The game is over

Storming the Capitol, ignoring the final buzzer


Basketball doesn’t often enter the heart of international intrigue. Our big exception: the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The story is a much-told classic—Wikipedia has a good account—but in a nutshell, the gold medal game between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. ended with a collection of rule oddities (did the officials neglect to award a timeout?) over which the Soviet team raised hell. Ultimately the effect was that with the game on the line, the Soviets inbounded the ball three separate times. The third and final time, a length-of-the-court pass ended in three tall men leaping high to catch the ball. Sergei Belov came down with it, made a layup, and won the gold.

The Americans from that team are still livid. It was a bitter demonstration of a sly way to cheat: Cry injustice, demand do-overs. Basically, re-deal the cards. Extend the game. Keep things uncertain. Deal again. Keep dealing. If at any moment you end up with a full house, stop arguing, lay down the cards, and end the game. 

The referees are there to enforce the rules, but if your approach is good, you can use the referees to cheat. The agents of law and order can help you circumvent law and order. 

That’s what was on my mind as Ted Cruz took the floor of a combined session of the House and Senate on Wednesday. He would contest the results from Arizona in a Constitutionally important moment to certify what was literally, by national vote totals, the biggest vote in American history. Senator Cruz pointed out that a lot of people—he used the number 39 percent, citing a poll—believe the election had been rigged. He explained: “Even if you do not share that conviction, it is the responsibility, I believe, of this office, to acknowledge that is a profound threat to this country, and to the legitimacy of any administrations that will come in the future.”

Cruz’s remedy was to extend the game with a play from 1877, to “appoint an electoral commission to conduct a ten day emergency audit. Consider the evidence and resolve the claims. For those on the democrat aisle who say there is no evidence, they’ve been rejected, they should rest in comfort.”

This is like telling the American basketball team that if they’re the better team, they won’t mind replaying those last few seconds once again. He was indignant that he was on the side of being fair and right. “I would urge my colleagues,” he said near the end of his five minutes, “don’t take perhaps the easy path. But instead act together. Astonish the viewers and act in a bipartisan sense to say we will have a fair and credible tribunal. Consider the claims, consider the facts, consider the evidence and make a conclusive determination whether and to what extent this election complied with the Constitution and the Federal Law.”

Then it was Senator Amy Klobuchar’s turn to speak. Her point? The game has been over for a while. The final buzzer has already sounded, and Senator Cruz knows it. 

He knows president elect Biden won more votes than any President in history and more than seven million more votes than President Trump. Despite the unfounded conspiracy theories Senator Cruz touts, he knows that high-ranking officials in President Trump’s own Homeland Security department have concluded the 2020 election was, quote, “the most secure in American history,” and if he wants to improve the numbers in his own party, he just mentioned people believing in our elections, maybe he should start consulting with them. 

Or maybe he should start consulting with former Attorney General Barr who said that he has found no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. We don’t have to go back to 1877, my colleagues. Senator Cruz knows that 80 judges, including conservative judges, including judges confirmed in this chamber, nominated by President Trump, have thrown out these lawsuits, calling them baseless, inadequate, and contrary both to the plain meaning of the Constitutional text and common sense. 

And he knows that all 10 living defense secretaries, including both of Trump’s defense secretaries—Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, William Cohen—he knows that all of these leaders have come together to say that these scurrilous attacks on our democracy must stop and we must allow for a peaceful transition of power. … 

[Biden] won the state by 10,457 votes. On November 30, after Arizona’s Republican governor, the secretary of state, the attorney general, and the conservative chief justice of the Arizona supreme court certified the results of the election, the governor actually said “we do elections well here in Arizona, the system is strong.” 

Eight post-election lawsuits brought in Arizona to challenge the results were dismissed by judges. Nine members of the House from Arizona were elected in the same election, including four Republicans, and colleagues I did not see Senator Cruz over at their swearing in in the House of Representatives last Sunday asking for an audit. He did not stop their swearing in because there was no fraud. And he did not ask for an audit because we had a fair election. 

Any game without a hard ending can quickly become unfair.

Here’s a surprise: Did you know that our sense of fairness comes from sports? There’s compelling evidence in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s book “Top Dog.” I spoke to Merryman about it during the pandemic, and she noted that our vocabulary of fairness almost all comes straight from games. Hitting below the belt, level playing field, playing by the rules. Bronson and Merryman cite the work of Bryn Mawr sociologist Robert Washington, who finds that the 1919 White Sox Scandal changed the world far beyond sports. First it led baseball owners to appoint a commissioner to ensure the game was played fairly, they write: “Over time, Washington argues, people start wondering why other institutions aren’t as transparent as sports events. They start asking why box scores aren’t as widely available and easily understood for CEOs, companies, and government officials.”

Ahh, now it’s starting to feel relevant. On TrueHoop we’ve written a lot about cheating, real and imagined. Money shuffled around offshore to avoid taxes or gain influence, and into and out of senators’ bank accounts with incredibly lucky timing. Billionaire NBA owners with business ties to Russian oligarchs and uncomfortably close to Jeffrey Epstein. Doping, election interference, and police almost who never get in real trouble for killing Black people. It’s a cinch to feel the game is rigged, it’s easy to imagine it’s happening even where it isn’t. One of the flags flying above Trump’s mob today was a giant Q, for the QAnon conspiracy theory that blossoms in a world where regular people are so frequently proved right when they suspect powerbrokers aren’t acting on the level.

The trick in all that is to sort out what’s really fair and square. And all evidence suggests this election was exactly that.

Garry Kasparov is a chess grandmaster, who has long analyzed the moves of Vladimir Putin. He sees what’s happening as a certain kind of game, to get us all to stop believing in the referees. He’s having a lot of success. Let’s hope this game has a clean ending.

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