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Fraud! Conspiracy! Russia! Our echo chambers have made us terrible losers

Andrew Dickens
Andrew Dickens

Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer on culture, society, politics, health and travel for major titles such as the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Daily Mail and Empire.

Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer on culture, society, politics, health and travel for major titles such as the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Daily Mail and Empire.

Fraud! Conspiracy! Russia! Our echo chambers have made us terrible losers
The reaction to the US presidential election and others shows how bad we’ve become at accepting defeat. There are always ‘dark forces’ to blame, when in fact it’s our fault for locking ourselves in echo chambers.

“You can’t win them all” is a dead phrase. It has passed, is no more, has ceased to be. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life. It is an ex-phrase. 

My apologies to Messrs Cleese and Palin for the paraphrasing (parrotphrasing?), but the reaction to the US presidential election is yet another exhibit in the case against our ability to accept defeat gracefully. Real-life and, more crucially, online echo chambers have us convinced that when things don’t go our way, it’s down to some kind of villainous deception. 

Right now, Donald Trump and his followers are crying “fraud!” over the results. There is no evidence of fraud in this election, but Trump had long since laid the ground for people to believe that there would be and therefore justify their denial of reality.

He told them that postal votes would be rigged – a claim without a single fact to back it up – because he knew Democrats were more likely to vote by post, especially with the pandemic. But people wanted to hear the rigging line because that way, no matter what happened, they wouldn’t be losers. And when the postal votes came in late, favouring Joe Biden as Trump knew they would, the narrative was set. Now they believe anything they read on Facebook or Twitter that fits into what they want to be true and ignore inconvenient facts.

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This denial isn’t limited to Trump fans or indeed people of any particular persuasion. Oh no, this condition is pan-political. I guarantee that, shoe on the other foot, Biden’s supporters would have been pointing to voter suppression and intimidation, the mysterious disappearance of postal votes and even the disappearance of post boxes after Trump donor Louis DeJoy was bizarrely appointed as postmaster general. Oh, and to Russia, of course. They might yet need to scream “bias!” at the US Supreme Court.

When Hillary Clinton lost to Trump in 2016, remember, it was the Russians what did it. Brexit was down to Moscow, too, plus some illegal campaigning. The Scottish independence referendum was vote-rigging. These weren’t knee-jerk reactions, either. They lingered, the immovable putrid whiff of perceived treachery, crime and untoward shenanigans. A lot of people, and I mean millions, still breathe it in. Not all conspiracy theories involve pizzas or lizards. Sometimes they go mainstream, like when a jazz track somehow makes it into the top 10 of the pop charts (yeah, I’m old).

All of these things have one thing in common – they’re baseless. Sure, you’ll find dodgy elements and illegal behaviour at play. You can in any vote. But enough to sway the outcome? Absolutely not

Actually, they have two things in common – they’re baseless and desperate.

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Trumpists have chanted “stop the count” in one state and “count every vote” in another. You’ve probably seen the very peculiar rantings of his spiritual advisor Paula White in which she claims that “angels” are arriving in the US from around the globe to make sure that her boss gets elected. These, like the above, are despairing symptoms of people not being able to face defeat.

I’m not judging. Well, I am a bit. But I too have experienced the denial. I was livid after the Brexit referendum. Not that I’m a big fan of the current European Union – I just have very, very little faith in the British government to do anything other than cock the whole thing up.

This anger and frustration stuck with me. I couldn’t believe it had happened. How could so many people vote that way? I felt similarly at the last UK general election, when we handed authoritarian levels of power to a troupe of malevolent clowns. 

Eventually, I got over these things and accepted the situation. Not liked, but accepted. But the reason I couldn’t answer that question for quite some time is that I didn’t know or talk to many people who didn’t agree with me. Like so many of us, I lived in an echo chamber. I’ve started to break out but, if it wasn’t for my job, maybe I’d be bolstering its walls.

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More than ever we’re surrounding ourselves with agreeable voices, because it’s easier than ever. We believe what we believe and now have access to thousands of people who will tell us we’re right. Not just agree with us partially or generally, but absolutely. And therefore our views become absolutist. Grey areas are separated into black and white. This article, like so many I’ve written, will have comments under it on social media from people who have read nothing but the headline and built an opinion on that. Bless you for reading this far.

We don’t go online to learn from the vast trove of knowledge at our fingertips, we go online to find evidence - real or fake - that supports our preconceptions. We don’t go online to debate, we go online to win. Our opponents are wrong. If we don’t get our own way or simply don’t like the way the world is, well, there must be something fishy going on – and some corner of the internet will agree with us.

Don’t get me wrong. To question the status quo or collective narratives is fine. To have the courage of your convictions is also fine. Lose and accept, but go again if you want. But without admission of difference and defeat, the ability to stare down the barrel of a fact rifle and respect the ammunition, the ability to change our minds, we crumble as a society. That way chaos lies.

One of the editors at RT showed me a letter written by George HW Bush (aka Bush Sr.) to Bill Clinton after Clinton defeated him in the 1992 presidential election. Contrast it to Trump’s reaction this week and tell me which you think is the healthier, smarter, nobler, and classier.

I’d like to offer a solution. I’d like to say that we should all take the time to mix more often with people of opposing views and to understand those views. I’d like to say that we should keep social media for animal videos, holiday snaps and memes and use the information age in a way that broadens our minds. I’d like to say, grow up and learn to be good losers, like George HW Bush. I’d like to suggest we resurrect the ‘you can’t win them all’ attitude.

I’d like to do all that but, frankly, no one who disagrees with me will have read this far.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.