure election integrity, something that Trump’s own appointed expert said was already firmly in place. But with the next election in mind, and all the perquisites of being an elected member of Congress at stake, why speak the truth when a lie brings so much excitement and enthusiasm?
It is not difficult to find articles by self-appointed pundits proclaiming that the very democracy known as the United States is hanging in the balance. The fact that the U.S. is an oligarchy, ruled by the rich with no consideration for the poor and middle class, is constantly glossed over. Political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page put it succinctly. They said that, in the U.S., “economic elites and organized interest groups play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.”
So why not exploit the masses with the lie of election fraud when doing so will all but assure your re-election? Some elected officials call the January 6 riot at the Capitol Building just another tourist day, despite the pictures and videos of them cowering behind seats or running for their lives from the ‘tourists’.
Reality isn’t always pleasant, but it’s always reality. A child can innocently confuse reality and fantasy, harming no one. But for elected ‘leaders’ and right-wing ‘news’ programs to foster such lies, only creates more division, more racism (see the new voting laws referenced above), more needless resentment and more suffering.
Perhaps we can now, at the very least, surrender the myth of the U.S. as a democracy.