The Steal review: stethoscope for a democracy close to cardiac arrest | Books

IIn their formidable new book, veteran journalists Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague argue that the mob that swarmed the Capitol in Washington almost exactly a year ago “had no better chance of overthrowing the US government than the hippies did in 1967. tried to levitate the Pentagon.” .

The “real insurgency” was the one “led by Trump and his coterie of sycophants” in Georgia, Wisconsin, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona. It “was only slightly better organized than the Mafia but considerably more calculated and dangerous”.

This true insurrection is the subject of this important and timely volume. The authors used a stethoscope to examine the details of the US electoral process. The result is a thrilling and suspenseful celebration of the survival of democracy.

The coup attempt was led by Donald Trump. Its intended outcome, in which Vice President Mike Pence would ignore votes from the six states above plus Washington DC in order to swing the election to Trump, was described in a nonsensical memo written by attorney John Eastman , described here as “probably the most seditious document to emerge from the White House in American history”.

This final act, of course, never happened. Even Pence, the most flattering vice president of modern times, couldn’t bring himself to violate the constitution so flagrantly to keep his boss in the White House.

But the real heroes, who came to life here, were the “hundreds of obscure Americans from all walks of life, state and local officials, judges and election officials. Many of them were Republicans, some were Trump supporters. They refused to accept his slanders of themselves, their communities and their workers, and they refused to betray their sworn duty to their office and their country. They were the real patriots.

Bowden and Teague – the latter a Guardian contributor – take us through six battles that lasted from election night, November 3, 2020, until Joe Biden’s election was finally certified by Congress at the start. from January 7 of last year.

Their book performs a vital service, demonstrating how well our tattered democracy has managed to function despite vicious partisanship and all the new challenges created by the pandemic. For the first time, I understood how brilliantly the new machines tallied votes, the intricacies of opening the outer and inner envelopes, capturing images of both, and then keeping the vital paper ballots inside. , allowing electronic results to be confirmed with one hand count in the event of a technology failure.

In Arizona, the Elections Department conducted “mandatory manual counting of Election Day ballots from 2% of voting centers and 1% of advance ballots, as required by Arizona law.” Arizona, and it gave a 100% match with the results produced by the tabulation equipment. ”.

Scott Jarrett was co-Chief Electoral Officer in populous Maricopa County, and he is one of the crucial bureaucrats celebrated here: “A pale, thin young man…dressed in a plain gray suit, the very image of a a serious civil servant, a man committed to the real machinery of government and quietly proud of his unadvertised importance and competence.

At a crowded public hearing of crazed conspiracy theorists, Jarrett painstakingly explained how only one of two “encrypted memory cards (both with tamper-proof evidence seals)” was transported from various polling centers to the main counting location. , “so that the results on one map could be double-checked against the other as well as the constituency vote report they had generated. Backing up this memory were, of course, the actual ballots that had been passed through the machines. The memory cards and ballots were sealed and delivered by “two members of different parties”, escorted by county sheriffs.

Clint Hickman, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, noted that while the eyes of some in the audience were glassy, ​​he just wanted “people watching this” to understand “we’re not glassy.”

The authors point out that Hickman was touching on a fundamental feature of The Steal, the bogus narrative concocted by Trump and his cronies: conspiracy theorists depend on ignorance.

“They start with distrust: only a jerk believes the official story. They then replace the often tedious and mundane details of a complex process…with a simpler narrative”: the theft.

Clint Hickman, Vice Chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, meets Donald Trump in Phoenix in 2020. Hickman is said to be resisting Trump’s attempt to reverse his loss in Arizona. Photography: Evan Vucci/AP

They make up colorful stories about a “deal struck with a late Venezuelan dictator to deliver tainted election machines, or a plot to preprint fake ballots in the middle of the night.” This creates what cognitive scientists call “a community of knowledge”.

The big problem that didn’t even exist 30 years ago is the rate at which such silly stories are spread across the internet and through the Twitter feed of a malicious president like Trump, exploding the reach of such stories and their power. to undermine democratic standards. .

The book reminds us that democracy itself depends on a modicum of trust. This is why Trump’s ability to persuade so many Americans of the truth of so many lies has had such a disastrous effect on our body politic.

Bowden and Teague have done a singular service by revealing the details that refute the Republicans’ endless fabrications about voter fraud.

The problem is that so many Republicans will continue to ignore the lessons of this book. American democracy could still be destroyed by the torrent of voter suppression laws already passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures, spurred on by lies invented by Trump and amplified by insidious “journalists” like Maria Bartiromo and Tucker Carlson, whose perfidy is brilliantly dissected in these pages.

If democracy prevails, it will survive thanks to the ability of authors like Teague and Bowden to make the truth even more compelling than Fox News fiction.

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