Commentary

The Big Lie is undermining our democracy. Both parties need to to defeat it | Bruce Ledewitz

Americans are legitimately worried about the future of democracy

January 19, 2022 6:30 am

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

When former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart announced that she is running for the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania governor, she was asked in an interview about allegations of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Hart responded, “The backward thinking that you’re asking me to do is really not part of my campaign.”

Bruce Ledewitz (Capital-Star file)

Hart was pointing to a divide between Republicans and Democrats not only over the 2020 election, but the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and former President Donald Trump’s role in fomenting the attack. Republicans like Hart say that America should be looking forward, not backward.

That is why no Republican senators and only one Republican representative in the U.S. House attended the formal observances in Washington on the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6.

That is also why only two Republicans in the House voted to establish the special legislative committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack and most Republicans are not cooperating with it.

I share Hart’s misgivings about the Democratic Party’s obsession with investigating the Jan. 6 attack. The mob of violent misfits who invaded the Capitol that day were not actually going to stop the acceptance of the presidential electors.

And there cannot be any question that former President Donald Trump incited them to go to the Capitol, since his remarks to the crowd before the attack were publicly delivered. Other than some fringe elements on the right who still maintain that the whole event was staged by the government or by left-wing Antifa elements, we all already know what happened on Jan. 6.

But if the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is past, the reason why the protestors were there is not in the past. They were there, as Trump said in his remarks, to “stop the steal” of the 2020 presidential election.

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To this day, only 20% of Republicans say that Joe Biden was legitimately elected President and most of those denying Biden’s election still point to imaginary vote fraud—counting invalid ballots, absentee ballots from dead people, ineligible voters, and destroyed Trump ballots — as the reason they think so.

Republicans also cite changed voting rules that aided Biden, such as the infamous three-day extension to accept mail-in ballots engineered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But even though there were some controversial state law changes, there is no reason to think that these actions affected the outcome of the Presidential election.

The belief in the Big Lie of the stolen election is not past. It continues to poison American politics today.

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When the New York Times recently convened two focus groups to talk about the events of Jan. 6—Democrats in one group and Republicans in the other—6 of the 8 Republicans raised their hands when asked if “Trump really won the election.”

Americans are legitimately worried about the future of democracy. But our democracy was not threatened by the attack on the Capitol. That was merely an embarrassment of insufficient security preparations.

Our democracy is threatened, however, when millions of Americans honestly believe that elections are fraudulent. If fraud in the 2020 election took place and was never discovered, then state legislators are justified in taking control of election machinery and even substituting their own judgment of who won a Presidential vote instead of accepting the reported result. Efforts to do exactly these things are ongoing in several states where Republicans have majority control.

For that matter, if a criminal conspiracy has fraudulently taken over the federal government, then a coup, even a military coup, would be a justified response. The army should arrest Joe Biden, and the other Democrats who engineered the fraud, and hold new elections.

So, while Hart may be right that we should concentrate on current conditions and not rake up the past, one of those current conditions is whether Biden should remain in the White House. Hart, and all other Republicans running for office, owe it to the future of American democracy either to endorse the view of the Republican base that Biden is not legitimately President—and presumably then present some evidence—or educate Republican voters in the truth—that Biden won the election fair and square.

Hart may be following the lead of Virginia’s new Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin. During the Republican primary, Youngkin refused to say that Biden had been legitimately elected, only to pivot as soon as he won the primary, by then saying, “of course” Biden won.

If that is Hart’s plan, it is shameful and irresponsible.

Of course, Hart is not the worst offender. Another GOP candidate for Governor, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, used campaign funds to charter buses to take people to the Jan. 6 rally and was himself at the Capitol until, he says, it was clear that the event was no longer peaceful. Mastriano has never repudiated the big lie of the stolen election.

Nor should the blame for this terrible state of affairs be placed solely on Republican leaders. The House special committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 is not confronting the big lie, except to denounce it, as Biden did in his remarks on the commemoration of the attack. Democrats should be trying to convince doubters of the fairness of the 2020 election.

The reason that Democrats are not doing so is that they do not actually want to confront all of the Republican allegations concerning the 2020 election.

When pressed, Republican leaders do not always claim that there was miscounting of votes or rigged voting machines. They also assert, as U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, the House’s second-ranking Republican, did on Fox News Sunday in October, that the election should not have been certified by Congress because “a number of states, they didn’t follow their state-passed laws that govern the election for president.”

Democrats do not want to confront this allegation because, although it also is false—a majority of the Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court voiced concerns about this before the election, but did not reverse any state-court decisions on this basis—there is a grain of truth in it. Democrats do not want to talk about the Pennsylvania Supreme Court three-day extension or changes in state law in other states.

By failing to acknowledge legitimate concerns about the 2020 election, Democrats are also acting irresponsibly. Americans need to have full confidence in our elections. Both political parties have an obligation to ensure that this is the case. Neither party today is doing so.

Opinion contributor Bruce Ledewitz teaches constitutional law at Duquesne University Law School in Pittsburgh. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Listen to his podcast, “Bends Toward Justice” hereHis latest book, “The Universe Is On Our Side: Restoring Faith in American Public Life,” is out now. His opinions do not represent the position of Duquesne University Law School.

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