I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I didn’t want to write again about the House Republicans ousting Liz Cheney from their leadership for calling out Donald Trump’s Big Lie. I was going to make this my week for happy news. But to write about anything else on the verge of Trump’s G.O.P. moving to formally freeze out Cheney would be like writing a column about the weather the day after Watergate exploded or about Ford Theater’s architecture after Lincoln was shot. This is a big moment in American history.
One of America’s two major parties is about to make embracing a huge lie about the integrity of our elections — the core engine of our democracy — a litmus test for leadership in that party, if not future candidacy at the local, state and national levels.
In effect, the Trump G.O.P. has declared that winning the next elections for the House, Senate and presidency is so crucial — and Trump’s ability to energize its base so irreplaceable — that it justifies both accepting his Big Lie about the 2020 election and leveraging that lie to impose new voter-suppression laws and changes in the rules of who can certify elections in order to lock in minority rule for Republicans if need be.
It is hard to accept that this is happening in today’s America, but it is.
If House Republicans follow through on their plan to replace Cheney, it will not constitute the end of American democracy as we’ve known it, but there is a real possibility we’ll look back on May 12, 2021, as the beginning of the end — unless enough principled Republicans can be persuaded to engineer an immediate, radical course correction in their party.
If someone tried a dishonest power play at the P.T.A. of your child’s school like the one in the House, you’d be on the phone in a flash, organizing the other parents to immediately denounce and stop it. If you read about something like this happening in another pillar of democracy, like Britain or France, you’d be sick to your stomach and feel like the world was a little less safe. If you heard that a banana republic dictator had forced such a Big Lie on his sham parliament, you’d want to picket his embassy in Washington.
But this is us — today, right now. And I fear that we’ve so defined down political deviance in the Trump years that we’ve lost the appropriate, drop-everything, Defcon 1, man-the-battle-stations sense of alarm that should greet the G.O.P. crossing such a redline.
“It just bothers me that you have to swear fealty to the ‘Dear Leader’ or you get kicked out of the party,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican, said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
But it doesn’t end there. We’re witnessing a daylight mugging of our democracy — and I am not talking only about the voter-suppression measures being passed by Republican-controlled legislatures in swing states.
There are also the new laws to enable Republican legislatures to legally manipulate the administration and counting of the votes in their states. Election expert Rick Hasen explained it all in an essay in this newspaper last month: “At stake is something I never expected to worry about in the United States: the integrity of the vote count. The danger of manipulated election results looms.”
We’re talking about new regulations like the Georgia law that removed the secretary of state from decision-making power on the State Election Board, clearly aimed to curb the powers of the current secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, after he rejected Trump’s request that he “find” 11,780 votes to undo Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia. We’re talking about Arizona’s Republican-led State Senate hiring a company owned by an advocate of the “Stop the Steal” movement to examine the November ballots from Maricopa County. And much more.
According to a new report by Protect Democracy, Law Forward and the States United Democracy Center, “Across the country, state legislators are proposing bills that would give partisan state legislators greater control over elections while hamstringing experienced state and local election administrators who have traditionally run our voting systems. …
“Many of the bills would make elections more difficult to administer or even unworkable; make it more difficult to finalize election results; allow for election interference and manipulation by hyperpartisan actors; and, in the worst cases, allow state legislatures to overturn the will of the voters and precipitate a democracy crisis.”
Had these bills been in place in 2020, it added, “they would have … raised the prospect that the outcome of the election would have been contrary to the popular vote.”
As Stanford University democracy expert Larry Diamond summed it all up to me, while we’re focusing on Liz Cheney and the 2020 elections, Trump’s minions at the state level “are focused on giving themselves the power to legally get away with in 2024 what the courts would not let them get away with in 2020.”
You tell me how American democracy will ever be the same again and how these people can be trusted to cede power the next time they win the White House.
And while you’re at it, tell me how America can ever again be a credible observer and upholder of democratic elections around the world — so vital to our national security and the hopes and dreams of democrats in all these countries who look to America as a beacon of democracy and the rule of law. The next time we want to question election results in Russia or Iran or Poland or Hungary, what do you suppose their elected autocrats will say?
They’ll say: “Listen to you? Your Republican Party turned a blind eye to a guy who told the biggest election lie in the history of the Milky Way Galaxy. And it wasn’t even in the service of some urgent, compelling policy. It was just so he could stay in power, salve his ego and deny he lost.”
So, thank you, Liz Cheney, for doing something vitally important and clarifying — something that only a conservative Republican like you could do: force the G.O.P. at every level to choose whether to stand with Trump and his Big Lie or with the Constitution and the most important conservative principle of all — reverence for the rule of law.
Because, if Trump and friends are not stopped, one day they will get where they are going: They will lock in minority rule in America. And when that happens, both Democrats and principled Republicans will take to the streets, and you can call it whatever you like, but it is going to feel like a new civil war.
I don’t use that term lightly or accidentally. We are all the product of our life experiences, and my first reporting experience was living inside the Lebanese civil war in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
I saw close up what happens when democratically elected politicians think that they can endlessly abuse their institutions, cross redlines, weaken their judiciary and buy reporters and television stations — so that there is no truth, only versions, of every story. And they think that they can do it endlessly — cheat just one more time, break one more rule, buy one more vote — and the system will hold until they can take it over and own it for their own purposes.
Then one day — and you never see it coming — the whole system breaks down. Whatever frayed bonds of truth and trust that were holding it together completely unravel.
And then it’s gone. And there is no getting it back.