Fake News Alert

…Congressman John Lewis’ claim that he did not believe that Donald Trump was legitimately elected, shows how Trump’s traffic in fake news as the modus operandi of his campaign of hate, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and bigotry caught up with him, for if his election was partly driven and founded on fake news, as has been shown, then where is its legitimacy?

While Russia’s cyber-intrusion into the election doesn’t change the outcome of the Electoral College, it does demonstrate that there is no mandate for Trump’s vision or policies for America. He lost the popular vote — that’s the citizens’ vote — by a huge margin. – American Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)

“You know, I believe in forgiveness. I believe in trying to work with people. It will be hard. It’s going to be very difficult. I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president. I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton… I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get elected, that’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not the open democratic process.” – Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia)

The outcome of the 2016 American election is becoming less confounding, though it will remain a study for a fairly long time. These are some of the reasons why this is the case: Eight years ago, some observers of the American polity felt that the election of President Obama signaled an irreversible progressive turn for the country – a turn which some felt indicated that the United States of America was entering a post race era or at least a shift to healthier race relations where the colors of citizens’ skins do not suggest value, intelligence, ability and capacity or anything beyond just being physical outward characteristics, and how God created us.

Sadly, Donald Trump and the outcome of the 2016 election might have proved otherwise. Although progress in race relations has undoubtedly been made over the decades, long before and also during President Obama’s service to the nation, the outcome of the election and the rhetoric of Donald Trump’s campaign might have called that assumption to question, especially the assumption that the progressive shift is irreversible. With Donald Trump, not a few believe this progressive shift is reversible, even when paradoxically we believe, as Martin Luther King and President Obama have, that the arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice no matter how long the bend takes. That is a genuine hope to be believed in.

With a five-year campaign based on bigotry, xenophobia, and hate, during which he attempted to delegitimise President Obama’s presidency by promoting the American birther movement to call the American citizenship of Obama to question, Donald Trump’s trafficking in fake news set American race relations back by poisoning the well with his bigotry, toxic and hate campaign.

However, given America’s difficult race history, and eight years of the attempts to make America more progressive and inclusive, few expected that hate, bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia, which were promoted through fake news, would play a role in determining the outcome of the American election. This outcome is gradually unraveling through new developments and new revelations of the role (in the election) of the fugitive Julian Assange of Wikileaks and the Russian government under the head of a former spy who has been widely described as a thug and a global menace – Vladimir Putin.

These new developments and revelations of Russian meddling in the American election – one that played in favour of Trump – lead us to engage the relevant but challenging question raised by many Americans like Congressman John Lewis, which is that: Given the Russian meddling, are the process and outcome of the election legitimate?

Following disturbing revelations of the Russian hacking of some of the institutions of American democracy, the US intelligence community came to the conclusion that this hacking (under the supervision of President Putin) was wide, deep and worrisome enough for it to go public with some of its unclassified findings. The unsurprising aspect of this is the implication of the fugitive Julian Assange of Wikileaks holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in the scandal. Assange masquerades as a journalist and “defender” of the freedom of information.

On the meddling and fake news, it is instructive to note that because of his contempt for democracy, one cannot expect anything less intrusive and covert from Vladimir Putin. The fact that Russia is not a democracy, though it pays lip service to elections, and it is a country ruled by a tiny and closely knit corrupt oligarchy headed by Vladimir Putin, and given her previous “socialist” history, there is an ambiguity about what precisely Russia is today. Though rich in history, this kind of ambiguity makes Russia to exhibit the political and moral features of a third world state – totalitarian, deadly, stealthy, closed and corrupt.

A police state, Putin’s Russia brooks no opposition. Putin trails his opponents all the way to foreign countries to eliminate them. There are examples – in living and dead witnesses – of the nefarious activities of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump’s ally. Putin is the reason Garry Kasparov, the former world Chess Champion, is in exile in the US. While Kasparov is alive to tell the story of Putin’s menace, deadly acts and authoritarianism in his book Winter Is Coming, Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian ex-KGB (now FSB) spy was not that lucky. Litvinenko, an ex-KGB whistle blower, sought asylum in Britain in 2000. He met his death in 2006 after taking tea with two men suspected to be Russian FSB agents in a London Hotel.

The British report into the death of Litvinenko states thus: “The FSB (the Russian spy agency) operation to kill Mr. Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr. Nikolai Patrushev (then head of FSB) and also by President Putin. Murdered by radiation, Mr. Litvinenko said this of Putin on his death bed in London: “You may succeed in silencing one man but the howls of protest from around the world will reverberate Mr. Putin in your ears for the rest of your life…” Litvinenko’s death is why it is not surprising that Chris Steele, the alleged author of the dossier documenting yet to be substantiated aspects of Russian meddling in American election, disappeared from London immediately the dossier was published in the US. This is the kind of man (Vladimir Putin) who intelligence reports suggest the Trump campaign and transition team collaborated with – during and after election – against their own country.

But the important point here is the self-serving attempt by Donald Trump and the Republican Party to deny that the Russian meddling helped him by affecting the process and outcome of the election. Even when Donald Trump will deny this in order to vouch for the “legitimacy” of his occupation of the White House, however the Russian meddling in the American election affected the outcome of the election in favour of Donald Trump. And this is why:

To show this, it should first be noted that Donald Trump did not win the citizens’ vote. Hillary Clinton won this, while Donald Trump won the electoral college. So if the issue is the political will of American citizens taken individually, Hillary Clinton won on the basis of that will by close to three million votes. She won with 65,844,954 votes (48.2%), while Trump took 62,979,879 votes (46.1%). Trump, on the other hand, won the electoral college with 306 votes to Clinton’s 232 votes. The electoral college vote is based on who wins a particular state.

And what the electoral college shows is that any slight margin in the vote within competitive states can swing the outcome in favour of a particular candidate. Hence, theoretically and practically, you can win a state by just one vote and then carry all the state’s electoral college vote! With such slight margin needed to win a state’s electoral college votes and with what fake news can do to depress or motivate voters of a particular candidate (for example Donald Trump used the birther fake news to make 52 percent of the Republican Party to believe in and power him in the election), whoever denies that the Russian meddling through multiple means, including the peddling of fake news, affected the election needs to re-think human nature and how our consumption of news affect our decisions and judgments.

Second, we must look into how news – fake and truthful – affect people’s decisions, judgments and choices. Here is the fact. For eight years, Donald Trump and the Birther movement, of which he is the chief spokesperson, said in print and on air that President Obama was not born in the United States of America – meaning that Obama’s presidency was illegitimate. That was the fake news that drove Trump’s campaign and gave him part of his votes. Today, according to a December 17-20, 2016 YOUGOV poll, 52 percent of Republicans and Trump voters continue to believe that President Obama was not born in the United States of America! That is how fake news affect peoples’ judgments and, eventually, votes.

Another instance of how fake news affect decisions, judgments, choices and outcomes is the example of Edgar M. Welch, a 28-year-old father of two from Salisbury, N.C. Welch read online that Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington, was harbouring young children as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring led by Mrs. Clinton. Welch drove six hours from his home in North Carolina with an AR-15 rifle to, according to him, “self investigate” this “crime”. It is significant to note that this fake news – leading Welch to attempt the murder of some people – was tweeted by the same person who is going to be the adviser to Donald Trump on security – Retired General Flynn!

This is why the critical question is:

If 52 percent Republicans, who believe that President Obama was not born in the US based on Trump’s fake news, and Edgar M. Welch were to cast their votes for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, or even Trump or Obama, who will they vote for? And why? Can anyone reasonably deny that fake news would not have played any role in that kind of vote in either of these two hypothetical situations?

So based on this, there are strong rational and factual basis to conclude that the Russian meddling affected the outcome of the election via hacking, collaboration with other persons, and the dumping of fake news on the public.

If the Birther fake news trafficked by Donald Trump for years affected the views of 52 percent of the members of Republican Party, and if the fake news that Clinton ran a sex trafficking business motivated a citizen to want to kill fellow citizens, why will any reasonable person deny that the Russian meddling, involving the circulation of fake news, affected the outcome of the election?

The point is that the Russian meddling motivated certain voters. It was a covert strategy; a cold war scorch earth tactic. One can and should be critical of some American voters for taking their democracy for granted by allowing fake news to flourish and affect their judgments and how they voted. But it flies in the face of reason and facts, human nature and how we behave as humans, how we relate to news, and what we do with news we consume, to continue to deny that the Russian meddling did not affect the outcome of the election.

This is why Congressman John Lewis’ claim that he did not believe that Donald Trump was legitimately elected, shows how Trump’s traffic in fake news as the modus operandi of his campaign of hate, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and bigotry caught up with him, for if his election was partly driven and founded on fake news, as has been shown, then where is its legitimacy?

Adeolu Ademoyo, aaa54@cornell.edu, is with the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.