Our democracy cannot heal from last week’s insurrection, let alone block further violence from far-right terrorists, unless Republicans stand with Democrats to refute President Donald Trump’s Big Lie.
Trump’s whopper — that the election was stolen via massive fraud — is the reason tens of thousands of his fans swarmed Washington, D.C., last week.
Amplified by the president’s incitement at his pre-insurrection rally, that lie drove rioters to storm the U.S. Capitol. But for luck, it could have led to the deaths of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence.
And if pro-Trump terrorists kill anyone at the inauguration, or at state capitols — as the FBI warns of a real and present danger — the blame will not lie only with a traitorous president. Blood will stain the hands of Republican leaders who refuse to tell their base that Trump lost the election fair and square.
No surprise, Trump insisted on Tuesday that his rally rhetoric was “totally appropriate.” Only his ban from Twitter prevents him from easily mobilizing followers to further sedition (which is why Twitter shut him down).
Yet, with a few courageous exceptions, Republicans are unwilling to tell the truth to their voters. Unless Trump is permanently banned from office (via an impeachment conviction) or publicly shamed by GOP leaders, he will continue to promote this traitorous myth to his base.
Although many Republicans condemn the terrorists’ attack on the Capitol, most GOP legislators won’t debunk the Big Lie in public. They refuse to recognize that a democracy cannot properly function if a huge chunk of its population believes the election was rigged, and that far-right terrorists are patriots.
Republican claims that they must pay attention to concerns of the base about a stolen election miss the point entirely. GOP voters have those concerns because Trump conned them with his Big Lie.
“The best way we can show respect for the voters is by telling them the truth,” Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said bluntly the evening of Jan. 6 — with legislators still reeling from the horror of the invasion. “The truth is that President-elect Biden won.” He begged Republicans that evening to join a unanimous vote to confirm the Electoral College results. Yet, 147 GOP legislators, led by Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, voted against.
Frustration over the Republican Party’s aversion to truth has driven Democrats to embrace a second impeachment, even though they know conviction is unlikely, and a belated trial may consume President-elect Joe Biden’s important first days in office. Republican leaders haven’t even offered a tough censure measure that would debunk Trump’s election lies — and cite his responsibility for the Capitol attack.
GOP leaders (except the brain dead) know Biden won fairly, know that 61 out of 62 court cases brought by Trump lawyers were thrown out because the lawyers had no evidence. They have heard the phone recording of Trump trying to strong-arm Georgia election officials. They know Trump incited the mob at the Capitol to go after the vice president if Pence wouldn’t overturn the election — unconstitutionally — even as rioters were screaming “Hang Mike Pence.”
Yet, Pence still refuses to invoke the 25th Amendment, even though Trump betrayed him. And GOP legislators at House Rules Committee hearings Tuesday, on a bill to urge Pence to do so, had the gall to accuse Democrats of dividing the country.
“If we want to talk about healing,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., “we have to talk about truth.” He then addressed Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, to whom Trump just awarded the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom after Jordan voted against certification the night of the insurrection. McGovern asked Jordan if he would now “say the election was not stolen and Joe Biden won fair and square — and put it on Twitter.”
What is so dangerous about this GOP myopia is what it portends for America’s future. If a president can try to overturn election results with political pressure and force, he shatters the most basic principle of our political structure. Especially if he retains strong GOP support in Congress after he steps down — and gets off scot-free.
Unchecked, the Big Lie will eat at our democracy like a cancer. “A lot of people buy into his conspiracy theories,” former Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Charlie Dent told me. “He has poisoned political discourse, and threatens the continuity of our institutions.”
This time, key institutions held under pressure. The courts threw out frivolous cases, unlike, say, in Poland or where a populist government is restricting judicial freedom. Republican officials such as Georgia’s governor and secretary of state refused to buckle to Trump’s threats, unlike in Russia where the Kremlin recently seized the independent-minded governor of Khabarovsk and charged him with murder.
But we got off lucky this time. President Trump’s effort to provoke a coup was clumsy, his shock troops insufficiently organized. Just imagine what would have happened if the Proud Boys or QAnon nuts had come with automatic weapons.
Worse could happen next week, or after. If it does, those Republicans too timid to debunk the Big Lie — along with the leader who promotes it — will have blood on their hands.
© 2021 The Philadelphia Inquirer