America has a crisis of credulity — an excessive willingness to believe. The mob attack on the U.S. Capitol, motivated by baseless falsehoods, makes clear: willful stupidity is no longer OK and should no longer be given a hall pass.
Americans must create a social contract, metaphorically “signed” by each of us and obligating each of us to find out whether a statement is true or false, before acting in a way that affects others. Although it has always been a matter of life and death (witness racist lynchings and witch burning), now it is even more so, after the citadel of world democracy has been attacked and ransacked by a falsehood-drunk mob.
We must end this crisis of credulity and stop coddling “anger” and “frustration” when the source of those emotions is willful ignorance. Don’t tell us that millions of Americans are “angry and upset” about the election when your willful lies or willfully invalid “legal theories” are the cause of that anger and upset. The arsonist cannot return dressed as a fireman and demand respect.
As Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said on Jan. 6 (verbatim from his website, highlighted by me):
“President Trump claims this election was stolen. The assertions range from specific local allegations to constitutional arguments to sweeping conspiracy theories.
“I supported the President’s right to use the legal system.
“Dozens of lawsuits received hearings in courtrooms across the country.
“But over and over, the courts rejected these claims — including all-star judges whom the President himself nominated.
“Every election features some illegality and irregularity and it's unacceptable.
“I support strong state-led voting reforms. Last year's bizarre pandemic procedures must not become the new norm.
“But nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale that would have tipped this entire election.
“Nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break when that doubt was incited without evidence.”
Sen. McConnell’s statements make clear that the new social contract must include agreement that if you cannot find out facts for yourself, then you are obligated to rely on fact-finding bodies that the Constitution says are final: the courts. This isn’t a matter of not agreeing politically with a court decision. Under the United States Constitution and other laws, the decision is final and binding on our behavior. Period.
These days it is easier than ever to consult reliable sources to find out whether a statement is true or false. (A fact cannot be false or “alternative” – either it is a fact or it isn’t). This is emphatically true for court rulings relating to the 2020 U.S. presidential election. I read many of them, which are available as pdf images of the official decisions themselves — not news summaries. When you read the actual decisions, you see why media outlet summaries like “strongly rebuked” or “firmly rejected” hardly begin to capture the thorough ass-whipping delivered by some of these Republican judges, when their time has been wasted with claims lacking any factual support.
Relatedly, I do not think the majority of election rejectors have any understanding of what happens in a court proceeding — how thorough it is, whether led by a judge appointed by the claimant (Trump) or not. These judges and justices don’t just listen for five minutes and bang a gavel; there are papers filed by both sides, reviewed by the judges and their staff attorneys, followed by oral argument, followed by more analysis based on the oral argument, followed by legal research of the points raised, followed by written decisions which alone take a lot of additional time and thought. The whole thing takes days or weeks or longer, not a few careless minutes. These safeguards are why the Constitution and other laws vest the courts with binding authority. Not suggestive authority: final authority.
Waving the American flag amid a willfully stupid and violent act does not make you a patriot. All of us, as responsible American citizens, must form a pact to hate ignorance as much as we love our country. To call out, and stamp out, ignorance wherever we see it, with the same energy as we have for protecting American freedom. To promote education, the antidote of ignorance. To cease and desist from the horrendous suggestion that the First Amendment somehow dignifies willful ignorance or confers a right to be willfully ignorant (as opposed to guaranteeing the right to say stupid things). To put ignorance in its place — the trash can.
America needs an anti-stupidity vaccine as desperately as we need a COVID vaccine. Let’s all inoculate our society by agreeing to try to find the truth. That goes for our “leaders” at all levels of government, as much as it goes for our citizens. If we do not, the face of ignorance will soon appear at all of our windows.
Nile Kinney is a California attorney. These views are his own and not necessarily those of his legal colleagues.