A Simple Question

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

It was a simple question: “Do you think the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump?”

A simple question demanding a simple yes or no answer from Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-ranking House Republican. A simple answer Scalise could not or would not give. Hard as Fox News host Chris Wallace tried, Scalise refused to answer the question. 

Scalise’s repeated dodge demonstrated, once again, the cowardice of Republican politicians in 2021 who do not dare to contradict Trump. The defeated candidate, who lost by more than seven-million votes, continues to insist he won. And, if he insists, so must every other Republican, save the few with the courage to speak the truth.

What Scalise did in the interview with Wallace was arguably more dangerous than flat out contending the election was stolen. He hid behind a debatable constitutional argument that some states failed to follow their own laws governing presidential elections. “It’s states that did not follow the laws set which the Constitution says they are supposed to follow,” Scalise argued. “That is what the United States Constitution says. They don’t say the states determine what the rules are. They say the state legislatures determine the rules.” 

Scalise engaged in a rhetorical trick that allows a politician to have it both ways. In the future, he can deny he ever said the election was stolen while, for now, suggesting to the blindly loyal Trump faithful that election “irregularities” render the actual results suspect. While sidling around the truth, Scalise stays in the good graces of the Grand Poobah of Mar-a-Lago without ever actually make a claim he must know is not true. 

Revealingly, Scalise never detailed what laws were broken. He probably did not want to specify because courts around the country have ruled against Republican politicians who have made the dubious claim that the Constitution was not followed. Judges from both parties, some appointed by the defeated candidate himself, have rejected suits contesting the election results. The argument Scalise lamely advanced rests on the notion that the Constitution gives the power to administer elections to state legislatures. The Republican contention is that accommodations instituted during the pandemic — such as expanded mail-in voting — were invalid because they were instituted by governors, election officials, and judges. 

The constitutional arguments matter little to those who cannot believe or refuse to believeTrump lost. That is why Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of the few Republicans to stand up to Trump, immediately attacked Scalise on Twitter. “Millions of Americans,” Cheney tweeted, “have been sold a fraud that the election was stolen. Republicans have a duty to tell the American people that this is not true. Perpetuating the Big Lie is an attack on the core of our constitutional republic.” 

Scalise and others — like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley who stood silently on a stage with Trump Saturday night while the former president repeated the Big Lie — are playing with fire. America is at a crossroads, with Republicans and Democrats deeply distrustful of each other, and millions, from both parties, ready to break the United States in two. A poll conducted over the summer by the University of Virginia Center for Politics found that 52 percent of Trump voters agreed with the proposition that the “situation in America is such that I would favor [Blue/Red] states seceding from the union to form their own separate country.” Approximately 41 percent of Biden voters gave the same answer. We must not ignore these numbers. 

Secession was tried once before. It resulted in the deaths of more than 750,000 Americans during the Civil War. That conflagration was touched off when 11 states, all from one region of the nation, seceded in order to preserve the institution of slavery. Secession this time, as contemplated by nearly half of the electorate, would involve reliably red states — Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, and so on — forming one nation, and overwhelmingly blue states— California, New York, Illinois, and several others presumably — coalescing into another country.

What would happen to the minority of blue voters in red Mississippi? Or, red voters in California? Would this be like the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, with millions of Muslims living in what became India fleeing to Pakistan, and Hindus in the lands designated as Pakistan escaping the other way, with millions killed in the population exchange? Would people have to abandon their property and businesses without compensation as they flee? Would that be followed by a political cleansing of those who did not make it across borders? And, what would happen in evenly divided purple states, such as Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania? Would referenda determine their fate? Who would trust the results of such elections?

These are not idle questions. Barring a jail term (we can hope, can we not?), Donald Trump is going to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. He is hugely popular among Republicans, he has a massive war chest, and everyone knows he will not accept anything but victory. Make no mistake about it, the continual chorus citing a stolen election is more about the next election than the last one. Trump and his docile minions keep repeating the lie about the “stolen” 2020 election because they want to condition their followers to disbelieve the results of the next election.

Republican legislatures throughout the country are changing election laws in ways that not only suppress the votes of those who oppose them but also give Republican politicians the power to nullify and alter the results. When that happens — and it is a real possibility — then an election will truly be stolen.

This is why cowardly politicians like Scalise are dangerous. They are perpetuating a lie about a stolen election that in turn gives ammunition to other politicians to change the rules so that Republicans can guarantee the results of the next election.

At that point, democracy is dead, the Constitution in tatters, and civil war the only alternative. 

Representative Scalise, it is a simple question. Give the simple answer next time!

Posted October 12, 2021

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