By Jay Bookman
“Tell the truth.”
From the moment that we become capable of uttering and comprehending a simple sentence, we are taught to tell the truth. Our parents taught us to tell the truth; our teachers taught us to tell the truth; our religious leaders taught us to tell the truth.
Tell the truth, because it’s the right thing to do and because not telling the truth brings consequences. Not telling the truth can end a marriage, it can end a career, it can destroy a reputation and in recent days, as we have all witnessed, it can almost cost us our democracy. Even in America, it turns out that if you create a lie big enough, and if you push that lie shamelessly enough, you can incite thousands of would-be “patriots” to attack the Capitol itself, intent on overturning our constitutional order by force.
Thankfully, that attempted coup did not succeed, and in the wake of its failure, truth is struggling to reassert itself.
“The mob was fed lies,” U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., admitted this week on the Senate floor. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”
Those words were true and welcome, but history cannot forget that in those critical weeks since November, a time in which the lie grew more powerful and dangerous, McConnell had stayed conveniently silent. In situations such as this, silence is itself a form of lying.
Even U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who had personally pushed the lie and had encouraged the coup attempt, even voting to help it succeed, now hopes to find forgiveness in the truth.
“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” as McCarthy belatedly acknowledged on the House floor. He also told the truth about who the insurrectionists had been, and about their motivation.
“Some say the riots were caused by antifa. There is absolutely no evidence of that,” McCarthy said. “Conservatives should be the first to say so.”
But what about those millions who believed those lies, who let themselves get sucked into a mass delusion that almost destroyed our country? Even now, standing in the wreckage of the lie, far too many prefer to believe that the lie still stands, that they were cheated and that the real president is now in exile in Mar-a-Lago.
From the outside, it has been astonishing to witness so many people believing so intensely what all facts, evidence and logic contradicted, but it’s not honest or accurate to pretend that they have all been innocent victims. Yes, they were deceived by politicians and conservative media, but their gullibility was a willful gullibility, a determined gullibility. The most dangerous category of lie is often those that you tell yourself, when you are both con man and mark.
Here in Georgia, Republicans can take some degree of pride in the performance of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, both of whom stood up to immense pressure to tell us the truth, to say point blank and in public that the election had been honest and there had been no fraud and Joe Biden had carried the state.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, while not exactly a gushing font of truth, deserves some credit for playing the same role on the state level that Vice President Pence played on the national level. In a time of crisis, neither Pence nor Kemp proved willing to step outside the bounds of the law and Constitution to give the mob the conclusion it demanded. In the end, that mattered.
Pence, of course, was rewarded by having militant bands of “conservatives” roaming through the Capitol searching for him, demanding his hanging. Kemp too has been targeted, with angry Republicans promising to punish him by defeating him in the 2022 primary. Duncan and Raffensperger, because they have been more forthright, are perhaps even more vulnerable to an intraparty challenge.
But think about it: Why are their fellow Republicans so angry at them? Because they broke party discipline and actually told the truth? Because by telling the truth, they have helped to thwart an intended coup that would have kept an illegitimate, rejected president in power? If these people are to be rejected by today’s Republican Party for actions that American history will celebrate, what does that tell us about the party itself?
“We should never as a party let a person become more important than our party,” says Duncan, advocating the creation of what he calls “GOP 2.0”. “If we don’t move away from the party of Trump, we will continue to lose and we will not be in the White House in 2024.”
That’s the truth. Tell the truth.
Jay Bookman is a columnist for the Georgia Recorder, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this column first appeared.