The Silence of the Scams:
A Political Psychological Puzzlement
Diane Perlman, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist
April 20, 2005
Few Americans know about the historic event that happened on January 6, 2005, the official date for counting electoral votes. For the first time since 1877, congressmembers challenged the electoral count. Representative Stephanie Tubbs-Jones of Ohio, accompanied by the lone senator, Barbara Boxer of California, led the challenge to the Ohio vote count. Although massive fraud was reported around the country, only Ohio was officially cited.
It is curious that an issue so profound and consequential is barely on the radar screens of most Americans, especially those who supported Kerry.
Though we are not certain of the actual outcome, statistically impossible discrepancies exist between results of exit polls and official counts in counties without paper trails. Also documented are patterns of anecdotes about corrupted procedures and accounts of strange behaviors, phenomena and illegal interventions in Ohio, New Mexico, Florida, Pennsylvania and other places. Many say there is fraud in every election, but there was far more in 2004 than in any previous year, and if the errors were random, about half would go in Kerry's favor. Virtually all went in Bush's favor.
But rather than demanding a thorough investigation, the many Americans seem eager to forget the incidents and put the election behind them, thus implicitly supporting such corruption. In my conversations, I observed that white, US born males were more emphatic about accepting the outcome and the futility of challenging it, while others were more willing to recognize being dominated and open to questioning what happened. White males may be more susceptible to obeying patriarchal authority, and the fish does not know it is swimming in the water. This difference was reflected in Congress. Women and members of the Congressional Black Caucus were most active. Representative John Conyers lead the investigation and press conferences, and women, Stephanie Tubbs Jones in the House and Barbara Boxer in the Senate led the historical challenge.
A Political Psychological Puzzlement
Under what conditions do millions of allegedly "free" people knowingly acquiesce to being deceived, dominated and deprived of their own political will? How is it that even those who were politically engaged for the first time resign themselves to an unjust fate, refusing even to consider what happened to our country? Why do progressive citizens actively dismiss and even malign a small group of courageous, devoted people working day and night on their behalf to uncover, calculate, analyze, and evaluate the extensive, varied forms of criminal sabotage that undermined their democracy? How are Americans becoming complacent with escalating fraudulent activity? In other words, how do so many people live with the knowledge that they have been tricked before, were just tricked again--and then submit to life under the power of those who tricked them?
Why were hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians out for days in the freezing cold, refusing to accept fraud, while Americans helplessly colluded with forces of domination? Granted, we face a conspiracy of silence in the media, a propaganda campaign discrediting exit polls (which are accurate in counties with paper trails and other countries), and a dismissal of those who challenge the vote as nuts, sore losers and "conspiracy theorists." Censorship, brainwashing and intimidation create an environment of passivity and fear in subtle yet powerful ways that keep the system going with the complicity of those who have been robbed.
Another significant reason, pointed out by readers commenting on an earlier version of this article, was that Yushchenko himself was bold and courageous about challenging the vote. Unlike Gore, who discouraged a challenge, and Kerry who backed down easily after Edwards promised to count every vote, Yushchenko, who was poisoned and scarred, provided a powerful model of leadership, inspiring his supporters to be brave as well. The Democratic Party itself, except for the few who lead the challenge, acted cowardly, hardly inspiring the public. Why should they rise to the challenge if their maligned leaders wimped out?
Another reason is that citizens of the Ukraine know their history of oppressive, deceptive government. Unlike Americans, they are not inclined to trust the integrity of their leaders and system, and hunger intensely for justice and the freedoms that we have enjoyed.
Even with these explanations, we must still wonder what is going on in the collective psyche that allows mass submission to the systematic and progressive usurpation of power.
The Dance of Domination
The psychology of electoral domination has two parts--what is being done to people and how they allow it.
Psychological techniques, used deliberately, allow many tricks to go unnoticed and unchallenged. For example, "mystification" is a plausible misrepresentation of reality in which forms of exploitation are presented as forms of benevolence. Like magic and the use of distraction, the issue of voting reform was manipulated and misrepresented, so people felt calmed by the illusion that the problems from the 2000 election were being corrected. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Elements of the Help America Vote Act, HAVA (a name as Orwellian as the Clear Skies Initiative, should be more accurately called "Hide America's Voting Anomalies"), includes intrusive identity checks, the introduction of the "provisional ballot" most of which were not counted, and the use of electronic voting machines. Each of these was brilliantly misused for the opposite intention--to corrupt and deny votes to Kerry in ways people wouldn't notice.
The subterfuge was successfully accomplished with use of censorship, illusion, distortion, brainwashing, propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, mystification, intimidation, shaming, and domination. As Bush might say, it was a "catastrophic success."
These techniques combine to form something like a collective hypnotic induction, which creates an illusion of a consensus that cannot be challenged. Few have the insight, training, or tools, to see through the manipulation. Even fewer have the courage to take on the challenge. For many, responses to domination may include disbelief, learned helplessness, psychic numbing, fear, cowardice, conformity, denial, cognitive laziness, avoidance, and submission to authority. These items are inter-related and the list is not exhaustive.
Before the psychological explanations, it is necessary to acknowledge a basic factor: the overwhelming ignorance of the facts. This can be exacerbated by a lack of desire to know the facts, and an avoidance of the awesome responsibility that comes with this knowledge. Of course if the facts were accurately reported in the mainstream media, the collective psychological climate would be conducive to a healthier public response. People accept fraud for reasons which may be conscious or unconscious. Some of the ways that they do this are described below.
Confusing Outcome with Process
Many don't want to deal with the corruption because they believe that challenging fraud won't change the outcome, so there's no point. This might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It represents a kind of immature, black-and-white thinking, as the outcome is a separate issue from the process. Even if it doesn't affect the outcome, voter suppression is criminal.
Paradoxically, refusal to examine the process prevents discovery, which might change the outcome. The Ohio vote challenge required two-hour debates in the House and Senate. Most Democrats who supported the challenge, emphatically stated that they didn't expect it to change the outcome, as if they were intimidated into making that point first or they would be ridiculed and dismissed. Most Republicans ignored their actual words and made emotional, even hysterical accusations of them not accepting the outcome, being sore losers, and worse. Republicans ignored the issue of voter suppression and praised Kerry highly for not making a big deal out of this.
Numbers, Imagery and Perceptions
People believe that Bush won by 3,500,000 votes--a margin too large to challenge, compared to Gore's 500,000. They are not aware of the long list of dirty tricks, and knowing of one or two, don't believe they can add up to 3,500,000. To bring the popular vote to a tie, it only has to add up to half that, 1,750,000, or an average of 35,000 votes per state, Correcting for Ohio's fraud could change the electoral vote. People may believe subliminally that even if Ohio went to Kerry, the difference in the popular vote is too great. The report of the Conyers Committee may be the best single summary that we have at this time to suggest estimates of the numbers affected.
Ignorance of Extent of Dirty Tricks
If people knew about the amount and extent of dirty tricks, 3,500,000, or 1,750,000 may not seem so insurmountable. Some of the tricks documented include throwing out of Democrat voter registration forms, broken machines, misplaced machines, machine errors, reduced numbers of machines in Black and predominantly Democratic areas, less than in 2002, causing long lines, unmailed absentee ballots, absentee ballots requesting 86 cents, insufficient postage, which were returned, certification of more votes than registered voters in some areas, reversal of percentages of registered Democrats and votes for Bush in many counties, modem connected voting machines and tabulators, different standards for provisional ballot recounts in different areas, many provisional ballots, also called “placebo ballots”, not counted at all, voting machines defaulting to a Bush or 'jumping' by recording a vote for Bush when Kerry's button was pushed, phony companies registering voters and then tearing up the registrations of Democrats but not Republicans, exit polls not corresponding with reported votes in counties with no paper trail, while exit polls matched reported votes in counties with paper trails, voting elections officials creating what look like phony election machine poll tapes and tossing original, signed tabulations in the garbage, people posing as technicians coming in and tampering with machines, Republicans posing as Democrats, a lock down, refusing to let observers in, with the excuse of terrorist alert to observe the counting of votes in a country in Ohio, misinformation about the date and location of voting in Black neighborhoods, threats of arrest for voters with traffic tickets or any record, unusual discrepancies between numbers of votes for Kerry and Democratic candidates on same ticket, and widespread refusal of media to report on any of these, and a media campaign trashing exit poll data with made up reasons. And these are just the ones we know about.
Discomfort with Numbers
The best evidence for fraud in the 2004 election is statistical, according to Josh Mitteldorf of Temple University's Statistics Department. Many are uncomfortable with numerical and statistical science that quantifies judgments about likelihood. For example, statistician Dr. Steve Friedman of University of Pennsylvania, and graduate of MIT found that the discrepancy between exit polls and the actual vote count in each of three states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, is 1 in 1,000,000, but the likelihood of all three states being discrepant in the same direction is 1 in 250,000,000. What people heard in the news was a smear campaign invalidating the credibility of exit polls, even though they are considered highly accurate, are used in many countries as indicators of fraud, and that exit polls in counties with a paper trail matched the official vote count, and in counties where there was no paper trail and evidence of computer irregularities, the official count was different than the exit polls and always favored Bush. They even made up fake reasons for this discrepancy regarding response bias--which did not exist where there were paper trails.
Many people don't believe the allegations of fraud because they didn't read about it in the New York Times or hear it on CNN. (The only mainstream media to report it was Keith Olberman on Countdown, MSNBC.) We might wonder about the media censorship on this story and intentions to promote disbelief in the populous, in addition to ignorance.
Conformity and Herd Mentality
Because of the media blackout, ignorance, and emotional tone of reporting, Americans have a false perception of consensus about objective reality. The majority conforms to this misperception and most do not have the psychological make-up to challenge the status quo. The few that are courageously addressing this are not heard, or else they are severely shamed, ridiculed and viciously accused of causing problems. Thus, even the thought of questioning is suppressed.
Psychologist Martin Seligman's theory of learned helplessness explains how when one's repeated actions have no effect, people learn that what they do doesn't make a difference and give up, even in situations where they can potentially make a difference. People worked hard on this election and believe that they lost. They are burned out. They feel all their hard work, time, energy and money didn't help so they don't want to deal with it. Learned helplessness is also associated with elevation of levels of cortisol and immune suppression--suggesting it is ultimately not adaptive or healthy to give up. Conversely, taking action in the face of injustice is a sign of health, enhanced immune response and can be an antidote to depression.
It is reasonable to fear sticking one's neck out and challenging the powers that be. There may be legitimate reasons to be afraid of individual action, but this becomes part of the problem and rewards domination. As long as people remain silent and isolated from one another, we don't realize the safety implicit in concerted collective action. The safety in numbers can reduce fear.
Denial and Psychic Numbing
We are comforted with the belief that our leaders are good people who are protecting us. Many decent, well-meaning people believe the best about our system of government and democracy and can't believe that corruption is going on. It is frightening, unsettling, and intolerable for many Americans to question these core beliefs about our leaders and to accept the reality of extensive fraud. Also, ignorance is bliss, but for the moment, and knowledge implies responsibility, which may be feared and avoided.
Denial and numbing--not knowing and not feeling--protect us from this painful awareness in the present, but they cannot protect us from the real effects of these hidden realities which render us vulnerable to increasing domination and danger in the long term.
If one is in an impossible situation, these habits serve as survival mechanisms to avoid the pain of awareness. However, if one can do something to make a difference, then psychic numbing and denial are maladaptive.
Submission to Authority
The thought of challenging powerful, dominating authority with the prospect of losing is overwhelming. Increasing authoritarianism reinforces this dynamic in gradual, subtle ways. Some may also be afraid of challenging a president during a war and falsely believe it will harm national security.
Many feel that there is no action that they can personally take on this level. It is too big for them, so they don't even seek out information or support or value the work that others are doing on their behalf.
Avoidance and Compartmentalization
People want to retreat, to focus on their own survival, family, daily life and pleasure, which are manageable. They are less focused on the scary bigger picture. This is completely understandable and even enviable. Furthermore, those struggling with high unemployment, lower wages, and other hardships created by the Bush administration are too preoccupied with their survival issues to pay attention to politics. In this way, disempowerment of certain segments of the population works to the administration's advantage.
The Spiral of Silence
I am grateful to readers of an earlier version for informing me about Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann's theory, The Spiral of Silence, which describes the spread of public opinion. All of the elements described above can be understood as interacting and potentiating this spiral. It refers to perceptions of public opinion, and when people perceive themselves to be in the minority, their sense of pressure to conformity, fear of isolation and the tendency to conceal one's views, and the role of the mass media in fueling this spiral.
Evolution, Adaptation and Survival
All of these reactions are understandable, but all become part of the problem. In the short run, they may minimize pain, but in the long run they are counterproductive and serve to magnify and multiply problems that are not being faced. Such avoidance mechanisms are not adaptive, as they play into the game of the destructive forces, allowing them to dominate. The continuation of the processes of systematic domination requires the ignorance, passivity and complicity of the majority of decent people, including the millions who supported Kerry. These people are colluding with their own domination.
The Courageous Minority
The reactions listed above are completely natural. Carl Jung said that consciousness is a work against nature. To go against the collective tide of ignorance, conformity and cowardice is a work against nature taken on by the courageous few. This collective, archetypal drama described by Jung was popularized by Joseph Campbell in The Hero's Journey. The Hero is the one who is willing to take on challenges that most people fear. According to Jung, the hero archetype represents the progressive force in society.
The people I have witnessed working intensely to investigate and challenge voter fraud have a particular psychological profile. They are courageous and willing to face pain and fear. They call up their strength to challenge authority, as our lives, our freedom and democracy depend on it. They are unable to deny what is going on or remain silent. They are heroes in our mythical, archetypal Hero's journey, willing to face the dragons that are guarding our "National Treasure." They are acknowledged in a piece by William Rivers Pitt called "Heroes" on Truthout.org. Pitt quotes Bob Dylan: "I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom."
Only by facing the pain can we transcend it. Consciousness is the first step. Action is an antidote to depression. It would be a sign of health, freedom, and conscious evolution if more people could muster up the courage to face the painful truth of what is happening in our country and support the great work of those courageous souls--who are not nuts or conspiracy theorists, but evolved, conscious, healthy leaders taking personal risks and sacrifices to elevate our democracy, restore our integrity and ultimately to increase our security on the world stage ... if we let them.
Some Links for Detailed Accounts of Voter Fraud
For a proper psychological understanding of suppression, it is necessary to recognize the quantity and quality of information being suppressed. The extent of fraud and ignorance of it are mind-boggling. Below are some links with detailed information.
TV Networks Officially Refuse to Release Exit Poll Raw Data - By Gary Beckwith, The Columbus Free Press, 22 December 2004
Thom Hartmann in "Dialing for Democracy--Now Is Critical, January 3, 2005
Partial list of incidents reported in the news
Election Issues - Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman
I realize this article is almost a year old, but I just found it in some files I saved to post, and somehow missed this one. Normally, I post as little as possible and then link to the original, but I am afraid it will disappear from the internet, so decided to post the entire article. Sorry about the length, but it is worth it, because this is SO very important. I have deleted some of the links she had at the bottom because they were no longer working.