Conspiracy theories have always played a role in American politics. The Know Nothing Party of the 1850s was founded entirely on belief that sinister conspiracies were lurking in every corner.
The current media obsession with conspiracy theories, the people who believe in them and debunking them, is rather like Christopher Columbus discovering America: news flash for him, but not so much for the people who already lived here.
There is, however, one wrinkle that seems to be new: No one seems to be able to accept the results of elections anymore. Whenever one side loses an election, it’s always because of cheating or a shadowy cabal working behind the scenes.
Take for instance the recent unionization vote in Bessemer. Despite all of the national hype and the anti-corporate politicians of both parties parachuting into the state to drum up support for unionizing Amazon’s distribution facility in Bessemer, the workers there resoundingly rejected forming a union. And the margin of defeat was far too much to be wished away as malfeasance on Amazon’s part.
Nevertheless, union officials persisted.
“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees. We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the organizing efforts in Bessemer.
Why does this sound familiar? Because it’s like so many other recent elections: The losing side can’t simply admit defeat.
In Georgia, where the Republican-controlled state Legislature has passed a host of election law revisions based on the myth Donald Trump really won the state in 2020, the whole thing has played out like a comedy of errors.
Most of the election law changes the Legislature passed were innocuous. Even after tightening rules on early voting and absentee balloting, Georgia’s rules are still less strict than, for example, New York’s.
Other changes are more worrisome, such as shifting power to oversee election disputes away from Georgia’s secretary of state and to a new committee created by the Legislature.
Given the resulting overreaction to the new laws, including Major League Baseball stripping Atlanta of this year’s All-Star game, one wonders if Georgia’s Republicans think it was all worthwhile.
But they are hardly alone in perpetuating myths that Georgia’s elections are rigged.
Stacey Abrams, who became a hero to Democrats for her organizing on behalf of Joe Biden’s winning presidential campaign in Georgia, has never conceded her defeat in the state’s 2018 gubernatorial election. She has, in fact, vocally done the opposite.
“You see, I’m supposed to say nice things and accept my fate. They will complain that I should not use this moment to recap what was done wrong or to demand a remedy,” Abrams said in lieu of a concession speech. “And I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right.”
The “erosion of democracy” is a serious charge. It is serious if it’s true, but it’s equally serious if it’s not, because it erodes confidence in the system and discourages voter participation.
Abrams, of course, had no complaints last year because her side won. Republicans who claimed the election was stolen from President Trump nevertheless accepted the legitimacy of Republican wins across the nation, which increased their numbers in the U.S. House.
By harping baselessly on stolen elections, Republicans probably cost themselves the U.S. Senate, by dissuading voters who might have put the GOP’s candidates in Georgia over the top.
Just think: Republicans could still control the Senate, the Georgia Legislature could never have bothered with rewriting the state’s election laws, and the All-Star game could still be taking place in Atlanta.
Undermining confidence in elections solely for political gain can have all sorts of unforeseen consequences.