“Why believe…..?” – Jill Lepore on Jan 6, Trump & America

Jill Lepore - borrowed without permission from the Harvard Crimson

Catching up on reading The New Yorker brought me to the January 16th issue and Jill Lepore’s “What the January 6th Report Is Missing”1. As noted elsewhere here, I am somewhat possessed by the question of how we can explain that 74 million Americans voted for Trump in 2020 after having four years to observe this pathological narcissist lie over 30,000 times in his four years in office.2 That is 20 lies per day!

Jill Lepore – borrowed without permission from the Harvard Crimson

As is usual in a Lepore article, she attacks the question as a historian. So we get a review of the history of presidential commissions and their reports. She complains about the complete lack of historical context in the Jan 6 Report. She quickly reviews Trump’s plans, A, B, C, and D. D is the Jan 6 insurrection. But it is this sentence that leads to what interests me:

‘The January 6th Committee Report, for all its weight and consequence, never asks why anyone believed Donald Trump, which is why it is unlikely to persuade anyone not to.”

Lepore then goes on to note that election denial is not Trump’s invention. Newt Gingrich, Bernie Sanders, amongst others, complained about rigged elections. To be clear, I am among those complaining about the $ billions spent by the rich and corporations to control (“rig”) our elections. However, they don’t have to bother with actually rigging the ballots or counting systems. Lepoore notes that the 2020 election occurred during an extremely weird moment amidst a pandemic. Then, in part because of the isolation of the pandemic, people spent more time than ever on social media. Thanks to the lust for profits on the part of Facebook and Twitter chiefly, they were exposed to a tsunami of mis-information and dis-information. Further, TV and new media treated election day as though we would in fact know the outcome the night of the election. This even though they all knew full well that was not so. It would take several days to unwind the results.

As always this article by Lepore is well-written, filled with interesting details, sometimes surprising ones at that. But, we will have to wait for some deeper thinking before we can explain Trump.

I think back to days in my early twenties when I was known to hang around bars. Trump, being a year older than me, could have been sitting at the bar. On engaging him in some idle chatter, I would have immediately noticed that he is an amazingly self-centered, self-referential blow-hard. Given what we saw during his four years in the White House, our moment at the bar would not have passed without me noticing that he appeared to have very little knowledge of the world and a propensity for fabrication. On my future visits to the bar, I would have stayed away from him. How did 74 million Americans miss this?

BTW – Lepore is the author of  THESE TRUTHS: A History of the United States.  W W NORTON, 2019. A worthwhile read. She is a staff writer at The New Yorker while also being a professor of American history at Harvard. A busy person.

Footnotes

  1. Jill Lepore, “What the January 6th Report Is Missing,” The New Yorker, January 9, 2023, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2023/01/16/what-the-january-6th-report-is-missing.
  2. 30,573 lies according to the Washington Post – https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/01/24/trumps-false-or-misleading-claims-total-30573-over-four-years/

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