At the end of the classic independent film Reservoir Dogs, the characters end up in a Mexican standoff. The criminal gang’s ringleader, Joe, insists that Mr. Orange is working with the police, even though he is dying on the floor, having been shot during a failed jewelry store heist. Mr. White – the crooks use aliases – insists that Joe is wrong. Guns get drawn. Mr. White demands some proof for Joe’s claim about Mr. Orange. Joe angrily responds, “You don’t need proof when you have instinct!” You can watch the (admittedly brutal) scene here.
This illustrates something we all experience: People disagree about many things for many reasons. Sometimes they have different sources of information. Often, they have different intuitions about shared information. Sometimes, their views are clouded by self-interest. And, frequently, people disagree because a pattern of facts matches their experience, even though they do not have rigorous proof.
Much of politics has this quality. Politics arise from disagreements. People disagree about their values and opinions, about who should rule and how, and sometimes they disagree about facts, particularly complex ones. What caused a recession? Who started a war? What is the best way to reduce crime? These are factual questions of a sort, but beliefs about these kinds of facts are inseparable from one’s values and loyalties.
A Stretch of an Indictment
For Special Counsel Jack Smith, who has now brought a second indictment against former President Trump, the world is much simpler: There is only truth and fraud. There are no honest disagreements, misunderstandings or debates.
Thus, most of the indictment consists of ridiculous constructs: The election was not stolen, and we know because Jack Smith told us so. Someone told Trump this, but Trump disagreed. Because Trump didn’t embrace the conventional wisdom, he is now a liar committing criminal fraud.
In one typical passage, the indictment alleges: “On November 13, 2020, the Defendant had a conversation with his Campaign Manager, who informed him that a claim that had been circulating, that a substantial number of non-citizens had voted in Arizona, was false.”
Let us set aside the fact that contesting elections has never been criminal before. Since when does someone have to believe everything they’re told? Millions of Americans have concluded the election was stolen or, at the very least, rigged. Are we all criminal coconspirators too?
Information, Misinformation and Disinformation
One of the more corrosive developments of recent years is what I would call the “Results-Oriented Epistemology of the National Security State.” For the bloated national security regime, everything is an information operation. There is no truth as such, only what advances the mission or the party line. After it’s dressed up with the trappings of science, or the intelligence community’s consensus, or NPR’s imprimatur, otherwise unproven beliefs become gospel truth. Indeed, their opposites do as well when the party line changes.
The whole thing reeks of insecurity because outside of this official “truth,” there is very little room for disagreement or debate. Any deviance is given a sinister and value-laden label: disinformation, misinformation, conspiracy theory and hate speech. It is of minor importance that the government-dictated truth is not, in fact, always true.
Under this view of truth and falsehood, the fact/opinion distinction collapses too. Things that were always considered opinions or mixed assertions of fact and opinion – questions like “Who is the most beautiful woman?” or “Who has the best football team?” – now become undebatable axioms, for which there is only one correct view when they involve analogous political questions, like whether an election was fair or what are our foreign policy interests.
This way of thinking really took shape during the Russian Collusion hoax. The media, the FBI and Robert Mueller transformed a handful of Russian-funded memes into dangerous “election interference” and “disinformation,” a threat to our sacred democracy. They repeatedly connected Trump to these hackneyed efforts with a vague charge of “collusion,” even though it was actually his callow opponent, Hillary Clinton, who funded a completely false “dossier” on Trump and colluded with foreign nationals to do so.
Donald Trump pointedly said in a recent opinion piece, “As the Twitter Files have proven, the Radical Left establishment also used the Russia Hoax to attack freedom of speech. They built a sprawling domestic censorship regime under the guise of combatting so-called ‘Russian disinformation’ – which they quickly defined to include any content they did not like.” Having achieved some results this way, our ruling class applied the same approach to complex matters like COVID, mRNA vaccines and the recent transexual mania.
This understanding of truth empowers the government to prosecute Trump for contesting the 2020 election. Trump has done nothing novel here. Candidates have previously contested elections both in court and in the court of public opinion. Remember Stacy Abrams and Al Gore.
Is Political Disagreement Still Allowed?
Until recently, Americans always understood that politics could be rough and tumble, that people have different beliefs about both facts and values and that some things cannot be known with 100% certainty.
The competitive election process was supposed to air out both sides. Voters knew politicians exaggerated the facts a little bit (or a lot). Even so, there used to be a certain amount of trust in the common sense of voters to navigate through the fog and arrive at a reasonable decision. After all, if we do not trust voters to sift through competing accounts of reality and judge proposed policies, why so much praise from our overlords about Our Democracy?
With the Deep State and donor class now united on most items, everyone running for office is supposed to endorse a single, narrow party line or else. We have seen this before.
The indictment alleges Trump fought like hell over the 2020 election, even though he secretly knew he lost. This is ridiculous. Trump, I’ll admit, likely didn’t do extensive regression analysis; it’s not his style. But he smelled a rat with Biden’s avoidance of campaigning, extensive mail-in voting, the prolonged vote-counting process, and the various mid-game rule changes in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan. Trump is being persecuted for noticing.
Returning to the opening vignette from Reservoir Dogs, Mr. Orange really was an undercover cop. Joe was right. Like he said, “You don’t need proof when you have instinct!”
Christopher Roach is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, Chronicles, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.