There’s Disinfo in the Car Pool
Two days after President-elect Joe Biden secured his victory over outgoing President Donald Trump, I walked my children to school. It’s only about 10 minutes away, and it’s not too cold yet here in Georgia. Walking with them is a wonderful opportunity to talk about what’s going on with their lives before they become teenagers and no longer speak another word to me. My youngest son, Wynn, was telling me about how if he had to fight a dragon he’d make sure to use his Ninjago powers when I noticed, on a light pole by the school, a freshly posted political sign. It said:
“DEMS YOUR VOTER FRAUD IS TREASON.”
The “T” and the “N” in “TREASON” had little driblets of red hanging off their serifs, as if they were caked in the blood of the treasonous Dems. And it was just sitting there, next to my kid’s school, as I waved to the crossing guard and held my kids’ hands as they crossed the street.
I hoped the kids didn’t see the sign, and later, after school was in session, I walked back over to the telephone pole and took it down. I don’t know if that’s what I should have done. (I’m still not sure.) But I didn’t want to look at that at 7 a.m. every morning when I’m just trying to hear my six-year-old talk to me about slaying dragons. I wouldn’t want them to see a “TRUMP FOR PRISON” sign out there every morning either. But no one was posting those.
It’s been about a month, and I still haven’t forgotten about the sign. I find myself wondering if it was one of those other parents in the dropoff line who put it there. I can’t get that specific thought out of my mind.
There was no widespread voter fraud in Georgia. This is an obvious fact, one confirmed by every election official (almost all of whom are Republicans who voted for Donald Trump), three different recounts now (Biden has now won more times in Georgia in 2020 than the Falcons) and the basic fundamental tenets of mathematics that my six-year-old learns about in first grade every day. There was also no fraud to speak of in Pennsylvania, or Michigan, or Arizona, or anywhere. It’s so obvious that having to repeat it over and over makes you feel like you are going a little bit bonkers, as if you have to keep explaining to everyone that grass is green, the sky is blue and the moon is not made of cheese.
I know that many, many people want the fraud to be real. Seventy-three million people voted for Donald Trump, after all; there’s bound to be disappointment, just as there was four years ago when Trump beat Hillary Clinton. And while it did take Hillary a while to come to terms with her loss, and while you did see a stray conspiracy theory or two in the days afterward, it was, again quite obviously, nothing like this. Not wanting it to be true is not the same as it actually being true. Again, that this must be stated out loud makes me feel like I was just hit in the head with something blunt and heavy. And this denial has only gotten louder and wider in the last month, as the flailing Trump and his gaggle of bottom-tier legal goons stir up the jilted masses while, apparently, passing Covid-19 back and forth.
This phenomenon has not been difficult to ignore, if you chose to, thanks to the unstoppable fact that Joe Biden is going to be sworn in as president on January 20 no matter what Trump and his followers say, do or scream. In fact, I’ve found that, generally, most people walk around every day not thinking much about it at all. It does not affect my children’s schooling, or the price of butter, or the score of the Illinois-Duke college basketball game. If you are not paying attention to it — if you are a normal human being who stopped paying attention to the election when the election actually happened — you likely haven’t sweated one bit. You can check in every couple of days, Trump still leaving? OK, cool, and you can skip out on the constant hair-pulling and garment-rending that’s happening online all day and night. It’s a great way to stay sane. It’s not that there isn’t reason to be alarmed: A terrific piece Monday by The Atlantic’s Zeynep Tufekci made a compelling case that we should treat this like the coup attempt it is. But then you look at Trump, in his tiny desk, with his sweating, melting lawyers, and his dipshit Tweets, and you can’t help but think, yeah, this doesn’t strike me as the crack crew that pulls off the brilliant coup that overturns democracy. I understand why people have pushed it away. I’ve done that myself.
The thing is, though: It is starting to seep into normal life. The online world, perhaps accelerated by the pandemic and the isolation and mental strain that it has caused, is elbowing in on the place where the rest of us just walk around and try to mind our own business. A parent of a kid I used to coach in Little League, a perfectly nice guy from what I remember, called me a “media elite” when I saw him in the grocery store the other day. (He obviously didn’t see all the Cheetos I was buying.) A old classmate of mine from back home in Illinois has begun driving into Michigan to scream at the governor and the secretary of state for their “corruption.” Some people you’ve learned … just to avoid talking about the news of the day with, ever.
My first instinct is to correct, to persuade, to try to state the obvious truth in a palatable, affable fashion. But that is becoming increasingly insufficient. The noise gets louder, the faces get redder, the center cannot hold. There are a truly shocking number of people, tens of millions of people, who believe, truly and passionately, a total lie, one that doesn’t even make any logical sense. They started out on Facebook. But now they’re entering the real planet. And I’m not sure what to do with them. Logic and reason and even patient, hopeful, good-faith attempts to understand get you nowhere. They just make them redder. So what do you do? What do you do when such insanity enters the car pool line? I haven’t figured that one out yet. I’m not sure anything can be done. But at the very least: I can rip down those goddamned signs.
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel “How Lucky,” released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.