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Weeds: Another conspiracy theory for the ages

I remember the single moment I heard that John Kennedy was shot. Lots of moments followed in the years ahead thinking and talking about who was responsible for that assassination.

Seventy minutes after shots were fired in Dallas on November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested. Two days later, Jack Ruby killed Oswald. That happened on live television, seared in our memories. It was a bizarre couple of days, for sure.

The Warren Commission in its 888-page report concluded that Oswald and Ruby acted alone. Both floated in groups that had reason to loath John Kennedy. Multiple other investigations followed, some leaving open the possibility that one or more of those groups was involved, even that there was another shooter.

A cottage industry grew up around “Who shot JFK?” There were articles, books, and however it was we spread conjecture before social media. Theories put forth involved the Soviet KGB, the Mafia, Vice President Johnson, Cuban President Fidel Castro, the FBI, the CIA, and the U.S. military. Some of them were plausible; some were on the cover of National Enquirer.

I can picture being in a dorm room in college, all of us speaking in hushed tones about the counter-theories. It was as if we needed to be secretive, lest the people who killed Kennedy know we were on to them. It was fun, feeling like we were on to something big, like we knew more than we were supposed to. We may or may not have been under certain influences.

It was the conspiracy theory of my life. Decades later, if I search “Who shot Kennedy?”, I could spend the whole day reading. My thought is that the Warren Commission had it right. Despite the frayed and loose ends to the story, it’s hard to believe something could have remained hidden with all the light shone on that event.

That was the conspiracy theory of my life. Until now. Recently, a significant number of people came to believe that our presidential election was fraudulent, that the loser really won in a landslide. Only it wasn’t whispered in hushed tones. It was bellowed from the White House and shrieked across social media.

A subset of Americans believe that our country is home to one of the greatest deceits in history. The United States, the leading democracy on Earth, a model of voting integrity and stable governance for two centuries, had been rolled like some drunk in a gutter.

It wasn’t true. It just wasn’t. I know there are still people who believe “alternate facts.” Facts didn’t used to have alternates. Sadly, it seems the notion of truth has become nothing more than a talking point. Truth has gone from rock solid to Jell-O smooshie.

For a few weeks in November, one of the conspiracy patrons sent me messages about how the voting had been manipulated. They came in waves. Each message was followed with, “What about this?” In each case, a minimal amount of searching on my phone showed where the latest false claim had originated.

No, there weren’t overcounts in counties in Michigan. No, there weren’t dead people voting in Wisconsin. No, there weren’t boxes of ballots being added or subtracted in Georgia, depending on which conspiracy you believed. No, voting machines weren’t being manipulated from Venezuela or Germany.

Those weren’t even the crazy theories, like the bombing in Nashville set up to destroy evidence of the big steal. Irrefutable refutations didn’t matter to the conspiracists. It shifted from “Prove the election was stolen,” to “Prove the election wasn’t stolen.” It was like swatting away fog with your hand.

George Will wrote that, “Every one of almost 60 Trump challenges to the election has been rebuffed in state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court, involving more than 90 judges, nominated by presidents of both parties. But for scores of millions of mesmerized Trump Republicans, the absence of evidence is the most sinister evidence.”

And no, mail-in ballots aren’t ripe for malfeasance. For a couple decades, rural and coincidentally Republican places have been moving toward vote-by-mail securely. In a pandemic, it made sense more would. If you insist on searching out suspicious behavior, cutting postal services exactly before an election where vote-by-mail would be extensive seems criminal in intent.

It was all predictable. Weeks before, everyone knew the president would take a lead on election night when his supporters were more likely to vote in person, and that lead would dissipate as legal ballots were counted. We knew that. The former president knew that.

Speaking of predictable, remember that former president called his loss in the 2016 Iowa caucuses fraudulent. He said the 2016 election would be rigged if he didn’t win. After he won, he said it was rigged because he lost the popular vote. Two years ago, he said the 2020 vote would be invalid if he lost. These seem less a set of assertions, than an indication of a psychosis.

There are always votes that get screwed up due to human error. That’s dozens. To believe that thousands of votes have been purposely changed takes an immense amount of mistrust. Mistrust in thousands of staff who make elections work in fifty states. Mistrust in thousands of volunteers who work the polls from morning till close.

If you believe mail voting is fraudulent, I invite you to bring that up to employees at the Brown County Auditor’s office, where they took in 8,820 ballots. You can tell them how you don’t trust them, even though they’re our neighbors.

Do we really believe that reporters hungry to prove malfeasance would cover up the story of the century and their careers? That the right-leaning New York Post, Washington Times, and Wall Street Journal would hide evidence if it existed? That segment of the media would have exalted in revealing corruption.

A century and a half ago, Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, ‘Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.'” Losing graciously has been a hallmark of our nation. It is, after all, something we teach our young children. But it’s more than a matter of feeling good. It is a glue that binds our democracy and buffers us against our rages and disagreements.

Being capable of losing with magnanimity depends on a level of integrity, principle, and generosity of spirit. If there was any doubt the highest office in our country has lacked those for four years, that has been removed.

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