~ 10 minutes read
Many of us are stumped as to how someone else could see the day’s events so differently, so we at the Narratives Project put together a thought experiment to help bridge this gap. The point of this thought experiment isn’t to change your mind about the validity of the 2020 election or the events of January 6th. Instead, it is to show how rational people can understand the same event so differently.
The Bottom Line: The events of January 6th amounted to an attempted coup, a protest gone wrong, or an unsuccessful attempt to restore democracy depending on whether or not you believe the 2020 election was legitimate.
Note: Your views might not fit neatly into one side or the other — pick the side you’re more sympathetic to.
After reading this, most people are probably thinking something along the lines of, “Sure, if there was definitive proof the other side was right, they’d be acting rationally, and I’d be willing to accept conclusive evidence.”
The current division around January 6th stems from each side believing that there is conclusive evidence supporting their view.
National elections are extraordinarily complex. While there is a correct answer about whether the 2020 election was free and fair, our minds are not truth detectors. We often lead ourselves astray either by giving too much weight to small details or by dismissing key evidence as arbitrary.
To many on the left, court after court ruled that any inconsistencies were negligible or false, and that the 2020 election results are reliable.
To many on the right, rapid changes to voting systems due to COVID-19 led to chaos in vote-counting, and many small irregularities can add up in close elections. We must take all reports about irregularities seriously and investigate them thoroughly.
Part of the issue here is that a set of evidence can feel definitive to one side, but not the other, based on how we weigh different pieces of evidence.
Few people know the exact details of the irregularities flagged by the right, and few know the exact details of why the courts struck down their complaints. If we’re honest with ourselves, essentially no one knows everything about the integrity of the 2020 election. It’s not that we’re all willingly ignorant — it’s that very few of us have the time or energy to comb through all election details in a meaningful way, so we must rely on the people we trust in the media or in power to help us understand such a complicated event.
When we lack a shared understanding of the specifics around the election, we naturally construct narratives around what we think we know to fill in the gaps. Here are a few examples of common narratives around January 6th and the 2020 election:
We chose more absolute stances than these for the thought experiment because understanding the logic behind the position that’s furthest away from your own tends to be the most challenging. But if you take the time to understand that most foreign view, it’s then a simpler task to see the logic of positions closer to you.
And when it comes to preserving peace in the fallout of a contested election, understanding the intentions and motivations of our contra-partisans is critical.
What might not be intuitive is that the desire to save our democracy rests at the core of both sides’ view, as illustrated both in the thought experiment and below:
A new poll from Axios and Momentive found that a mere 55% of those polled accept Joe Biden as having legitimately won the 2020 election, while 26% do not (another 19% are either not sure or did not respond).