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Always doubt what you want to believe

Source: The X Files

Good morning. I trust you slept well and soundly last night.

As I write this, no serious news organization has declared the winner of the US presidential election. Based on current vote counts (9:15am) and the likelihood of remaining Democratic-skewing mail ballots being counted, Joe Biden is more likely than not to win the presidency, but Democrats are unlikely to win control of the Senate.

Democrats are waking up this morning to the consequences of false optimism. Based on an analysis of polls, Fivethirtyeight.com gave Biden an 89% chance of winning and Democrats a 75% chance of taking control of the Senate. While Biden may win, the Senate is now a long-shot. Polls are not votes; optimism is not a strategy. Without the Senate, no one is adding Supreme Court Justices or new states. Elections are always uncertain.

Donald Trump is waking up with a similar problem. He declared victory at 2:30 am Eastern Time this morning, and said voting should stop, despite the fact that decision desks have only declared him the winner in states totaling 213 of the required 270 electoral votes, and he’s behind in the states he needs to win. The votes he would stop counting were cast days ago and were received by election day, sent by people who imagined that their mailed-in votes would be counted like anyone else’s.

Nobody is taking this false claim of victory seriously. Chris Wallace of Fox News said, “This is an extremely flammable situation and the president just threw a match into it. He hasn’t won those states.” And I like this characterization from CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell:

The president of the United States, castrating the facts of the election results that have been reported tonight, falsely claiming that he has won the election and disenfranchising millions of voters whose ballots have not been counted, sadly because of the raging pandemic and the failures of the administration to contain the pandemic. There has been a massive vote-by-mail operation and those votes have not yet been counted. We at CBS News are not projecting a winner in this presidential race. We will not disenfranchise the millions of voters in those battleground states.

News flash: “Quit while you’re ahead” doesn’t apply to presidential elections; we like to count all the votes.

Believing what you most would like to believe is not a character trait that any leader should have. Would you trust a military commander who positioned troops based on what he hoped the enemy would do? Would you follow a corporate leader who refused to review data that contradicted their intuitions?

For that matter, can you imagine any US president, of either party, who operated the government based on ignoring data he didn’t like? (The only other instance I can think of this the “weapons of mass destruction” case for war that George W. Bush made, in defiance of some of the best intelligence available.)

Regardless of whether it’s pandemic infection statistics, hurricane paths, measures of the economy, or sales data, analytical thinking and decision-making depends on doubting what you want most to believe and scrutinizing all available information in hopes of making an unbiased assessment.

Anything else is dangerous, and will always bite you in the ass in the long term.

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  1. “”can you imagine any US president, of either party, who operated the government based on ignoring data he didn’t like?”
    We don’t need to imagine. You’ve just described Trump.

    1. Regrettably, politicians have a long and established history of ignoring data, particularly that of the economic kind. For example, despite demonstrable evidence that higher minimum wage mandates harm the very persons they’re intended to serve, legislators continue to pound the table for them.

  2. I’m a Pennsylvania resident who voted by mail weeks ago knowing the ballots would not start to be opened and scanned until election day…I received my email that it was received…I expect my vote to count and will be damn pissed off if it isn’t for some reason…This election shows we need a national vote by mail guideline that applies to all states equally.

  3. Josh

    I need your help. And I suspect many others may also.

    If you’ve already covered this in one of your always eye-opening posts, I apologize for bringing it up again.

    If Trump had died shortly before the 2020 election, but had won the election anyway, is there anyone else who could keep his administration – and the country – running down the same path he has it on? My guess is “no”.

    Assuming I’m right, why do you think that’s so? What is it about Trump the person that makes him uniquely able to control the Republican Party and so much public opinion? Do they really believe he’s extremely competent? Why? Do they simply fear him? Why? Are they simply willing to put up with him so they can use him to push their agendas? Or is it something else?

    After four years of this insanity, I’m still completely baffled by how and why he continues to have so much support and wield so much power. I can’t figure out his “secret sauce”. Why wouldn’t someone else be able to do the same as he does? I see certain similarities between Trump and others – Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Mussolini, the Kim’s come to mind. But those others were able to execute their enemies, which Trump isn’t.

    I need your help here, Josh, to understand this mess. I’m really struggling.

    Thanks in advance,


      1. Back in 2015, a Conservative group went all in on Trump during the primaries as a rebuke to the GOP’s betrayal of the Tea Party that gave them back the House and Senate. They summed up their support with this statement: “You Conservative pundits still don’t get it: Trump’s not just our candidate, he’s our murder weapon. And the GOP is our victim.”

        You on the left that want to go back to “normalcy” have no understanding of us on the right. We knew that Trump was an imperfect vessel, but in our eyes he’s better than what you offer. And will continue to be.

        If there’s anything I’ve learned from your side over the last four years, it’s that you don’t have to accept the results of an election. Good times ahead.

  4. The new problem is trying to convince Trump’s supporters that the election and vote counts are legit. I want to believe they will… I’ve already heard from several that they are having none of it.

  5. “Star power and audacity.”

    True. But that is only part of what keeps Trump in the running. Trumpism is here to stay for a long while.

    Trump was and is an escalation – but an escalation to what? Think about it…

    Trump plays on people’s fears and identity – “conservative” media amplifies it.

    I don’t think this will change post-Trump. In fact, he created something of a roadmap.

    There is enough encroachment into mainstream life / acceptance of radical left ideology – things like occupation zone in Seattle, looting and destruction in Portland, “defund police”, AOC green new deal, “whiteness chart” at African American Museum, Goodyear “diversity” training – that the right can point to.

    Fear that this becomes widespread scares the crap out of many people!

    I’m not defending their reaction to this, but d*mn it, as soon as I heard “defund police”, I knew how that was going to play.

    And, not enough voices on the left, and in the mainstream media, pushed back. In this example, common ground is “police accountability”, but noooo, too many still want to push the “defund” moniker, even today.

    There are MANY in the middle that are not bought into the extremes – this is where elections are won and lost.

    Thank goodness, Biden pushed back just enough on some radical ideas to win some of those in the middle over.

    Identity, speaks to many different aspects. Education level seems to be a big part of it – given the college vs non-college divide as one of the most reliable predictors of Trump support. But so is religious belief. And, yes, race. There are others, but these may be the most prominent.

    The common thread of these seems to be a form of status, which I think speaks to the willingness to forgive/ignore all else about Trump to get to “own the libs” and give them an “F U”.

    With Status as a motivator, policy and results doesn’t really matter (it is the appearance of being on side that counts – e.g. border wall, manufacturing jobs – and a few legislative points scored helps – e.g. judges).

    Frankly, I was baffled how societies were historically willing to accept Hitler, Lenin, Mao, and a string of others. Used to think it was lack of education and extreme economic times.

    Except, we are well educated, especially relative to those times. And, information is readily available – just ask Google.

    Where are the extreme times?

    The US is still, on many measures, THE best place in the world to be. And, yet, people don’t see that.

    Instead, we are fed “Flight 93”, and “1619 Project”, and they get lauded in the media for so-called “speaking to our times”!

    There is a manufactured deep unhappiness here, and an incentive structure for the radicals to get our attention, creating its own self-fulfilling prophecy.

    How to reverse that – I don’t have an answer – Except to say, don’t buy into the “otherization” that creates a wedge between us. Don’t buy into the stories about how “bad” it is. That plays into the radicals’ agenda and empowers them.

    I am very disappointed in how many people voted for Trump, but I do realize that the majority of them hardly want an autocrat. We need to think about what are they reacting to – identity and fear. Is our own behavior and discourse serving to reinforce or de-escalate those reactions? Do we support and vote for representatives who don’t cater to the extremes (harder today to find them than before)?

    On this last point, if Biden was not the Dem on the ticket, we’d probably be seeing Trump well past 270 for a win, as I expect the others would have been too happy to accommodate the more extremes of the Dem party.

    It may not be fair, but that is the way it is right now.