Banning the Big Lie
Couy Griffin is no longer a county official in New Mexico. That’s because he failed the most basic qualification for an elected representative in a democracy: He participated in an insurrection to try to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after his candidate, Donald Trump, lost the 2020 presidential election. He was among those who broke through police barricades to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Reaching back to Civil War-era constitutional amendments used to bar Confederates from political office, Judge Francis J. Mathew removed Griffin from the Oteo County Commission earlier this week. That’s as it should be. The U.S. Constitution is quite clear that no person may hold any office, “civil or military,” who has committed “rebellion or insurrection.”
Yet, a full-throated chorus of right-wing election-deniers is vying for important offices in the November elections. That includes Republican nominees for governor in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as those for secretary of state in Arizona, Michigan and Nevada. They may not yet have been convicted of rebelling against the Constitution, but they seem fully prepared to do so if democratic practices don’t favor them.
It doesn’t take a historian or a political scientist or a professor of constitutional law to see that our democracy is in serious trouble. The evidence is everywhere. After all, honoring the results of a free and fair election — whether your candidate wins or loses — is one of the hallmarks of a vibrant democracy. But too many Republicans, including some who hold seats in Congress, are ready to overthrow an election if they don’t get the result they want.
Indeed, many of them are still angry that President Joe Biden had the temerity to call them out in a powerful speech earlier this month. Assailing Donald Trump and the toadies who repeat his Big Lie as “MAGA Republicans,” Biden rightfully pointed out that they “represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”
That hardly inspired a reckoning among high-ranking Republicans or their donors. They didn’t initiate a strategy to force their candidates to commit to the principals embedded in the U.S. Constitution. They didn’t publicly renounce those who continue to insist that Biden stole the election.
Instead, they proceeded to prove the president’s point. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fl.) tweeted that Biden is a “raving lunatic.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy insisted that Biden “has chosen to divide, demean, and disparage his fellow Americans.” Several prominent Republicans claimed that Biden had insulted half the country, even though he took pains to criticize only those who don’t support democratic values. And they deserve every insult.
While Trump’s defeat unleashed the most visible — and most violent — of the anti-democratic forces, the reactionary tilt of the Republican Party has its roots in ultra-conservative grievances that go back for generations. Since the 1960s, the GOP has pandered to whites angered by the prospect of living in a nation in which full equality is more than just a slogan.
The United States wasn’t really a democracy until the civil rights movement, when black men and women and their allies marched and protested and demonstrated and resisted until Lyndon Johnson pushed the Voting Rights Act through Congress. That empowered not only black Americans but also other marginalized citizens, including Latinos and Native Americans, who used their vote to change policies at the state and national levels.
Though that’s the way that democracy is supposed to work, the prospect of sharing power with people of color has only made the GOP’s aging white constituency angrier, more frustrated, more alienated. So Republican leaders have increasingly made it more difficult for people of color to vote.
It’s no accident that Senate Republicans refused to pass a bill this year that would have made it easier for citizens to vote. They don’t support a vibrant democracy because they might lose power.
In his speech, Biden sounded themes of optimism, predicting that “we’ll come together as a nation that will secure our democracy.” I hope he’s right. But I fear there are more Couy Griffins waiting in the wings.