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While misinformation still holds sway among a large swath of Republicans, the Democratic win in the midterms had a calming effect on US polity Image Credit: Gulf News

Two reports came out in the US last week — one grim, one promising — that together say something about the importance of context and truth in shaping political behaviour and events.

The grim report was a series on the liberal website Talking Points Memo, which obtained a trove of more than 450 texts between 34 Republican members of Congress and Mark Meadows, who was White House chief of staff while former President Donald Trump was seeking to invalidate the 2020 election.

The texts show a group effort, by people who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, to locate American democracy’s weak points and exploit them to overthrow a democratically elected government.

“Mark, when we lose Trump we lose our Republic,” Rep. Brian Babin of Texas texted Meadows on Nov. 6. “Fight like hell and find a way.”

It’s disturbing that so many who prospered under the nation’s democratic rules could be so eager to subvert them — or to equate a republic with a cult of personality.

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But it’s even more remarkable to witness members of Congress, each of whom represents more than a half million Americans and employs a government staff to help sift and analyse information, as broken as a Q-Anon devotee awaiting the second coming of JFK Jr.

The texts cite jangled conspiracy theories or pass on hot tips from a guy who said something about something to someone. Rep. Rick Allen of Georgia related that he had heard “wild stuff” from “the source that is feeding my source some voter fraud information.”

He wondered why the Department of Justice wasn’t investigating. Meadows, operating a few paces from the most powerful office in the world, was no less receptive to flagrant claptrap. At one point, he offered to travel to Georgia to meet Allen’s ace source. Allen replied: “They may be out of town for the Holiday so best to handle by phone.”

The assault on American democracy portrayed in these texts is appalling. But the collective delusion is just as stark. Trump wielded this information like weapons. It turned out that his closest GOP allies suffered the gravest wounds.

The Meadows texts are now two years old. America has just completed a compelling experiment in what happens when lies are in retreat. A report by Bright Line Watch, a research project by political scientists who track the status of democracy in the US and abroad, finds encouraging results.

America's democratic capacity

According to the report, both political scientists and everyday Americans gained confidence in the nation’s democratic capacity after Nov. 8. It’s no mystery why.

With few exceptions, losing Republican candidates conceded defeat. Fox News, which has been sued for defaming Dominion Voting Systems over falsehoods broadcast by the network following the 2020 election, opted for less legally actionable programming this time around. And of course, the flow of political sewage has declined markedly since Trump left office.

“Public confidence that votes were counted accurately at the local, state, and national levels increased after the election and beliefs in voter and election fraud decreased,” states the report, which is based on surveys of 707 political scientists and a representative sample of 2,750 Americans. “The changes were largest among Republicans.”

Beliefs among Republicans that there were “thousands of cases” of voter-impersonation fraud, people voting multiple times, or ballot-stealing or tampering, fell by more than 20 percentage points from a Bright Line survey taken after the 2020 election.

Consistent lack of evidence

More than half of Republicans continue to believe in such fraud, despite a consistent lack of evidence. But a 20-point drop in two years represents significant progress. On the downside, the percentage of Democrats who believe in such fraud actually rose slightly, albeit from a far lower base of fewer than 20% of Democratic voters.

Misinformation still hold sway among a large swath of Republicans: Only 35% say Joe Biden was definitely or probably the rightful winner of the 2020 election. But that is more than the 25% who said so two years ago.

New survey suggests that incorrect information needs cultivation to thrive. With Trump out of the White House, and right-wing propaganda outlets more mindful of libel law, the soil for lies isn’t as fertile as it was two years ago. Losing candidates are less defiant of the electorate, and of facts.

Truth has a little more breathing room. Perhaps some members of the US Congress can take advantage of the respite, and seek a better accommodation with reality.

Bloomberg

Francis Wilkinson is a columnist covering US politics and policy. Previously, he was an editor for the Week, a writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.