Ordinarily I would not be so cruel as to ask you to read the comment thread at an Ann Althouse post, but I’m making an exception in this case. The article itself says almost nothing. It simply notes that Molly Ball wrote an “important” piece at Time magazine and that understanding it requires us to examine Ball’s biases and ask why it was published. The commenters, however, draw their own conclusions. For them, Time published the piece because of hubris and a desire to brag about the fact the election was stolen from Donald Trump by a cabal of elites.

This is not in fact what Ball argues in the piece. Rather, she argues very specifically that there was a coordinated effort from a lot of different players to protect the integrity of the election and all charges that it was rigged or illegitimate. This effort began long before the voting began and continues to this day. It is bipartisan and involves both labor leaders and titans of capital.  It involved lawyers working to fight voter suppression efforts and money to pay for an army of poll workers. It included pressure on social media companies to prevent disinformation about the election. Here’s the paragraph that has sent the right into a frenzy:

That’s why the participants want the secret history of the 2020 election told, even though it sounds like a paranoid fever dream–a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information. They were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it. And they believe the public needs to understand the system’s fragility in order to ensure that democracy in America endures.

Of course, this sound nefarious. When a “cabal of powerful people” works to influence perceptions, that smells fishy. When they “change rules and laws,” that sounds like cheating. But Ball is arguing that this was done to fortify the election, not rig it.

It’s reasonable to ask if this is in fact what the “cabal” accomplished, but that’s different from questioning their intentions.

Of course, Althouse wants us to examine Ball’s possible bias and the rationale behind Time’s decision to publish the piece. But that’s less interesting and vital than examining the motives of the participants in the “secret history of the 2020 election.”

There is an obvious stumbling block in all of this, which is that Donald Trump’s campaign was also working overtime to  shape perceptions and change rules and laws. It’s well-established that Trump attacked vote-by-mail early on, in court and in the media, and argued he could only lose if the election was rigged against him. It’s not controversial that he went to court repeatedly to keep Green Party candidates on the ballot and kick Libertarians off of it. The Democrats fought those same battles from the other side. They successfully excluded the Green Party candidate in several states, and they worked to make ballot access easier in the midst of a pandemic. What was different this time is that non-partisan and bi-partisan actors got involved.

They wound up working against Trump, but not explicitly. Well, some people like labor leaders were explicit, but in the main the effort was aimed at combatting just one part of Trump’s agenda and message. They wanted people to accept the result regardless of who won. That meant that people would not believe it had been rigged against Trump because of early voting or voting machine manipulation, but it also meant that people would not believe it had been rigged against Biden because of voter suppression.

The basic idea is that the health of a representative government depends on the public’s acceptance of the integrity of elections. Looking at the comments in Althouse’s piece, it’s clear that this effort failed to convince a lot of Trump supporters. It’s not hard to see why. They believe Trump and they interpret any effort to contradict Trump as an illegitimate effort to sway opinion against him.

What they won’t consider is that it was impossible to support the integrity of our elections and stay completely neutral in the race. This was true during the campaign, but it was even more unavoidable after the election when Trump was making false claims and orchestrating a massive legal effort to overturn the results. If the election was legitimate, saying so was necessarily contrary to what Trump was arguing and what he was trying to do. Supporting the legitimate winner was by necessity anti-Trump.

It should be obvious that a prerequisite of being a presidential candidate is that you accept the results. Of course, it’s possible for an election to be rigged, but then you need to point to the facts and convince judges to take action on your behalf. Trump couldn’t do this because the facts were not on his side. Through his determined effort to raise illegitimate questions about our elections, he made enemies of people who see the reputation of our elections as more important than the outcomes of our elections. If you want to call these people a secret cabal, you can do so, but they’re really just patriots.

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