Play the Game or Be Played

By now, you may have forgotten the story from all the way back in August when various bugmen and D.C. lizard people convened to run a series of “war games” on the upcoming presidential election. Dubbed the Transition Integrity Project, the group of Democratic Party operatives, Bushite neocons, and lawfare swamp creatures warned of a tumultuous Election Night at the end of which neither candidate would concede, followed by a months-long political and legal battle, going all the way to Inauguration Day, that would stress our republic to its breaking point. 

You may have also forgotten that the group was founded by a former Pentagon official and board member of George Soros’ Open Society Institute—don’t read anything into this; just an interesting factoid I thought I’d share.

The highlight of the New York Times’ summary of the group’s “leaked” findings was the third of four potential election scenarios where John Podesta, in his role as Joe Biden, loses the Electoral College but wins the popular vote “closely mirroring the 2016 result,” an affront to the Democrats’ Mandate of Heaven so intolerable that Podesta qua Biden responds by plunging the country into a constitutional crisis in which California, Oregon, and Washington threaten secession until congressional Democrats and state officials, spurred on by the media and grassroots activists, collude to eliminate the Electoral College and retroactively award Biden the presidency via a slate of hand-picked electors. 

Normal stuff. Democracy as it was meant to be practiced.

But you do not have to remember this particular story to recall how the stage for a prolonged, bitter election fight was being set by the upper reaches of our political power centers and sense-making institutions far, far in advance. You may instead remember a long-list of eyebrow raising pronouncements by Trump adversaries from throughout the summer, including, as deplorable right-wing conspiracy theorist and intellectual criminal Michael Anton had the impertinence to chronicle at the American Mind, Hillary Clinton imploring Joe Biden not to concede under any circumstances, a flurry of more and less subtle intimations by the flag officer class that the military wasn’t and would not be on the president’s side in an ex-judicial contest for the White House, and the curious emergence into the popular lexicon of the CIA’s favored regime-change tactic, the so-called “color revolution” (which was only brought to our attention to debunk it, of course).

You might also recall certain Democrat swing state officials meeting privately in the week before the election to triage the impending mail-in “vote counting fiasco” (their words), at that exact juncture a prominent DNC media firm invented and astroturfed the term “Red Mirage” to explain how Trump might appear to be the winner on Election Night but over the course of days, weeks, months if need be (after all, it takes an indefinite amount of time to count an indefinite amount of ballots), Biden would eventually take the lead. 

You might remember talk of Biden’s “Legal War Room” and their preparations, outcome independent, for taking the election fight to the Supreme Court. You wouldn’t have to remember, because it’s happening right now. Despite the breathless condemnations of Trump’s ongoing attempt to resolve the election in the courts, election-related, DNC-backed lawsuits currently outnumber conservative ones, four-to-one.

But we do not all suffer from Twitter-induced goldfish brain. Some of us even remember the last presidential election. Some of us remember “experts” (not conspiracy theorists, importantly) insisting that voter fraud had tipped the balance for Trump in 2016 and that Hillary Clinton must take her fight to the Supreme Court. 

We also recall op-eds in places like the Washington Post promoting the notion that “The Election Really Was Rigged.” We remember the faithless electors, calling themselves the “Hamilton Electors,” represented pro bono by luminaries of Harvard Law School and encouraged by all corners of the liberal press and cringe celebrity advocates, casting their electoral votes, at a scale unprecedented in a century, for a third-party compromise candidate contravening the popular will of their respective states. 

We remember, in other words, November and December 2016, when Hillary Clinton and her army of backers from the highest heights of the media, cultural, academic, and political landscape did everything that Trump is being accused of now (and worse) to challenge the results of the 2016 election.

Finally failing at these “norm-defying” efforts to usurp from Trump his duly-elected right to claim the White House and thereby subvert the franchise of his more than 60 million voters in 2016, we also regrettably remember the four years of #TheResistance. We remember the mainstream denial of Trump’s legitimacy from the start. We remember the “17 intelligence agencies” claiming foreign election interference, eventually revised down to just three agencies (but who’s counting?) and not before planting the seed that would lead to more than two-thirds of Democrats believing Russia tampered with vote tallies to get Trump elected. 

We remember the outgoing administration spying—wait, I mean, no, not “spying” . . . that’s another false conspiracy theory . . . rather a joint effort by Obama’s FBI, NSA, and CIA to closely surveil and monitor the activities of several individuals associated with Trump’s team in an interagency probe that enjoyed broad autonomy and legal latitude despite dozens of proven omissions by the FBI to the FISA court, which is definitely not spying, got it?—which then laid the groundwork for a subsequent years-long Russiagate scandal to further invalidate his presidency and hamstring his agenda. We remember the Cold War fan-fic Steele dossier peddled by organs of “official knowledge” as serious intelligence. We remember the New York Times giving over their pages to drug-addled mental defectives to perform the rhetorical equivalent of finger painting on the asylum walls. We remember a symposium of Yale psychiatrists breaking all manner of medical ethics rules to declare that Trump suffered from a “dangerous mental illness” and should be removed from office. 

We also remember the half-baked impeachment. We remember the Hawaiian judges. We remember the collusion between Big Tech and the media to silence and intimidate Trump supporters. We remember all of the many lies, half-truths, and demonstrations of hard and soft power alike to deny Trump the full permissions of his presidency, far too many to ever neatly summarize in less than a book-length project, and the many breaches, big and small, of the consent of the governed to do so.

Put aside for a moment the perfectly reasonable inference any neutral observer might make about the motive to commit voter fraud in light of the above—Trump, as our intellectual betters have told us for years, is a fascist after all, the greatest threat to our nation perhaps ever. If one is justified in suffocating baby Hitler in his crib, surely filling out a few empty ballots to ensure that “literal Hitler” not be reelected is an easy moral calculation. 

I contend that this alone is enough to shift the burden of proof from fraud believers to fraud deniers, and that the mere appearance of fraud, by statistical anomaly, unexplained stoppages in the counting, the wild swings on election night reflected in the betting and FX markets that left even election pros scratching their heads, let alone the testimonies of on-the-ground-witnesses, suggest that fraud happened, even if the scale and provability remains as yet uncertain. 

In any case, weighing the various claims of fraud is not the point. The point here is to explain how and why we fight. 

In recent weeks, Ross Douthat and Michael Brendan Dougherty—who I mention specifically here not because they are alone but as an olive branch, because they are the most likely of those expressing this view to take the point—have expressed their doubts about election fraud. They wonder why various conservative factions—factions all on the outside of the official discourse looking in, not incidentally—continue in the “unhinged” and “insane” belief that something is rotten in Denmark and the election was rigged. 

The upshot of these articles, and the general thrust of elite conservative media, is that Trump supporters specifically, and the Right broadly, should accept the “reality of Trump’s electoral defeat” and go about the business of licking their wounds and devoting their energies to the next campaign (sans Trump, of course). The only explanation for continuing the fight, they contend, is collective delusion, the mind trap of their fevered echo chambers.

But this is missing the point by a mile, perhaps on purpose. 

Let’s return to the Transition Integrity Project for a moment. While all the press around these exercises went to Podesta’s ersatz Caesarism, there is an equally remarkable section of the 22-page report that acknowledges in these various election scenarios that above and beyond any material outcomes, “winning ‘the narrative’ would be the decisive factor,” and that whatever actions Biden or Trump might take to contest the results, be it in the courts, in Congress, or even on the streets, would succeed—or not—based on whichever side could “substantially change how key decision makers and the public view the ‘facts.’”

Did you get that? Ross, Michael—are you listening? The facts on the ground do not dictate the terms of the fight. They don’t now and they never did. Not to our adversaries, anyway. The “facts” of any close election—certainly one decided in the middle of the night after the country had gone to bed—were only ever contingencies to be exploited or manipulated where they could be, and discarded and denied where they couldn’t.

This piece of the simulation and the recommendations that follow from it, of course, reveal much about how this election and its aftermath is understood by TIP’s D.C. insiders and their rearguard of media info-warriors now currently attempting to maintain their narrative frame—that voter fraud is a myth and everyone saying otherwise is a discreditable conspiracy theorist, and even if there is some evidence of fraud, it’s the wrong kind of evidence or insufficient to overturn the results. Even if there might be the possibility of legitimate evidence, it’s all moot because Trump is a fascist so he deserves to lose anyway. 

But we also know, because they’ve not only told us explicitly, but demonstrated it over the past four years, that the if the shoe were on the other foot, these same people would be doing everything in their power to flip the results back to Biden—norms and electoral integrity be damned—including riling up their mobs to burn and loot the cities (no, really, it’s in the report—not that after this summer you need any additional proof). They would also have attempted “a capital strike and a work stoppage as part of an overall effort to push corporate leaders to insist that all ballots be counted.”

We are fighting an asymmetric war. Our opponents have the means and the will to ratchet up the stakes and operate by a different set of rules than we do. Trump is and always has been a threat to the establishment’s monopoly on rulemaking. For this, they want to banish him from the game, and same for his supporters. “Truth and reconciliation.” “De-Trumpification.” We hear those things, too. And what obligation to abide by the “rules” exists for those of us whose electoral interests are deemed illegitimate by those same rules?

Why do we insist the game is rigged? Because it is. And you are a fool, at best, not to see it.

If you are not yet convinced there was voter fraud within the margin of contestation, that’s fine. I’m confident that the full slate of evidence, whenever we know it, will overwhelm your skepticism. In the meantime, there is nothing improper about prying and probing. It is perhaps a strike against your moral vanity, but well within the established framework of our politics to indulge even the wildest accusations of a Communist plot to hack the voting machines. 

At this stage, the Right should be throwing whatever might stick against the wall. We should be riling up the base, calling upon QAnon and the MAGA truck corps to take to the streets. National Review Online, rather than printing embarrassed confessions, should be giving headlines to our own schizoid anons and autistic statisticians.

I can already hear the hyperventilations, that what I’m recommending here requires a betrayal of the edict to “live not by lies.” I reject that frame as completely as I reject the frame that voter fraud is a myth. Dare to reconcile the competing impulses that you are both a man of “good faith,” and a player in the game. It is the lot you have chosen. You may wish the game were played differently, as do I. But it’s not. So it’s play, or lose.

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