There’s an old saying about evidence that scientist Carl Sagan was fond of: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
The idea is that when people insist that something is true, even though what that person claims is in contradiction to all of the available data, the burden of evidence rests with the person making the claim against the data – the extraordinary claim.
This weekend, President Elect Donald Trump made an extraordinary claim. Trump claimed that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election, and that because these people voted illegally, Hillary Clinton did not in fact win the popular vote.
The objective fact, measured by county boards of elections across the United States, is that, although Hillary Clinton lost the Electoral College vote, she won the popular vote by an extraordinarily wide margin: 2,332,814 votes.
Late last night, in two angry tweets directed at journalist Jeff Zeleny, President Elect Trump demanded that Zeleny produce concrete evidence that there were NOT millions of secret criminal votes cast against Donald Trump on Election Day. Trump wrote:
“There is NO QUESTION THAT #voterfraud did take place, and in favor of #CorruptHillary!
Pathetic – you have no sufficient evidence that Donald Trump did not suffer from voter fraud, shame! Bad reporter.
just another generic CNN part time wannabe journalist !” @CNN still doesn’t get it. They will never learn!
what PROOF do u have DonaldTrump did not suffer from millions of FRAUD votes? Journalist? Do your job!”
Let’s put aside the juvenile tone of these messages from the President Elect of the United States of America, which is disturbing in its own right. Let’s focus instead on the content.
There is no general question that widespread voter fraud took place, because there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Donald Trump claims there were millions of illegal votes cast, but there are zero sources of hard data that substantiate that claim.
What Donald Trump is asking Jeff Zeleny, and all of America, to believe is that there were millions of people in communities across America that were part of a single conspiracy to rob Donald Trump of a popular vote victory, but were all able to keep this vast conspiracy so secret that there is no evidence of its existence. Trump believes that we should presume that this outlandish claim is true, and that the burden is on journalists to prove that it is not true.
Donald Trump might as well ask us to believe that millions of Americans are actually secret reptiles from outer space, and then demand that journalists provide evidence that the secret reptile extraterrestrial conspiracy is not true.
Most children can understand that the thin and twisted line of logic that Donald Trump is trying to construct is absurd. The inability of the President Elect of the United States to grasp the absurdity of what he is saying raises significant concerns about his mental competence.
The fact that no one in the Trump Transition team is capable of confronting Donald Trump and convincing him not to take action based on wild conspiracy theories would be entertaining, if it weren’t for the fact that in a matter of weeks, Donald Trump will have the power to launch nuclear weapons against people he perceives as his enemies.
The entire world is watching Donald Trump’s unhinged outbursts in horror, not merely at the oafishness of it, but with the realization that soon, Trump will have the power to respond to his paranoid delusions not only with Twitter, but with the full power of the United States federal government, in possession of the most powerful military ever created on Earth.