Thoughtful news consumers might have read last weeks announcement of an audit of the 2020 election results in four Texas counties and pondered its purpose. Why would former President Donald Trump call for such an audit after losing badly in almost 100 previous recounts, audits and lawsuits aimed at finding widespread voter fraud? Why would he make such a play in Texas, a state he won? Whats the endgame here?
Serious conservatives who are willing to put principle before politics people like Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley know that this audit wont change the outcome of an election that is almost a year old.
The conspiracy theorists who want to come up with all these ways or reasons why this election wasnt right they might very well find something else [to doubt], Whitley told The Texas Tribune. Its time to move on.
Nor will the audit ensure more accurate counts in future elections. That issue was explored thoroughly by the state Legislature this year, resulting in a host of new voting rules, many of which this newspaper supported. Elected bodies of seated public servants are the proper venue for such considerations.
But if this election audit isnt about changing the last election or improving future elections, what is it about?
In a word, cynicism.
This stunt, like so many that have tried to pass for public service in recent years, is about feeding the monster of populist nihilism. And the Republicans in charge of the state should know better.
But over the past 12 years, extending back through the Trump administration and to the birthers and pizzagate loonies during the Obama administration, too often folks on the right have given quarter to those peddling conspiracy.
Republicans have always fostered a healthy skepticism about government effectiveness. We remember President Ronald Reagans timeless quip in 1986: The nine most terrifying words in the English language are Im from the government and Im here to help.
But now, more than a third of a century after that quote, too many representatives of Reagans party have traded healthy, small-government skepticism for pugnacious, anti-government disillusion. The results are predictably devastating. A negative virtue can never produce a positive vision, so the candidate who can carry the cynics of a party is not the candidate who can best light the way forward, but the one who can sow the most turmoil.
Republicans havent cornered the market on undermining public confidence in elections without first proving wide-spread fraud in court. Lets not forget that progressive standard-bearer Stacey Abrams still hasnt conceded a 2018 gubernatorial election in Georgia. But many Republicans have elevated this tactic to virtuoso levels.
As journalists, we welcome a healthy dose of skepticism, especially for politicians. But theres a difference between skepticism that asks probing questions and cynicism that denies plain facts.
And that is where this action is taking voters. This is not an audit; its a training drill, a catechism in denying reality and exalting fear.
This audit wont make our elections fairer or more accurate. But it will encourage many Americans to dismiss facts, disrupt the functions of government, and denigrate public service. And in that regard, what we all should fear is that it will succeed.
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