Commentary

The paranoia of the paranoid: What Montana’s election audit can teach us about misplaced faith

October 14, 2021 5:21 am

Nurses draw vaccine doses from a vial as Maryland residents receive their second dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at the Cameron Grove Community Center on March 25, 2021 in Bowie, Maryland. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Welp, it finally happened. Republican paranoia has finally crested, and the wave has crashed right back on the very people who helped start it.

To wit: The most recent Montana effort at an Arizona-style election audit, supported by most Republican legislators in the state.

Remember that 2020’s election was a truly historic routing of the Democrats, sending a veto-proof Republican majority to both houses of the Montana Legislature and securing the top five statewide elected offices. The only way to have made the election more Republican was by electing honest-to-God elephants.

Nevermind that even Republicans admit in federal and state court that Montana has not had a recorded case of voter fraud in the past 25 years. And please don’t mention that there wasn’t a single substantiated case of voter fraud in 2020.

The only possible direction an election recount could go is for Republicans to lose votes because it’s nearly impossible to conceive of them getting more.

So much, too, for that time-honored Republican value of fiscal responsibility. No matter how an election recount would go down, it would cost millions, and the GOP isn’t offering to foot the bill out of its own coffers.

Of course, this push for a recount isn’t rooted in a sincere concern for the integrity of our elections; statewide election officials have repeatedly said 2020 was the most secure in history and the results were accurate.

Instead, this election audit is part of a cynical long game that aims to erode confidence and trust in our bedrock institutions, like drumming up outrage in public education over critical race theory, something the superintendent of public instruction couldn’t find a single example of; or discrediting public health officials as they tried to keep people alive with health measures so time-tested that they were used before most homes had electricity and indoor plumbing.

The question is not really about masks or elections, though, but they all have the same through-line. All of the misinformation and spin are attempts to capture attention and consolidate power: Make it so that the only voice people trust is the one coming right out of the central political party.

Discredit the judiciary, discredit doctors, discredit the media, undermine science and repudiate elections, and you don’t have much left besides the clear voice of a paranoid party.

You see, I don’t know all the ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccine, true. Nor do I know all the ingredients in the Diet Coke sitting next to me as I type these words. I don’t know exactly how the computer or the internet work – the specifics about how microprocessors and servers work. Heck, I don’t know how clean water gets to my home, except through pipes. And, please, don’t get me talking about the mechanics of an internal combustion engine. I was also clueless every time during the past decade I got a flu shot, so if the government, via Albertson’s pharmacy, wanted to conspire to put all sorts of chips and garbage into me, I could have hardly known the difference.

And yet, I have faith enough in all of those things we take for granted to know and trust them – or, I guess, I trust them more than living with outdoor plumbing, horses for transportation, and leeches for bleeding every time I take ill.

I don’t have to be an expert in engineering or go to medical school to trust these commonplace items in my life. My faith isn’t boundless, and I recognize that systems fail. However, I also understand that experts and people who have dedicated their whole lives and careers to the somewhat mundane tasks of building car engines or making the municipal water and sewer systems run, have done their jobs so that I can do mine. Likewise, those same people should be able to trust that the folks here at the Daily Montanan and throughout the media are doing the same hard, honest work in their niches of society.

The problem with the paranoia and spin, especially that coming from the right, is they’ve got it backwards: The leaders continue to undermine the same systems that have made us truly exceptional, while simultaneously calling for faith in that which is most fallible, politicians and people.

It’s so clear, though, what misplaced trust in politicians can do to us, as corrosive ideas scour the country. What does it tell you when not a single Democrat who would have the most cause to complain of election fraud in Montana doesn’t raise an objection about their defeat, while meanwhile nearly every winning Republican calls into question their own victory?

And what can possibly be said about a party that encourages its own members to look askance at vaccines and masks while the state’s leader, Gov. Greg Gianforte, sends the National Guard into hospitals to help while the unvaccinated lay dying of COVID-19, deaths that are, statistically, mostly preventable?

These pandemics aren’t just a matter of science, just like elections aren’t a problem of government. The real crises are ones of misplaced faith.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

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