It has been six months since last November’s presidential election, and a CNN poll shows that 30 percent of Americans still think Donald Trump won. Among Republicans, the number is 70 percent.
The GOP just ousted Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from her House leadership role because she wouldn’t accept the “Big Lie,” as many news outlets are now calling the assertion that Trump won.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Arizona, where Trump lost, are engaged in a messy, ponderously partisan recount of the votes from last November to uncover alleged evidence of voting fraud. Not much of that has been found so far, in Arizona or anywhere. Yet a Monmouth polls shows that 65 percent of Republicans believe fraud put Joe Biden in the White House.
The squabble over who really won in 2020 has thrown up a toxic cloud of doubt and resentment that is poisoning American politics. Even some non-Republicans wonder if our current president really is legit.
I don’t get it. The U.S. has been holding elections for more than two centuries. This shouldn’t be hard to figure out.
So I gave it a try. Rather than wade through all the claims and counterclaims, ballots and court documents, I went to the ultimate arbiter of truth for many U.S. households: Alexa.
I was inspired in this effort by a visit to North Adams a few days before the election. There, at Mass MoCA, I was captivated by Brazilian artist Clarissa Tossin’s ink-on-paper work, “You Got to Make Your Own Words...” Tossin was asking deeper questions — about the nature of truth and technology, the fate of the planet and our nagging sense of uselessness — but her method was much the same as mine.
Here is a transcript of my interview with one of the country’s most respected voices — using her actual answers, edited for concision. (Warning: If you choose to read this aloud, you may want to turn off any voice-enabled Amazon devices, lest she stir at the mention of her name.) To wit:
Alexa, who won the 2020 presidential election?
According to the Associated Press, Democrat Joe Biden beat Republican incumbent Donald Trump, by 51 percent to 47 percent, to win the presidency.
Alexa, Trump says he won. Is that true?
Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
Alexa, why do so many people think Trump won?
Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
Alexa, what is the “Big Lie”?
The Big Lie is a propaganda technique used for political purposes and defined as a gross distortion or misrepresentation of the facts. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler. For the latest in politics, ask me to play “Flash Briefing.”
Alexa, was there widespread fraud in the 2020 election?
Answer: Hmmm, I don’t have the answer to that.
Alexa, if a major political party refuses to accept the election results, does American democracy have a future?
Sorry, I can’t help you with that.
I plodded on, from Trump’s ever-tightening grip on the GOP to the party’s push in 43 states for new curbs on voting — to avoid fraud, of course. But Alexa clearly knew she was on treacherous ground. She grew increasingly vague and unhelpful.
So, I went to her chief rival, Siri, the sage of Apple (and the oracle used by Clarissa Tossin for her Mass MoCA inquiry). To my opening question, about who won the presidential election, Siri answered confidently and succinctly: “Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.” But after that, she too became evasive.
I don’t know, maybe I didn’t phrase my questions right. Perhaps I should have begun with some easy warm-ups of a less controversial nature. (Alexa, when will Great Barrington’s Division Street bridge reopen? When will Becket get broadband?)
Anyway, you can try this exercise yourself. Let me know if your answers are any more encouraging.
As for my attempt, it left me shaken. Alexa and Siri, those twin tribunes of truth, were reluctant to engage in an extended discussion of the issue that’s tearing our country apart. Worse, I had the eerie sensation that they were holding back, that they knew something we don’t.
And those hidden truths might be almost too terrible to contemplate: Maybe there is no answer to this mess. Maybe we’re entering an era when unpleasant election results will be routinely rejected. Maybe American democracy does not have a future.
Guess I’ll have to keep asking.