The writers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel USA Today editorial board just did something they almost never do. They endorsed candidates in an election. They said in their extraordinary exception to business as usual that they believe “Democracy is on the ballot Nov. 8. And we believe that means a vote for Democrats Mandela Barnes for U.S. Senate and Tony Evers for governor.”
In their departure from usual policy they further said, “No one of any party should be voting for people who are election deniers.” The election deniers in question that they were specifically referring to included incumbent senatorial candidate Ron Johnson and gubernatorial candidate businessman Tim Michels.
The term “election denier” was considered a negative epithet by both the left and right until recently when it was embraced by Donald Trump. In a comment on “Truth” Social, Trump proclaimed, “General Don Bolduc has run a great campaign to be the U.S. Senator from the beautiful State of New Hampshire. He was a strong and proud ‘Election Denier.’”
Expect to see the term used prominently and proudly from now on by MAGA Republicans, just as it continues to be used as a negative by the rest of us. But it has just been given the imprimatur of Donald Trump, and for that reason it probably will no longer be considered an insult by them. It could also prove the quintessential term defining the divisive American political landscape for a long time to come, because opponents to the MAGA movement will continue to use it as a derogation.
Until now any term ending with the word “denier” was regarded as poisonous by the people it applied to. Holocaust deniers and global warming deniers almost never call themselves that. They usually instead prefer to be thought of as seekers of the “truth,” or something less conspicuously suggestive of a conspiracy theory mentality.
In making election denialism an acceptable and even desirable term among MAGA Republicans, Trump is changing the language we use and thereby changing how people think. It is a dangerous precedent and a frightening harbinger of a latter day political Newspeak. As Orwell put it, “Applied to an opponent, it is abuse, applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.”
Euphemisms aside, election denialism is really about denial of democracy. But even that is rapidly becoming the part MAGA Republicans are saying out loud. Many on the radical right are stating affirmatively that they no longer believe democracy to be the way forward for America. They haven’t gone so far as to say what they think should replace democracy because they haven’t quite reached the point where the word “fascism” has become entirely palatable. But give it time.
Words matter, and the words we use are being corrupted by Donald Trump and his fascistic MAGA base. There was a time when everyone who counted agreed that democracy and free and fair elections were good things. Right before our eyes those words and ideals are being corrupted by this evil cancer on the American body politic known as MAGA. Only we can stop it and to do so, we must remain united and vote them down on November 8. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.