Disinformation is violence

Personal sovereignty depends on being able to know and navigate reality. You cannot be a free person, or make moral choices, or any kind of choice, if you do not understand the nature of your situation and the ramifications of those choices. If you are cut off from reality, your personal sovereignty is diminished, or extinguished.

This is why authoritarian regimes always create an apparatus of disinformation, surveillance, and intimidation. The authoritarian wants to erase the humanity, and the individual sovereignty, of every person over whom they seek to exert unaccountable power.

In their book How Democracies Die, Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky detail a moment of critical choice very much like what is happening now in the United States. Jonathan Chait explains:

According to their historical study of threats against democratic regimes, when the authoritarian candidate’s allies defect and join with their natural ideological opponents to save the system, democracies survive.

When they stay loyal to their normal partners, on the other hand, democracy perishes.

Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, is standing against authoritarian forces working through her Party. She is committing her entire political future to a position any sensible, decent-hearted person should support: that liars, cheaters, and violent extremists should have no say in how a democratic society is governed.

In her historic op-ed this past Wednesday, the Republican Party leader noted Trump is continuing to repeat lies he now knows with certainty can incite terrorist activity. The clear aim, she warns, is “to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work”. She calls for courage, saying:

History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.

Read Cheney’s op-ed

No person will ever be made free, no problem will ever be solved, by elevating a liar, an authoritarian, or an ally of violent extremists.

If you are a conservative voter, or a dedicated Republican, Liz Cheney represents you more faithfully than almost anyone who claims to be conservative or Republican. If you are being told by leaders you trust that she should be cast aside, because she is somehow not who she is, you are experiencing a disinformation attack.

If your personal social media feed is flooded with such disinformation—and worse: if that disinformation is coming at you from people you know and love, in other words: if your personal relationships are being weaponized to flood you with disinformation—you are the target of a campaign of violent coercion.

The psychological violence of disinformation is intended to induce an effect, either to cause you to respond in specific ways or to strip you of the freedom to decide for yourself. It is one of the reasons the COVID-19 pandemic spread so far and so deep, and has killed 581,751 Americans so far.

A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that false balance can have a powerful disinformation effect and that:

areas with greater exposure to the show downplaying the threat of COVID-19 experienced a greater number of cases and deaths.

Scientific American reported that, though COVID-related disinformation was coming from only 1 in 5 prominent sources, those false claims accounted for 70% of social media engagement. Dangerous lies spread further and faster, and eventually became more common and accessible than facts about the virus and about how to prevent illness and death.

In May 2020, ABC News reported that researchers at Columbia University “determined that if the measures had begun two weeks earlier, then 82.7% of deaths and 84% of infections… could have been prevented nationwide“. One year later, those percentages amount to 27,474,023 infections and 481,108 deaths that could have been prevented.

Read the study here

Liz Cheney is standing up for everyone right now—for those who voted for her, for those who didn’t, for those who voted for Trump, and for everyone else—including, as the Preamble to the Constitution requires, for Posterity. She is doing what public servants are not only supposed to do, but what they are sworn and bound by law to do—to honor the Constitution, the will of the electorate, and the peaceful transfer of power, above any factional or personal lust for power.

Disinformation is violence. We all have a duty to stand with those who resist that violence, so we can all remain free to govern our society together.

UPDATE—May 11, 2021

Rep. Liz Cheney calls on House Republicans to honor their Constitutional duty to oppose those who undermine democracy

In a brief, but powerful and historic speech, Rep. Liz Cheney—who is expected to be removed from Republican leadership in the House of Representatives by allies of Donald Trump—said:

Today, we face a threat America has never seen before, a former president who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election has resumed his aggressive efforts to convince the public that the election was stolen from him. 

She added:

The most conservative of conservative principles is reverence for the rule of law... Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with the Constitution. Our duty is clear: Every one of us who has sworn the oath must act to prevent the unraveling of our democracy.

UPDATE—May 12, 2021

Republicans hold unrecorded closed-door vote to remove Liz Cheney from leadership

The Republican Party Conference in the US House of Representatives, during a closed-door meeting today, removed Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from her leadership position by a voice vote. That means there is no record of who voted to remove her.

There is mounting suspicion that Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would not have been able to muster enough votes to oust her, were members required to go on the record. There are also questions about what, specifically, motivated the leaders to keep the vote secret. Political backlash and party division are obvious considerations, but so is the potential for criminal liability for anyone using public office to exact retribution against Rep. Cheney for refusing to aid Trump’s anti-democracy push.

100 influential Republicans are planning to publish an open letter demanding the Party formally end its association with Donald Trump, or they will form a third party.

A recent poll by NBC News found that Trump’s support is declining, with less than 1/3 of Americans approving. Even among Republicans, less than half support Trump over the party, while 50% support the party over him. Pres. Biden’s approval is now 63%—double Trump’s current rating & 33% higher than Trump’s highest ever rating of 47%.

UPDATE—May 13, 2021

150 Leading Republicans call for reform or replacement of the party

In a Call for American Renewal, published in the Deseret News, a group of leading Republican voices, including former high-ranking Republican officials, and some who served in the Trump administration, have launched a new political movement, intended to reimagine the Republican Party, or to start a new one. They write:

These United States, born of noble convictions and aspiring to high purpose, have been an exemplar of self-government to humankind. Thus, when in our democratic republic, forces of conspiracy, division, and despotism arise, it is the patriotic duty of citizens to act collectively in defense of liberty and justice. We, therefore, declare our intent to catalyze an American renewal, and to either reimagine a party dedicated to our founding ideals or else hasten the creation of such an alternative. We call for a rebirth of the American cause and do so in partnership and loyal competition with others committed to the preservation of our Union. With abiding belief in the value and potential of every soul and with goodwill for all, we hereby dedicate ourselves to these principles and make common cause in the flourishing of this great nation and its diverse states, communities, and citizens.

The manifesto outlines shared principles for Democracy, Founding Ideals, Constitutional Order, Truth, Rule of Law, Ethical Government, Pluralism, Civic Responsibility, Opportunity, Free Speech, Conservation, Common Defense and Welfare, and Leadership.