Archived Opinion

Democracy in danger

Democracy in danger

You don’t need an invading army to destroy a democracy, as Russia is attempting to do to Ukraine.

It can be pulled off with internal subversion, as Donald Trump and his congressional accomplices tried to do on Jan. 6, 2021. And they will surely try again, if we let them.

The symmetry is illustrated beautifully by the announcement of the five winners, more than usual, of the 2022 John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage” Award.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is one of them. It’s a choice that should thrill everyone who isn’t named Vladimir Putin, Tucker Carlson or Madison Cawthorn.

The other winners are American: Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo; Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson; Russell “Rusty” Bowers, Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives; and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, an election worker in Fulton County, Georgia.

“These honorees have placed their careers and lives on the line to protect democratic principles and free and fair elections,” explained the announcement from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

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Benson and Moss are election officials who have suffered relentless personal attacks, including death threats that forced Moss into hiding, for defending the integrity of the election. Bowers, a Republican, refused despite heavy pressure to go along with the Arizona Senate’s farcical “audit” of Maricopa County returns and has resisted continuing schemes to revoke the state’s certification of Biden electors. 

Cheney’s merits, as a leading member of the House’s Jan. 6 committee, are striking in how they illuminate by contrast the pusillanimity of most other Republicans including minority leaders Mitch McConnell in the Senate and Kevin McCarthy in the House.     

As it has now come out, at first those two furiously — and correctly — blamed Trump for the attack on the Capitol, which was intended to thwart the electoral vote count and keep a tyrant in the White House. They even talked about telling him to resign in the face of impeachment, as Sen. Barry Goldwater said to Richard Nixon in 1974. 

But their courage morphed quickly into cringing and kowtowing. They would be hands-down winners of a Profile in Cowardice award, if there were such a thing. Both made sure there would be no joint commission to investigate the subversion. When the House set up its own committee, McCarthy did everything he could to neuter it.  

McConnell did vote on Jan. 6, at least, to reject Trump’s challenges to Biden electors from Pennsylvania and Arizona. But McCarthy threw in with the subversive conspiracy, as did Cawthorn and most other House Republicans. That made every one of them an accomplice in the plot to subvert the government. They were faithless to the Constitution and to their oaths to protect it. 

None belongs in Congress any longer, but if the Republicans take back the House, McCarthy — or someone even worse — will be Speaker. 

From my vantage point as an occasional election worker in North Carolina, it is impossible to rig an American election in the ways that Trump’s false claims insist. There are now too many safeguards, too many crosschecks against ballots being lost, discarded or miscounted. 

There are cases — but far too few to make a difference — of people voting twice or where they’re ineligible. However, every instance has a paper trail that leads straight to a potential criminal charge. Mark Meadows now knows something about that.

It is karma writ large that Meadows, the former District 11 congressman and Trump henchman who’s been a shrill voice about election fraud, seems to have committed election fraud himself.    

The continuing Republican attempts to disparage the election are perpetuating the subversion by nonviolent means. Democratic government depends on the trust of the public. Already a majority of Republicans disbelieve that Biden’s presidency is legitimate, a canard that doubtlessly and unfairly contributes to his poor popularity polling. 

Disclosures from the Jan. 6 committee, filed in court to try to compel testimony from Meadows, who was Trump’s gatekeeper, now reveal that he was credibly warned that the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally would turn violent and that there was no legal or factual basis for rejecting Biden electors instead of counting them. The New York Times has reported how some others who plotted to do that changed their minds as it became clear there was no valid proof of material election fraud.

“If we substitute the will of states through electors with a vote by Congress every 4 years, we have destroyed the electoral college,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, wrote to Meadows.

Most of the North Carolina Republicans voted to do just that, including Cawthorn and Rep. Ted Budd, who has Trump’s endorsement in the Republican Senate primary. But Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr broke with the pack. So did Rep. Pat McHenry. They voted to let democracy live another day.  

Whether it will outlive the ensuing elections is up to us. 

(Martin A. Dyckman is a former journalist now residing in Western North Carolina. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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