Association for Improvement tries to dismantle ‘the big lie’
Photo: New York Time.
One of the most pernicious aspects of The Big Lie – that is, former President Donald Trump’s effort to delegitimize the 2020 election through unproven allegations of fraud – is the way it flows downstream. In governor’s mansions, state houses and districts across the country, Republicans continue to drum up electoral fraud against all reason and a dire lack of evidence, primarily as a way to thicken a busy atmosphere in which they seek to claim and reshape politics Power.
This state of affairs is the context and the subject of Association for Improvement, the latest project from famous podcast studio Serial Productions, now owned by New York Time. Arriving with the spicy slogan “A True Story About Election Fraud,” the five-part miniseries follows Zoe Chace from This American life as she digs into rural Bladen County, North Carolina, where she follows a powerful lead. Bladen County, you see, is the site of one of the few instances in modern American history where an honest to goodness case of voter fraud led to the cancellation of a congressional race. However, there is a twist: This particular scandal, which took place in 2018, was actually perpetrated by Republicans.
But Chace’s story only partially relates to the 2018 incident. She was brought to the county because, as these things evolve, there’s a longer story leading up to this point and, more importantly, there are deeper consequences that flow from it. She learns that the scandal took place amid long-standing rumors of electoral fraud in the region. She also learns that these rumors tend not to be about the aforementioned Republican agent, but about a whole different subject: the Bladen County Improvement Association, a black political advocacy group operating in the region. As the 2018 scandal came and went, the conspiratorial air of fraud continued to linger. Many residents of the county say the authorities were wrong and that the real perpetrator was the Improvement Association. It is pertinent to note at this point that the population of tiny Bladen County is predominantly white. That is to say, the air of conspiracy is distinctly racial.
What happens in Association for Improvement Much of it is gumshoe stuff, as we’re involved in Chace’s process as she comes out against these lingering fraud accusations. It’s rich in detail and rabbit holes – thick layers of political history and county dynamics come to the fore. Part of the fun one could get from the trip is listening in awe as Chace works around every corner, thinks through every angle, examines all the possibilities. Leave your suspicions of parachute journalism at the door; it is difficult to make this accusation when the journalist is ready to delve into the densest networks of interrelationships, personal stories and social dynamics.
However, for some, Chace’s hyper-detailed, process-oriented approach can be a source of tension, not to mention frustration. In Association for Improvement, every charge is considered, regardless of its origin and no matter how difficult it is to establish the truth beyond a reasonable (or unreasonable) doubt. You might start to wonder what the point is in all of this, which, in fact, just might be part of what the show is trying to convey. This is an illustration of the old adage about how lies can travel the world and back again while the truth is lacing its boots, and how those who use lies as a weapon have a natural structural advantage in it. no matter what battle. If you are on the side of the truth – no your truth, but the truth – it’s easy to get demoralized.
The series changes gears in its back half, as the narrative focus shifts from tackling electoral fraud stories to combating the consequences of those stories, especially on the Bladen County Improvement Association. It doesn’t really make sense to say that the power of the organization is drastically depleted as a result. Whether or not it is substantiated, the very existence of fraud charges is a landmine, seriously complicating the picture for any Democratic candidate who might want to side with the advocacy group.
But as the series illustrates during this sequence, these are the times when the most important policy choices are made: whether you are the association for improvement, are you pragmatic about the circumstances or are you sticking to it? in principle? It is with this question that Association for ImprovementThe underlying interest of the latter is fully apparent: how do you build political power in the context of the big lie?
I’m not going to beat around the bush here: As you might expect from a Serial Productions project, this show is a cut above most other things in the podcast world. As a seasoned staff member of This American life, Chace has spent years building a substantial body of work focused on the heart of the matter of political actors, be it Jeff Flake or the proud boys. She is interested in the texture of the process and the strategy and the interpersonal dynamics that lead to the creation of power. Politics may be the art of the possible, but it’s also the art of people: knowing what they say they want, what they really want and everything in between. You have a lot of them here.
Still, there is something about Association for Improvement which makes it slightly inert, at least compared to the previous version of Serial Productions Beautiful white parents and the base voter fraud hook, which is about as high as it gets. Part of it might have to do with the dissonance between the explosive nature of how the subject tends to be tossed about in public discourse and the relatively calm manner. Association for Improvement went about his business. Explosiveness, of course, is the exact opposite of what Chace & Co. seems to want here. In many ways, this series is a robust act of defusing, an attempt to cut down on explosive sensationalism in the service of understanding the cool, hard facts of an issue and showing just how toxic The Big Lie can be. silent and mundane. However, that freshness presents issues from a narrative standpoint, exemplified by the way the series ends, which feels abrupt and incomplete.
In the end, all of this is not necessarily a deciding factor. Association for Improvement might end up being the quietest entry in canon Serial Productions to date, but it’s still worth it. In the end, he more or less succeeds in what he has come to do: to show, in precise terms, how allegations of electoral fraud produce specific and lasting effects on political power, and how their militarization contributes to a fundamental undermining of American democracy. That leaves you with a bigger and more existential question: how do you get out from under this rock? This, as Liz Cheney is finding out right now, is still relevant today.