While it might strike some as odd, I respect Trump supporters who claim Biden won through fraud. I am taking them seriously, the same way I would take a claim by a professional colleague seriously in a philosophical dispute. I am also assuming that they are being serious.
This respect manifests in two ways. First, I make an assumption of honesty on the part of Trump supporters. That is, I am assuming they believe their claims and are not knowingly making false claims for nefarious purposes, such as trying to steal the election.
Because there is currently no evidence for their claims of widespread voter fraud, I believe that Trump’s supporters are in error. But this is vastly different from claiming they are lying. While it might not seem to be an important distinction, the difference between honest error and lying is significant. Honest error occurs when a person believes a claim that is false, but they think it is true and they have put in the work to check their belief. A person is lying when they knowingly make false claims with an intent to deceive.
If Trump’s supporters believe that widespread voter fraud is real, then they would presumably either have evidence for their belief or they would support efforts to find credible evidence. After all, if they believe they are right, they should be confident of inquiries into their claims: the evidence should be there for all to see.
As a discussed in my previous essay, Trump supporters tend to regard all the major news sources and academic institutions as purveyors of fake news and lies. As such, we cannot undertake our search for evidence in such places—although if these sources did find evidence of fraud by Biden, Trump supporters might find them credible in this one instance. But, as I noted in my previous essay, voter and election fraud are crimes—typically felonies. As such, if the Democrats perpetrated widespread voter or election fraud, then there should be evidence, and this should be turned over to law enforcement.
To use an analogy, if it were claimed that a group was involved in a nationwide illegal money laundering scheme, then there should be evidence of this alleged crime and the police should be informed. If there is credible evidence, law enforcement would find it and there would be documentation in the form of police reports, court transcripts and the like. The same should hold true of the crimes of voter or election fraud.
If Trump supporters do not believe what they are saying, then they would have no evidence to support their lies and would have no interest in looking for evidence that does not exist. If they do believe what they are saying, then they should be able to provide evidence and should support the search for objective evidence. This seems like a reasonable test of honesty: the honest believer wants to believe the truth and has no fear to follow the evidence to its conclusion. The liar has no evidence and attempts to distract others from the search for truth. To use another analogy, if Ted tells me that his neighbor Sam, whom he dislikes, is kidnaping people, and he is being honest, then I would expect him to provide evidence and also take that evidence to the police. If he has no evidence and is unwilling to go to the police, then I would suspect that Ted is lying about Sam—if he was seriously concerned and had actual evidence, he would go to law enforcement. If he was trying to make trouble for Sam, I would expect that he would make unsupported claims, but never go to the police—they would tend to look for evidence.
Second, I make the assumption of moral motivation. This is the assumption that Trump supporters are sincere when they say they love democracy and are motivated only by a desire to have an honest and fair election. The main alternative is that these claims are lies and they do not really care how Trump wins if he wins. That is, they do not have a laudable motivation beyond wanting their guy to hold onto power.
Given this assumption, Trump supporters would be morally committed to a fair and honest election in which the candidate who receives the majority of legitimate votes wins the state in question. This moral view does, obviously, commit a person to opposing voter and election fraud: this sort of fraud would undermine democracy and make an election illegitimate to the degree that fraud occurred. I agree with the Trump supporters on this point and I also oppose voter and election fraud: such fraud would be an attack on a foundation of democracy and would be an attempt to rob citizens of their right to choose.
This view also morally commits a person to opposing false claims about voter or election fraud: these false claims can damage the perceived legitimacy of an election. They can also be used, ironically, to commit a form of election fraud in which legitimate votes are rejected due to false claims they are fraudulent. If Trump’s supports have a sincere moral commitment to democracy and honest elections, they should vehemently oppose false claims of voter or election fraud for these are as dangerous to the democracy and honest elections they purport to love.
If Trump supporters show little or no concern about ensuring that claims of fraud are accurately assessed, then it would be reasonable to infer that they do not really care about the integrity of elections. Rather, what they care about is winning by any means.
As a closing point, thinking about whether Trump supporters are serious in their claims about fraud took me to pro-wrestling. When I have engaged with Trump supporters seriously, their responses tend to be insults and fallacies, as if we are engaged in some sort of competitive game rather than seriously looking at important claims about fraud. My hypothesis is that they might be engaged in kayfabe: they know they are engaged in performative fiction and accusing Biden of cheating is just part of the theatre. Asking them for evidence of cheating is like asking for evidence that the wrestling heel really does all those terrible things—asking that question misses the point of the performance. If this is the case, then to Trump supporters I must seem like someone who wanders on stage at a play and thinks the drama is real. To be honest, I do not know.
But in the case of wrestling, taking the make-believe as real has no meaningful consequences. In the case of the election and politics in general, the make-believe (if it is such) does seem to have consequences. Elections do seem to be serious matters and if this is all theatre, it is harmful theater. My dilemma is this: if I take Trump supporters seriously, then I expect evidence for their claims. If it is just kayfabe, then it makes sense why no evidence is offered—but this means that their claims can be dismissed for what they are: mere fiction.