Donald Trump is far from the only politician to believe in “alternative facts.” During the 1984 presidential campaign, when I was working for the Detroit News, I somehow ended up interviewing Lyndon LaRouche, who managed to be both zany and sinister at the same time.
LaRouche, sometimes a Trotskyite and sometimes a right-winger, alternated between competing as a Democrat and running as an independent, and may be best remembered for his theory that Queen Elizabeth II was the mastermind of a huge drug cartel.
I talked to LaRouche that year after the primaries, and he startled me by asserting that he expected to win the Democratic Presidential nomination.
I asked why he thought that, since he hadn’t captured a single delegate. He told me that he had in fact won all the primaries, but was a victim of massive voter fraud. “They manipulate the wheels in the voting machines. Those stupid little wheels,” He said.
I wrote about that, perhaps with just the tiniest touch of sarcasm, and afterwards two LaRouche supporters showed up with a bucket of soapy water and wanted to “disinfect” my desk. Fortunately, we had security.
What’s different about what’s happening now is that in the past, candidates who openly believed in things that could be proven false were consigned to the fringes.
They were not President of the United States. Donald Trump has every right to believe that protectionist economic policies will lead us to prosperity. I don’t believe that, and neither do most economists I know, but economics are partly theory.
But it is clearly provable that there is no massive fraud in our elections, and absolutely no truth to the assertion that millions of what some call “illegal aliens” vote.
Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson could have enlightened the President about this. Some years ago, she had a theory that lots of non-citizens were voting. They examined nearly two million ballots, and found only the tiniest handful of questionable voters.
Later, it turned out that many of these had been asked by the Secretary of State’s own clerks if they wanted to register to vote. Some non-citizens figured that since they were being asked to register by a government official, it must be all right.
Twelve years ago, after John Kerry narrowly lost his bid for the presidency, Congressman John Conyers asserted that the election had been stolen in Ohio. But I’ve covered elections there, and knew he was dead wrong.
For journalists, this is a brave new world. Politicians all shade the truth. Now, we have a president who flatly lies, and appears to believe his own lies.
I think the way we cope with this is the same as always – find the facts and tell the truth, and when somebody in power does otherwise, call them on it.
Say it is a lie, as the New York Times is now doing. Yesterday a prominent Democrat told me that he was partly happy Trump was frittering his political capital away on something so stupid. But he still didn’t like it; this is, after all America.
Suggesting our elections are rigged eats away at the very legitimacy of our democracy. So let me tell you, our voting systems really do work pretty well now.
The Electoral College is another story.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.