If Sam Harris is right, our democracy paid a steep price in 2020

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, August 22, 2022)

With Donald Trump’s most recent FBI investigation drama that includes a set of allegations that, if true, should end his political career, it gets harder every day to muster a coherent defense of the man.

But I don’t have to defend Trump to justify criticisms of his sharpest critics.

Among his most pointed critics in recent has been philosopher and author Sam Harris.

Once one of the right-wing’s favorite “lefties” for his uncompromising criticism of Islam, in a recent interview on YouTube’s Triggernometry podcast, Harris shed his attractiveness to the right’s Trump-wing in a few short sentences:

“I don’t care what’s in Hunter Biden’s laptop. Hunter Biden, at that point (in the 2020 election), could have had the corpses of children in his basement and I would not have cared.

Even if we discovered Joe Biden was getting kickbacks from Hunter Biden’s deals in Ukraine or China, it is infinitesimal compared to the corruption we know (Donald) Trump is involved in.”

Harris then went on to say, out loud, what common people are not supposed to believe about the 2020 presidential election — that a tacit, widely-supported conspiracy existed in the news media and Washington, D.C.’s permanent political class to disallow fair news coverage of Trump’s re-election campaign. The clearest evidence of this conspiracy was as subtle as Trump’s comb over: It was the dishonest and untimely reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop.

And Harris doubled-down in his defense of this implicit plot among elites to end Trump’s presidency:

“Now that’s doesn’t answer the people who say, ‘It’s still completely unfair to not have looked at the laptop in a timely way and to have shut down the New York Post’s twitter account — that’s a left-wing conspiracy to deny the presidency to Donald Trump.’ Absolutely! It was absolutely right but I think it was warranted.”

In Harris’ opinion, Trump was “an asteroid hurtling towards Earth” who had to be stopped by any means necessary, as dangerous as any fascist dictator from the past — a view still held by many Americans (including most of my family, friends and colleagues).

The New York TimesWashington PostNPR and other mainstream news outlets would later acknowledge that the laptop-story was not Russian-sourced propaganda or ever discredited by the U.S. Intelligence Community (as reported in those outlets during the 2020 campaign), but coming six months after the actual election, their mea culpa only reinforced the already metastasized belief among the most passionate Trumpers that the 2020 election was “stolen.” The most durable falsehoods are often built on building blocks of truths.

If we broaden our definition of a “stolen election” to include the undeniable and potent media bias arrayed against the Trump candidacy, the term isn’t so conspiratorial sounding. The media’s failure in covering the laptop-story and Harris’ open apologia for the moral righteousness of that failure only hammers home that conclusion.

Contrary to a common retelling of the laptop-story’s timeline, it was not dropped on the American electorate days or weeks before Election Day by right-wing conspiracy theorists. In reality, the “rumor” first appeared on internet news sites in February 2020, according to a GDELT internet news analysis, was reported more substantively in a May 2020 New York Post op-ed article, and began entering the public’s mind in August 2020, according to Google Trends.

The story was there, the media simply refused to cover it. And the irony is, it is doubtful a full news investigation into the laptop-story would have changed the final election outcome, not when so many other media-fueled distortions peppered the American voter before the 2020 election (e.g., Russiagate, Trump-built cages for immigrant kids, Russian bounties on American soldiers, etc.). Trump was sucking swamp water long before Hunter’s lost laptop was found.

The mainstream media’s deliberate mishandling of the laptop-story has only furthered my belief that until we forge a diverse syndicate of news outlets that are unconnected to any political or economic interest, our democracy as idealized in our high school civics classes will never exist.

If we allow the media establishment — print, broadcast and digital — and their political allies to decide a popularly-nominated and legally-elected presidential candidate is unworthy of unbiased news coverage and can be blocked from access to prominent social media platforms, how far removed are we from the autocracies (like Russia and China) our government routinely decries on the international stage?

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: kroeger98@yahoo.com