Something From Nothing

“Ex nihilo nihil fit” – nothing comes from nothing – Parmenides sometime before Socrates. or that pure funk 1974 Billy Preston hit song – the idea that you can’t make stuff up. This is one of those universal principles. Everything starts with something. A grain of truth. Even just an idea that can be verified as true. You cannot build an edifice of truth with no evidence of anything. Don’t make stuff up. Everything will fall down.

\That’s how the last weekend started:

A Republican-commissioned review of nearly 2.1 million ballots cast last year in Arizona confirmed the accuracy of the official results and President Biden’s win in Maricopa County, according to a final report released Friday, striking a blow to former president Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in the 2020 election.

The report, which was prepared by private contractors and submitted to Republican leaders of the state Senate, went even further than an earlier draft that confirmed Biden’s victory.

In a letter describing the findings, Senate President Karen Fann (R) – who commissioned the process – stressed the importance of the ballot count showing Biden’s winning margin and noted that it “matches Maricopa County’s official machine count.”

“This is the most important and encouraging finding of the audit,” she wrote, adding: “This finding therefore addresses the sharpest concerns about the integrity of the certified results in the 2020 general election.”

There was nothing there in the first place. Nothing comes from nothing:

The final report echoed that in a passage that had not appeared in the earlier draft, emphasizing the finding over other sections of the report that suggested some ballots could have been improperly counted.

“The paper ballots are the best evidence of voter intent and there is no reliable evidence that the paper ballots were altered to any material degree,” the report stated.

Okay. This was over. But of course it wasn’t over:

The former president reacted with fury to coverage of the Arizona report’s findings, asserting without evidence Friday that the ballot review uncovered “a major criminal event” and calling for Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) to investigate. He fired off a series of false statements about the Arizona recount throughout Friday evening, including one demanding that the state “immediately decertify their 2020 Presidential Election Results.”

That idea was quickly shot down by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who noted that the report did not call for the election to be decertified and that there was no lawful way to do so.

“The outcome stands and the 2020 election in Arizona is over,” he wrote in a series of tweets.

That’s it. Decertify? The report called for no such thing. There’s no legal way to do that anyway. What was Trump smoking? You just can’t make stuff up:

In the end, the final report concluded that 45,469 more ballots were cast for Biden in Maricopa County than for Trump – widening Biden’s margin by 360 more votes than the certified results.

The report found the count to have “no substantial differences” from the county’s certified tallies.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz, who has served as their deputy national editor, political editor, and White House correspondent, and who now seems to be their wise old man who has seen it all, has now really seen it all:

Another door slammed shut Friday on the ceaseless and fraudulent campaign by Donald Trump to claim fraud about the 2020 election. The fact that the door closed will not stop Trump from continuing to make his baseless claims about last year’s vote. It should but probably won’t chasten Republican leaders who have refused to fully face up to the consequences of what Trump is doing.

And that’s nothing but trouble:

The consequences are the threat to future elections. The consequences are the danger that future close elections will be subjected to similar false claims that inspire more doubts about the integrity of the vote and more disputed outcomes. The consequences are the distinct risk that partisanship will be routinely injected into the counting of votes. The idea that it can’t happen here should be tossed aside if Trump and his acolytes maintain their current course, which they will.

But any edifice built on nothing at all simply had to crumble:

The review, described by some as an audit, was ordered by the Republican-controlled state Senate and handed to a firm known as Cyber Ninjas, which had no real experience with election reviews.

The outfit spent months reviewing 2.1 million ballots that had been cast in Arizona’s most populous county. They pursued all manner of conspiracy theories, including an examination of the ballots to see if any contained traces of bamboo, based on the wild claim that there were counterfeit ballots printed in Asia and that were somehow sneaked into Arizona.

The auditors far exceeded their expected timeline. They moved ballots from one location to another. Their work forced the county to decide it should replace its election machinery, fearing that the existing machines had been tainted. Along the way, the Cyber Ninjas team drew constant criticism, from both Democrats and some Republican officials in Maricopa County, who blistered the effort as needless and the examiners as ill-equipped for the job.

In the end, what the review found was that Biden not only won the county, just as the initial vote tallies and certified final results had said, but also that he gained a net of 360 votes. Whatever else the lengthy report said about the ballots, the bottom line was that Trump’s claims were found to be bogus, which frankly was predictable.

But there’s still the Big Guy:

Trump’s reaction was also predictable. He claimed the report was a victory for him and democracy. He seized on aspects of the report that raised questions about some ballots, asserting that the report showed there were enough questionable ballots to change the result. The report did not make that claim…

And at the very time the Arizona review was concluding, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared that his state would undertake a review of its own, though Trump won the state over Biden. The Texas review will focus on four counties: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Collin. The first three were all won by Biden. In Collin, a suburban county north of Dallas, Trump won in November but by a much narrower margin than he did in 2016.

Other such reviews are underway in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Together, they are a sign that the results from Arizona will do little to bring an end to the false claims, conspiracy theories and calls for more reviews of election results, not as long as Trump has the GOP in his grip.

So nothing was settled, because nothing can be settled, because nothing should be settled:

Republicans who have either pushed for these reviews, or have not stood in their way, justify their actions by saying that when so many people doubt the integrity of the last election, their views cannot be ignored. To ignore those perceptions, they argue, would undermine confidence in America’s system of elections.

But of course they set that up for themselves. Donald Trump made something out of nothing and they played along:

Those doubts exist largely because he has told the falsehood over and over, others around him have done the same, and many others in the party have not stood up to him, preferring to look the other way. Trump knows that his loyalists believe what he says about the election, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, and so he will continue to say it.

Back in January, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) addressed this issue directly. “The best way we could show respect for the voters who were upset by the election results is by telling them the truth,” he said. “That’s the burden. That’s the duty of leadership.”

Balz argues that no Republican believes that now, or they’re all terrified:

Every election has flaws. The country has survived well despite them. Though mistakes are made, elections are not riddled with inaccuracies. The sudden concern about election integrity, about assuring the doubters who buy into Trump’s statements, is what it appears to be, an effort to mollify the former president and avoid antagonizing him and his base.

No one would dare offend them. Who else would ever vote for a Republican?

That was Friday, and this was Saturday:

Former President Donald Trump falsely claimed during a rally in Georgia on Saturday night that the results of the Arizona election “forensic audit” concluded that President Joe Biden lost in Maricopa County, despite the report stating that Biden won with 1,040,873 votes – 99 more votes than shown in the certified ballots.

“We won at the Arizona forensic audit yesterday at a level that you wouldn’t believe,” Trump told the crowd in Perry, Georgia. “They had headlines that Biden wins in Arizona, when they know it’s not true. He didn’t win in Arizona. He lost in Arizona based on the forensic audit.”

Does he believe that? Does it matter? He said that. His base believed that. That’s the plan:

Trump is continuing his campaign of pressuring states to investigate his baseless voter fraud claims. He slammed Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during the rally for refusing his requests to advance a review of the election results.

“I’m telling you. I think there’s something wrong with them, Your RINO Governor Brian Kemp has been a disaster on election integrity,” Trump said, adding that Democrat Stacey Abrams “might be better than having your existing governor.”

So the plan is working:

After mounting pressure from Trump, Texas became the latest state to launch an effort to review the election results, joining Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Texas election officials said Thursday they had started auditing the presidential election results in four counties.

The Texas secretary of state’s office did not reveal the rationale for the decision in the announcement, which occurred months after Keith Ingram, the office’s elections administrator, assured constituents that the elections were “safe and secure.”

No, this is simple. Trump made his demands. No one had a choice, although the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board suddenly got offended:

Former President Trump claims Arizona’s ballot audit found “massive fraud,” yet the new recount says he actually lost the state by 360 more votes than originally reported. He is now demanding an audit of the 2020 election in Texas, which he won by nearly six points. When are Republicans going to quit playing this game?

That’s a rhetorical question. The question answers itself. When? Never:

True to his nature, Mr. Trump is claiming vindication based on the audit’s analysis of voter files. As the biggest example, he says Arizona’s results include “23,344 mail-in ballots, despite the person no longer living at that address. Phantom voters!”

No. Did he read the report?

That’s also a rhetorical question that answers itself:

On Friday Mr. Trump was set to Defcon 1, saying the audit found “incomprehensible Fraud at an Election Changing level,” and demanding that Arizona “immediately decertify their 2020 Presidential Election Results.” Is anyone surprised? This is what Mr. Trump does, regardless of the facts. Remember in 2016, when he said the results of the Iowa Caucus should be “nullified” based on “the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz”?

That was bullshit. This is bullshit. And this is from Rupert Murdoch’s prize newspaper aimed at the richest of the rich in America, so the editorial board offers this:

The GOP should quit chasing him down rabbit holes. Mr. Trump lost last year by 74 electoral votes, so even flipping Arizona would have left him two states short. He can’t admit to his fans that he lost, since it would undermine his rally attendance, fundraising and teasers about 2024.

Democrats this coming week are going to try to pass $2.1 trillion in new taxes and $5 trillion in spending, the greatest expansion of government entitlements since LBJ, or maybe FDR. Where’s a Republican leader who wants to pick up the party’s mantle and talk about that?

Democrats this coming week are going to try to tax the rich to make life easier for the lazy takers who do nothing with their miserable little lives! But of course the base of the party pays no attention to these Wall Street Republicans any longer. Are they even Republicans now?

Who cares? Politico interviews a constitutional expert on elections, and he’s worried sick:

Rick Hasen isn’t getting much sleep these days.

One of the nation’s foremost experts on the laws that hold together democracy in America, Hasen used to be concerned about highly speculative election “nightmare scenarios”: the electrical grid being hacked on Election Day, or the pandemic warping turnout, or absentee ballots totally overwhelming the postal service. But now, what keeps him up at night aren’t fanciful “what if” exercises: It’s what has actually happened over that past nine months, and how it could truly blow up in the next presidential election.

Yes, this is new:

For the first time in American history, the losing candidate refused to concede the election – and rather than dismissing him as a sore loser, a startling number of Americans have followed Donald Trump down his conspiratorial rabbit hole. The safeguards that ensured he left office last January after losing the presidential election may be crumbling: The election officials who certified the counts may no longer be in place next time he falsely claims victory; if Republicans take Congress, a compliant Speaker could easily decide it’s simply not in his interest to let the party’s leader lose.

“You could look at 2020 as the nadir of American democratic processes, or you could look at it as a dress rehearsal,” says Hasen, a professor of law at UC Irvine.

That’s the real problem:

“I feel like a climate scientist warning about the Earth going up another degree and a half,” Hasen told POLITICO Magazine in an interview this week. “The rhetoric is so overheated that I think it provides the basis for millions of people to accept an actual stolen election as payback for the falsely claimed earlier ‘stolen’ election. People are going to be more willing to cheat if they think they’ve been cheated out of their just desserts.”

And the situation is a bit hopeless:

Hasen has ideas about how to preempt some of this – they range from the legal to the political, and are the subject of a major conference that took place Friday at the Fair Elections and Free Speech Center, which he co-directs at UC Irvine. But even as he and other elections experts warn of a three-alarm fire, he’s troubled that Democrats in Washington seem to lack the same sense of urgency and focus.

“I think this should be the number-one priority, and I thought that Democrats wasted months on the For the People Act,” he says. “The Democrats’ answer is ‘Well, the Democrats just have to win elections.’ There needs to be a plan B to that.”

But there is no plan B. There will be no plan B. Hasen speaks to that:

In Sept. 2020, I wrote a piece for Slate titled, “I’ve never been more scared about American democracy than I am right now.” A month ago, I was on CNN and said I was “scared shitless” – the anchor badgered me into saying those words on cable TV. But I’m even more frightened now than in those past months because of the revelations that continue to come to light about the concerted effort of Trump to try to alter the election outcome: Over 30 contacts with governors, state legislative officials, those who canvass the votes; pressuring governors, pressuring secretaries of state; having his lawyer pass out talking points to have Mike Pence declare Trump the winner even though he lost the election. I mean, this is not what we expect in a democracy.

In 2020, there was a massive shift to absentee balloting; Donald Trump did denigrate absentee balloting despite using it himself and despite having his own ballot harvested for the primary; he lost the election but claimed he actually won; he made hundreds of false statements calling the election results into question; he’s convinced millions of people that the election has been stolen from him, and he is continuing to not only push the lie that the election was stolen, but also to cause changes in both elected officials and election officials that will make it easier for him to potentially manipulate an election outcome unfairly next time. This is the danger of election subversion.

The reason I’m so scared is because you could look at 2020 as the nadir of American democratic processes, or you could look at it as a dress rehearsal.

And he makes this distinction:

Georgia recently passed a new voting law. One of the things that law does is it makes it a crime to give water to people waiting in a long line to vote — unless you’re an election official, in which case you can direct people to water. That’s voter suppression – that will deter some people who are stuck in a long line from voting. Election subversion is not about making it harder for people to vote, but about manipulating the outcome of the election so that the loser is declared the winner or put in power.

It’s the kind of thing that I never expected we would worry about in the United States. I never thought that in this country, at this point in our democracy, we would worry about the fairness of the actual vote counting. But we have to worry about that now.

Trump did that:

In 2020, things shifted. The rhetoric is so overheated that I think it provides the basis for millions of people to accept an actual stolen election as payback for the falsely claimed earlier “stolen” election. People are going to be more willing to cheat if they think they’ve been cheated out of their just desserts. And if you believe Trump really won, then you might take whatever steps are necessary to assure that he is not cheated the next time – even if that means cheating yourself. That’s really the new danger that this wave of voter fraud claims presents.

And then it all falls apart:

Running a clean election is necessary to prevent claims of fraud from going out of control, but it’s apparently not sufficient. That, I think, is something I really miscalculated in thinking about the dangers of 2020 – and I wrote a whole book about the dangers coming in 2020! I thought if we could hold a fair and clean election, there’d be nothing to point to say, “Look at all of this fraud,” and therefore any such claims would evaporate. What I didn’t understand was that you don’t need even a kernel of truth if you’re going to blatantly lie about a stolen election. I mean, we just saw this New York Times report that when Trump-allied lawyers like Sidney Powell were making claims of voting machine irregularities causing problems with vote counts, the Trump campaign already knew that these claims were bogus, and yet they made them anyway.

Truth didn’t matter at all. Will Bunch puts that more bluntly:

To millions of Americans, what just happened in Arizona’s largest county was a laughingstock, a bad joke that blew up in the face of Donald Trump and his cultists like some exploding cigar from a 1940s cartoon. A GOP-approved hijacking of voting records and machines from the 2020 election – do not dare call it an “audit” – conducted by a scammy-is-too-good-a-word contractor called the Cyber Ninjas that dragged on through much of 2021 ultimately claimed that any miscounted votes actually expanded President Biden’s win in Maricopa County. The cackling on left-leaning Twitter and MSNBC Friday night could be heard from Key West to Kalamazoo.

But one man – a Michigan carpetbagger turned Arizona politico named Mark Finchem – had a very different interpretation of what the conspiracy-minded voting sleuths had uncovered with official Republican support. “I call for decertification of the Arizona election, arrest of those involved in tampering with election systems, and an audit of Pima County (in northern Arizona) as a next step,” Finchem tweeted Friday.

The crazy part is that Finchem’s minority viewpoints on Donald Trump and his invisible claims of election fraud may matter a heck of a lot more than yours or mine come the 2024 vote counting. Last week, the disgraced 45th president (and would-be 47th) officially endorsed Finchem, now a state lawmaker, in his 2022 GOP primary bid to become Arizona’s next secretary of state.

That means Finchem – not just a garden-variety Trumpist but a member of the extremist Oath Keepers who was on the Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6 insurrection – could be Arizona’s chief vote counter if and when the bleats of voter fraud and a stolen election again emerge from Mar-a-Lago in three years.

That’s the future:

The growing sense is that 2020 was less spontaneous chaos than a trial run for the next time. And what Trump’s neo-fascists learned is that an American election can be stolen – but only if wild-eyed loyalists can position themselves inside the sweet spots of the judiciary, state legislative leadership, and the key vote-counting roles, especially the all-important secretary of state position.

So the Trumpian strategy for 2024 seems to have two prongs. One is to create a continuous four-year cloud of uncertainty – at least for loyalists who only consume news on Fox or Facebook – about Biden’s 2020 victory. In other words, the outcome of these bogus investigations like Arizona’s not-really-an-audit isn’t what matters as much as keeping the plates of baseless accusation spinning.

And they are spinning. Ex nihilo nihil fit? Not In Donald Trump’s America.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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