It’s good to see talk-radio and TV hosts cast Sidney Powell overboard (to the kraken?), but it doesn’t undo Trump’s own conduct, or change the fact that Rudy Giuliani and the RNC were happy to help spread Powell’s claims. And we’re already seeing the beginning of “The election was rigged,” version 2.0. “Rigged” is of course the word Trump has used to falsely allege massive voter fraud, but in his monologue on Monday night Tucker Carlson defined it instead in terms of media bias, tech bias, and politically motivated expansions of mail-in voting* (which tends to favor Democrats). The particular claims are debatable, but the rhetorical effect of the diction is to make it seem as if Trump was somehow more right than wrong about the big picture, and to distract attention from the dishonest and possibly destructive set of assertions Trump has been summarizing with the same word.
And while it’s tempting to say that Trump’s tweets matter little given that we have the system we do, I’m not sure. A president can now instantly spread conspiracy theories about an election among tens of millions of followers, who then act instantly as force multipliers. It’s hard to feel sanguine about the effect this will have on the norms and the system if national politicians — including, quite possibly, Donald Trump over the next four years — decline to exercise a voluntary restraint.
It seems to me that we are on a frightening trajectory. The Founders and the Framers feared mass democracy for a reason. They foresaw Donald Trump and took measures to contain him, but they could not predict social media, cable news, and talk radio. One should not rule it out that we are entering an age of foundation-shaking demagogy.