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What election denialism is really about


I’m actually a little upset — not that my feelings matter, because fuck my feelings — about Steven Calabresi going full election denialist, for a couple of reasons. First, I have enormous respect for his uncle Guido, one of the great legal scholars of his generation, and it makes me cringe to think of him having to deal with whatever the Italian version of a shonda is.

Second, Calabresi was once a quite talented scholar himself, and to see him descend into paranoid delusions that have destroyed his ability or at least his willingness to engage in elementary reasoning in a minimally coherent way is both sad, and a cautionary tale. (There but for the grace of . . . something, go all of us, at least potentially).

So what’s going on here? Obviously this is speculation, but for what it’s worth (paranoia runs deep):

(1) At some level, election denialism in otherwise intelligent and educated people is fueled by a I assume usually unconscious commitment to herrenvolk democracy, as an expression of white supremacy and other reactionary values, the most critical of which are various flavors of patriarchy (h/t Karen as always). I’m pretty damn sure that Steve Calabresi can’t admit this to himself, because it’s not the kind of thing that people like him can admit to themselves, given their public rhetoric, the constraints of public discourse, other social pressures etc.

(2) A related powerful factor is that election denialism is a core belief — indeed the core belief — of Trumpism in 2024. You can’t be an orthodox Trumper in good standing and reject election denialism, any more than you can be an orthodox Mormon in good standing and reject the existence of the angel Moroni, the gold tablets in the cave, and so forth. The religious analogy isn’t accidental: being a member of a political cult is like being in a literalist religion: the very fact that the things you are required to believe are absurd is precisely what give them their sociological power, in terms of binding the group together.

Now the traditional way that intelligent and educated people have dealt with this kind of cognitive dissonance is to pretend to accept the absurd doctrines, for various pragmatic reasons. But this is actually a very difficult mental state to maintain in any sort of real long term, especially in the context of any cult or sect where fervent belief, as opposed to empty ritualistic formalism masquerading as fervent belief, remains a core aspect of belonging to the group.

In other words, to be a Trump supporter in 2024 requires either bottomless cynicism or bottomless credulity, and even people like Calabresi very often end up finding that it’s easier to indulge in the latter than the former, if only to maintain some internal if extraordinarily twisted sense of self respect.

Orwell (of course), addressing the leftwing intellectuals and journalists who prostituted their intellectual integrity for the Stalinist regime during the show trials, the alliance with the Nazis, and everything that came afterwards:

Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.

My apologies to honest whores, who don’t deserve to be compared to either Stalinists or Trumpist intellectuals.

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