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The Destructive Power of the GOP's Election Lies
Public actions have public consequences, some graver than others
On Day 138 of Ascension Press’s Bible in a Year podcast, host Father Mike Schmitz read 2 Samuel 20, in which David reacts to his son Absalom’s public act of sexually violating 10 of David’s concubines. David puts the concubines in a house under guard and “They were kept in confinement till the day of their death, living as widows” (2 Samuel 20:3).
In his commentary, Fr. Schmitz emphasizes the injustice of David’s decision:
Here are these women who are caught in the crossfire, who are used by these men—first as concubines to David, then as these pawns that Absalom was using to shame David. He used these women to shame David by violating them. They did nothing, nothing wrong, and one of the things we have to realize, if there’s a deeper spiritual lesson in this, is how often others suffer because of our sins. … [The women are] suffering because of Absalom’s sins, and they’re also suffering because of David’s sins.
Schmitz admonishes us over our shared belief that, when we commit evil acts, each and every one of us tend to “think that it just ends with us.”
“It’s just my choice, it’s my personal thing, whatever, my decision.” But how often do others suffer because of my sins? How often do others suffer because of your sins? … That is a hard question to answer, not because it’s hard to imagine where someone might have suffered because of our sins, it’s a hard question to answer because it is hard to face the truth.
On January 2, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) released a joint statement in which he and several other senators announced they intended to reject Electoral College results until an “emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states” was completed. Their reasons for doing so were because of “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud” (emphasis mine) in the 2020 election and the fact that belief in these allegations are “widespread” because a Reuters/Ipsos poll “tragically” showed that 39 percent of Americans believe “the election was rigged.”
The following day, Cruz began to fundraise off his efforts to reject the results:
Over the past few days, I’ve been leading the charge by organizing 10 other Republican Senators to demand Congress conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election results in the states with disputed results. If Congress fails to conduct this emergency audit, I will REJECT the electors from the disputed states on January 6th. … Just like you, I’ve been angered by how we’ve seen election officials act outside of their constitutional authority to rewrite voting laws. It’s why I was eager to join the recent legal efforts in Pennsylvania and Texas. I need your help in this fight to push back against the radical left to get our message out. Please make a generous contribution now to show that you have my back in this fight.
On January 4, Fox News’s Bret Baier asked Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) if “as of January 20th, that President Trump will be president.” Hawley answered, “That depends on what happens on Wednesday” (the day that Congress was scheduled to certify election results). Baier corrected him, saying, “No, it doesn’t.”
A few weeks later, on January 28, Hawley told a local radio station, “I didn’t mislead anybody, I was very careful” (emphasis mine), before correcting course and saying he was “very explicit.”
On January 6, 2021, Representative Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) released a statement explaining her decision to object to certifying Biden’s wins in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In the statement, she asserted that election fraud had occurred in Georgia—but those claims had already been debunked. Indeed, one of her points was that approximately 25 percent of the votes cast in one Georgia county were fraudulent, a claim discredited by a spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (a Republican). Similarly, her claims about election fraud in Michigan had also already been debunked.
Stefanik did vote to certify Biden’s win in Arizona. But in early May, just four months later, Stefanik appeared on former Trump White House advisor Stephen Bannon’s show to say that she “fully” supports Arizona’s election audit, in which Republican state legislators ordered a recount by hand of the 2.1 million votes cast in Maricopa County. She told Bannon, “I fully support the audit in Arizona. We want transparency and answers for the American people. What are the Democrats so afraid of? … We need to fix these election security issues going into the future, and it’s not just Arizona.”
Stefanik recently succeeded Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as the Chair of the House Republican Conference after Cheney was ousted. Cruz and Hawley appear primed for 2024 presidential runs.
On January 6, America’s long and proud tradition of peaceful transition of power was compromised when a mob of pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress was certifying election results. A woman and Air Force veteran was fatally shot by a U.S. Capitol Police officer as she attempted to break into the Speaker’s Lobby. More than 400 people have been charged with federal crimes.
After Senators Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) voted to convict Trump in the impeachment trial that followed the storming of the Capitol, Republicans in their respective states censured them. Liz Cheney was removed from her position as the third-highest House Republican leader after she continued to refute Trump’s persistent claims that he won the election.
The Arizona Senate—with Stefanik’s blessing—hired cybersecurity company Cyber Ninjas to lead an election audit, although it has never worked on election issues before. The “issues” that the auditors are investigating include watermarked ballots (a conspiracy theory that Trump secretly watermarked ballots to prove voter fraud) and traces of bamboo fiber (a conspiracy theory that phony ballots from China may have been mixed in with legitimate ballots).
After the auditors accused Maricopa County of deleting data, and the county responded they were looking in the wrong place, the auditors then announced they’d “recovered” the so-called deleted data. Of the claim (amplified by Trump) that data had been deleted, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer (a Republican) tweeted: “Wow. This is unhinged. ... We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country. This is as readily falsifiable as 2+2=5.”
The Republican-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors—which ran the county’s election process, reviewed the results, and conducted its own audit twice using certified firms—opposed the audit from the beginning and called for its end in May. Board Chairman Jack Sellers (a Republican) described the audit as a “grift disguised as an audit.” Unfortunately, the audit has inspired similar efforts around the country.
Story after story has been written about families torn apart because loved ones fell into conspiracy theories about QAnon and the 2020 election being stolen.
From CNN on February 3:
Ashley Vanderbilt says her four-year-old daughter Emmerson knew “something was wrong with her mom.”
“I wasn’t one hundred percent there like I should have been,” she recalls.
Vanderbilt reflects that she could perhaps have been pulled out of QAnon before inauguration day if Trump himself condemned it.
From HuffPost on February 11:
[19-year-old] Sam’s mom had found a community [QAnon] that not only validated her fear, but also encouraged her anger. “It’s hard. I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I do feel like I’m losing her.”
“She kept saying, ‘Just you wait. Joe Biden won’t be sleeping in the White House. Just you wait.’ She was so confident that it was going to happen,” [26-year-old] Amanda recalled [about her mother]. “When nothing happened, she was embarrassed but moved right along to the next thing.”
From CNN on February 12:
As QAnon has overtaken their lives, Lily’s parents have taken a series of extreme actions. She said they sold their home and moved to a more rural area, bought $7,000 worth of pre-packaged food, and withdrew all the money from their bank accounts, which they now keep under their mattress.
“They’re unrecognizable as the people that I grew up with,” Lily said.
In the past, her parents would often tell her that they were proud of her, she recalls. She was their “dream daughter” who they loved to brag about to their friends.
Now, Lily said her parents see her as “an enemy, a disappointment, a brainwashed student.”
The Reddit forum QAnon Casualties currently has 158,000 members. Its tagline is “Have a friend or loved one taken in by QAnon? Look here for support, resources, and a place to vent.”
On Day 138 of the Bible in a Year podcast, I spent time thinking about Fr. Schmitz’s commentary and how it applies to my own life.
When I later opened Twitter and saw the trending topics, my thoughts turned to Republican politicians. The episode was released on May 18, in the midst of the debate over the January 6 commission and just days after Cheney lost her leadership position.
Reading through the news, I thought about Fr. Schmitz’s words that an individual’s actions may not bear consequences for that individual but for others. I couldn’t help but think of the lies about the 2020 election—and the effect those lies had on others, from families being ripped apart, to Republicans who did tell the truth being punished, to people now consumed by the lies and falling deeper into conspiracy theories, to the attack at the Capitol on January 6, to the damage done to America’s democratic credibility.
And then I thought of the politicians encouraging those lies, politicians like Elise Stefanik and Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, who shamelessly used these lies as an opportunity to advance their own careers. All three were educated at Ivy League institutions and are intelligent enough to understand how to endorse a position or concern without explicitly saying so. They knowingly, intentionally—but in Josh Hawley’s own words, carefully—encouraged Trump’s lie that he actually won the 2020 election and Democrats stole it. Rather than correct the Americans who believe there was substantial fraud, they gave credence to these baseless concerns. Rather than explain the ways election conspiracy theories had been proven false, they exploited them for their own political benefit. Rather than lead, they followed.
Because what’s the risk to them? They believe that encouraging this lie will help rather than harm their own careers. They think they can give lip service to this lie with no consequences, in part because they know there are stronger, more principled Republicans who are willing to stand up and tell the truth. And because they trust others will do the right thing, they don’t think these lies have any consequences.
But they do.
Our Capitol was attacked. People have lost their lives. Others’ lives have been ruined. And those who did behave honorably on January 6, including those who helped protect the very people who incited the mob, now suffer, with some traumatized from the events of that day.
All because of lies.
Because of politicians who had the duty and responsibility to tell the truth but refused to.
Lying about election integrity isn’t limited to Republicans, of course. In 2005, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) objected to Ohio’s 20 electoral votes for George W. Bush in his election victory over John Kerry. And it’s true that after Trump won in 2016, far too many on the left called Trump an illegitimate president, despite his winning more than 270 electoral votes; more than two years after the election, two-thirds of Democrats still believed it was “definitely true” or “probably true” that “Russia tampered with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected.”
But it’s also true that people on the left didn’t break into the Capitol after the 2016 election. They didn’t attempt to intimidate Congress out of certifying election results. They didn’t force Congress to be evacuated and escorted to their own safety.
Those are all things that happened in 2021 as a result of lies. And the consequences continue to this day.
Unfortunately, these lies won’t fade away on their own. Just this past Memorial Day weekend, at the QAnon-affiliated “For God & Country Patriot Roundup” conference, an attendee asked Trump’s first national security adviser Michael Flynn, “I want to know why what happened in Myanmar can’t happen here”—in reference to the Myanmar military coup in which the military overthrew democratically elected politicians. Flynn responded, “No reason. I mean, it should happen here. No reason.” Clearly, Trump and his biggest enablers will continue to push the conspiracy theory that he actually won the election, and the lies will get bigger and more desperate—but it is never too late for GOP leaders to do what is right. Yes, they have shamefully abdicated their responsibility for years. Yes, they have preposterously voted down the formation of a January 6 commission. For far too long they have placed their good standing with Trump and their own careers above the interests of the country. But even now they can still do what is right.
They can admit they shouldn’t have objected to certifying election results. They can declare that Joe Biden won in a free, fair, and secure election and that Donald Trump lost. They can tell their voters that some election fraud does occur but not at a significant level—certainly not the level needed to overturn election results in one state, let alone the multiple states Trump would have needed in order to reach 270 electoral votes. They can apologize for having misled Americans. They can tell the truth.
Or they can continue to let lies about the 2020 election downgrade trust in American democracy and further erode American society.
It is more than a little depressing that we can all guess what they will likely choose.