When I was a freshman in college one of our dorm mates was an Iranian student named Haisam. I’m not sure about the spelling, but I do remember his name was pronounced hay-SOOM, because one of my other dorm mates used to like saying it – hay-SOOM! – and a Google search for that pronunciation came up with Haisam. So for our purposes, these 42 years later, we’re going with Haisam.
I always figured Haisam was a rich kid since he was sent way over to the University of South Carolina to study. But he was a good dude – nice, laid back, smart, friendly. He’d come hang out in our dorm room with four or five other lads and we’d listen to music, wreck our brains with beer (and other things), talk about whatever floated into the ether. Sometimes music, sometimes school, sometimes girls, sometimes politics.
One thing I’ll always remember is that Haisam started spending a lot of time on the phone, talking with his people back in Iran. These phone chats became more frequent and more anxious-sounding as the weeks passed. This was during a period of upheaval in Iran. The Iranian revolution against the Shah had started during the fall of 1977, and by the spring semester of 1978 the protests had picked up even more steam.
Haisam spoke in Persian over the phone, so I couldn’t understand a word he said. But his voice held an urgency that was unmistakable in any language. You could tell he was concerned about whatever was coming from the other end of the line. I thought then, and think now, that Haisam’s family was somehow in the crossfire of the discord back home.
Well, we all know what ended up happening. A year-and-a-half later the Shah of Iran was overthrown, the Ayatollah Khomeini was installed as Iran’s supreme leader, and the country was turned upside down.
I don’t know what happened to Haisam and his family. My gut feeling is that his family was a member of the elite because Haisam obviously had money. I imagine things didn’t turn out any better for Iran’s elite than they do for any other elite classes when a revolution takes place. They probably had their assets seized. They probably had to flee. I have no idea whether Haisam’s family was like any other normal family, or part of whatever problem the revolutionaries were so angry about. But I’ve thought about him often in the years since, and the memory of those urgent phone calls are permanently seared in my brain.
Now, all these decades later, I’m living abroad and my own country is in turmoil. Last week the U.S. presidential election was held. At the end of election day, Nov. 3, nobody knew who had won because so many mail-in ballots still needed to be counted in so many states. The 2020 election had a historically high number of mail-in ballots because many voters, wary of big crowds in this year of COVID-19, chose to mail their votes in rather than go to polling locations.
By the next day, the picture became clearer. Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger to the president, appeared to take the lead in crucial states. A few days later, he was declared the winner, based on the tallies.
In any normal year, with a normal president and Congress, the result would have been accepted. The president would graciously concede, say a few words about the need for everyone to come together, and begin the process of transitioning to the next administration. This is the way it has always happened in the U.S., for 230 years. Every single election.
Except the current president, being a self-centered madman, has refused to accept the results. He has spent the last week ranting on Twitter and elsewhere about fraudulent ballots, a stolen election. Actually, he began ranting about this weeks before the election was even held. But now he has stepped up his rhetoric, refusing to concede that he lost. He has his legal team turning over various stones in various states, looking for malfeasance, looking for fraud. So far they’ve come up with zilch.
But that hasn’t stopped the president and his lackeys from continuing to advance the narrative that the election – which he apparently lost by some 4 million popular votes and probably close to 100 electoral votes – was rigged against him.
Nobody smart or honest actually believes this. The kind of fraud he’s talking about is simply unprecedented, and probably mathematically impossible. Millions of fraudulent votes? You’d need hundreds of evil cheaters cranking out fake ballots round the clock for weeks and weeks at a time just to hit the numbers, as my astute brother-in-law pointed out to me in a text message (BTW, he’s the only one I’ve ever seen solve the Rubik’s Cube).
Despite all the allegations of fraud and cheating, there hasn’t been a single shred of evidence produced that would change the election results. If this were a trial in a court of law, the judge would have thrown it out by now.
But never mind all that. The president keeps ranting about it, his lackeys keep defending him, and his base of supporters just accept it as perfectly sound. They take it on faith that the election really could be rigged, despite historical precedence, despite the seeming impossibility of it, despite all evidence to the contrary.
And “faith” is the key word here. We seem to be careening into an Age of Faith and out of the Age of Reason, where facts don’t matter, and science doesn’t matter, and math and logic don’t matter. Not only do these things not matter – they are the enemy, the devil incarnate, not to be trusted. You can believe what you want to believe, and if you believe it enough, it becomes truth. If you tell me different, a pox on you.
This is scary territory. When you begin the process of denying facts, you are teetering very close to the edge of the Dark Ages. I don’t think I’m overreacting here, though I hope I am.
Today I actually thought about the worst-case scenario: that the president refuses to leave office, that his party supports him, that tens of millions of Americans also support him, and that the United States of America has a genuine crisis on its hands. I began to entertain thoughts of what might happen to our assets back in the States, and whether a coup might make everyone fair game for asset seizure.
I really thought this. For a brief moment, I joined the ranks of the truly paranoid.
I’ve tried and failed to avoid political content on this blog. I’ve tried and failed to avoid it on social media. Political content only contributes to fractures with people I care about, and who care about me.
But I can’t be silent anymore. What’s happening now borders on evil – taking a free and open election and soiling it with lies, to suit selfish purposes, in a raw attempt to hold onto power, with no consideration of the permanent damage that might be caused. To those who are playing along with this, all I can say is: You know who you are. And you should be ashamed.
I still remember the urgency and panic in Haisam’s voice all those decades ago. Now I’m afraid I know exactly how he felt.