Like many liberals, moderates and even some conservatives, I was surprised that so many people (74 million) voted to re-elect Donald Trump president. But I took heart from the fact that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris received 81 million votes — despite voter suppression and disinformation from Donald Trump, Russia and the ultra-right. That was a victory for Democracy.
How did Trump, Russia and the radical right spread so much disinformation? As of last May, Trump had more than 80 million followers on Twitter, where he tweeted or retweeted false or misleading information time and again. One day alone he sent out more than 200 messages.
Computer operatives in Russia and for the far right created tens of thousands of fake identities (bots) on Facebook. The bots sent “friend” requests to people who “liked” or reposted conservative ideas. (Artificial intelligence made it easy to identify these people.) Once the friend requests were accepted, the bots inundated users with sensational but seemingly plausible “news” from the alt right. Users then reposted it to their other friends, and the “news” went viral.
Why did Russia favor Donald Trump? Because of his sympathy toward Russian leaders and his divisive, corrosive role in American politics.
Far more fake news was generated from the right than the left. In 2018, Oxford researchers found that more came from Trump supporters than Democrats, progressives, traditional Republicans and other groups combined.
Contrary to claims of “voter fraud,” the real shame lies in voter suppression. The Brennen Center for Justice called the wave of suppression during the 2018 election “the worst we’ve seen in the Modern Era.” Things were better in 2020 because many states expanded early voting and voting by mail, and many organizations encouraged people to vote and watched the polls to make sure voters were safe.
But problems abound, especially in Republican-led states. One is gerrymandering, or drawing Congressional-district boundaries to favor one party over the other, effectively canceling out many of the other party’s votes in the Electoral College. Eight of the 10 most severely gerrymandered states are Republican-controlled. And the situation won’t get any better after the 2020 Census, when redistricting again takes place, since Republicans control the legislature and governor’s office in 24 states, compared to only 14 states in which Democrats have control.
The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t helped this situation. In 2019 it refused to overturn severe gerrymandering in two states, saying it’s up to states to draw district boundaries. It also gutted protections against racial discrimination in elections.
Since 2010, many Republican legislatures passed voter I.D. laws that tend to discourage voting among people of color and those who are poor. Some made it harder for people to register to vote, and others purged voter rolls, affecting hundreds of thousands of citizens.
Finally, one must not forget the dozens of bogus lawsuits filed by Trump and his supporters to try to overturn the election, as well as Trump’s threats to states that expanded mail-in voting and his efforts to “persuade” state officials to change the outcome of the election. On Jan. 2, Trump tried to pressure Georgia’s secretary of state into “finding” votes for him. Then his buddies in Congress challenged election results and his supporters stormed the Capitol.
Democracy ultimately won in this election, which is cause for celebration.
But we need to be discerning about the media we use and fight to end gerrymandering and to repeal unfair state election laws. In addition, we need to demand that the U.S. Senate pass the We the People Act, which would strengthen voting rights.