Me, Tucker Carlson and the Danger to Democracy Posed by False AllegationsRoundup
tags: conservatism, academic freedom, Tucker Carlson, harassment, Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk
Danielle Allen is a political theorist at Harvard University and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. Follow
In an important recent book, “How Democracies Die,” the political scientists Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky argue that healthy democracies depend on two key norms: mutual toleration and institutional forbearance. Mutual toleration involves accepting the legitimacy of one’s opponents, as long as they play by the constitutional rules. Institutional forbearance means refusing to exercise the full extent of a legal right if it’s the morally wrong thing to do or violates the spirit of the law. These two norms are important, and they have been under pressure for some time in our democracy. But Ziblatt and Levitsky missed another important norm: Don’t make unsubstantiated allegations or false accusations.
It’s a standard that is being violated daily by those disputing Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.
This norm is truly fundamental to a rule-of-law system because that system swings an immensely expensive apparatus into operation in response to allegations. Responding to an allegation in court requires the expenditure of public funds, as well as the expense of time, money and energy of the parties. When the allegation is false, it is equivalent to the brazen theft of the victim’s reputation and standing in the community, and the fight to repair the damage can eviscerate that person’s life force. It also diminishes the value and viability of the legal system as a whole, gumming up the works, undermining legitimacy and confidence in the fairness of our system. A healthy legal system requires that we minimize false accusations.
This is why we have penalties for frivolous lawsuits throughout our legal system — state and federal.
President Trump’s challenge to vote counts — communicated mostly through angry tweets and thus-far baseless and specious lawsuits — have been rife with such accusations. This shouldn’t perhaps surprise us from someone who gained much of his rise to prominence by happily inhabiting the role of birther in chief.
More ominously, leading figures on the right have openly abandoned the obvious standard that those who bring allegations should also bring evidence. This is not a recent development.
Let me share a 2017 email exchange between myself and Fox News host Tucker Carlson after he broadcast my face on his television show and permitted his guest, conservative activist Charlie Kirk, to falsely allege that, in my classroom at Harvard, I taught that the rise of Trump was similar to the rise of Hitler. Immediately following that broadcast, I received death threats called into my office phone. I wrote to both Fox News and Carlson requesting a correction. I received none.
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