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Good for Fiction, Bad for Democracy?

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

I’m an author and I can’t help noting that someone is using one of my favorite techniques to blind the nation to the real plotline. Let me explain.

If you’re writing a story and you want, for the sake of suspense, to keep the reader from realizing who the actual villain is, then you drop those facts innocently, leaving then in plain view, while misdirecting their attention with a compelling but false alternative plot. And then, the denouement! You reveal to your temporarily duped readers what really went on.

This is great fun in a novel, but is it appropriate to the story of our 2020 election? The real story of the 2020 election, concealed so artfully behind misdirection about the election being stolen by Democrats, is that a great many voters were intimidated, mislead, or outright prevented from voting.

Let’s take a minute to clear the fog of the current news cycle—which is all about Trump’s lawsuits and claims of massive voter fraud—and remember what the Republicans did in the run-up to this election by disabling the USPS, bumping millions of voters off the rolls, closing drop boxes and polling stations, and many other dirty tricks. Pre-election, Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, wrote in The Atlantic that, “Republican secretaries of state have been aggressively subtracting millions of names from the voting rolls, even as GOP legislators have made it harder for citizens to register to vote.” Millions of names! That’s the real story, but it is obscured by the current quibbling over false claims of fraud, and a flurry of trivial lawsuits.

Pre-election, journalists Ari Berman and AJ Vicens wrote a piece in Mother Jones entitled 29 Ways Trump and the GOP are Making It Harder to Vote. That’s not even an exhaustive list, but it was enough to get a lot of people alarmed.

Pre-election, foreign interference was very much on our minds. Remember? The Pew Research Center released a finding that 75% of Americans thought it likely Russia would try to interfere. That’s an exceptionally high level of agreement for a national poll.

So these were our top-of-mind concerns. What about now? The current issue of The Atlantic has a feature story about…wait for it…the President’s litigation strategy and his efforts to prove that the Democrats stole the election. In fact, this story is dominating every major news platform.

Why are stories about what really happened—Republicans rigging the election by suppressing or preventing millions of votes—all but invisible in today’s media? Why aren’t we talking about the scandal of the century: That the President-Elect had to overcome a multi-million-vote deficit caused by dozens of underhanded and/or illegal actions against voters and voting? Why aren’t we asking by how much would Biden have won on a level playing field and whether the Senate would have flipped decisively on that field?

In the heat of the moment a strident new narrative, designed to misdirect, can easily take front and center. That is the art of good story-telling, and as an author, I can’t help but be impressed. However, I also must ask whether clever tricks of fiction should be allowed to wreak havoc with our democratic process.

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