On Thursday, the day after the armed insurrection in Washington, D.C., that disgraced America, that imperiled and damaged American democracy, USA Today carried a story quoting some of the rioters saying they don’t believe they did anything wrong. Their country is being stolen from them, some said, others that the thuggery “needed to happen,” to make politicians afraid of the public. Some of the terrorists carried signs with the now well-worn phrase, “Stop the Steal.” Some said they plan to do it all again on Inauguration Day.
In his remarks on the Senate floor after Congress reconvened Wednesday night, 2016 Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, one of the few Senate Republicans to have called out President Donald Trump for his lies and deceptions, said plainly that the president was complicit in the insurgency. Numerous writers and commentators have linked remarks the president made before a crowd near the White House to the explosion of violence perpetrated by the crowd soon afterward. Urging his listeners “to fight,” the president shouted, “We will never give up, we will never concede,” referring to his insistence that the November election was characterized by corruption and fraud, his supposed victory stolen.
On the Senate floor that night, several of those who filed formal objections to the electoral count proclaimed that they respected their opponents while nonetheless disagreeing with their positions. Longtime Trump supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who refused to support the formal objections being lodged, made respect the core of his remarks. Sen. Romney had a rejoinder. “The best way we can show respect for voters who are upset,” he said, “is by telling them the truth.”
Trump had many accomplices in his misguided assault on the election, and on our democracy. It wasn’t just extreme-right media sites and television and radio talk hosts who joined the false accusations that there was fraud in the election results. Highly visible solons such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley joined the fray with speeches on the Senate floor. Then there were the 17 state attorneys general and 106 Republican Congress members who joined the phony Texas lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging election tallies in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin, a suit the Court rejected.
Here is a truth to contemplate: Numerous Alaska officials were likewise complicit in the insurrection on Jan. 6.
In closing remarks before the joint Congressional session Wednesday night, Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, referring to the catastrophe in the Capitol, noted that, “These tragedies have reminded us that words matter, and that the power of life and death is in the tongue.”
On Dec. 11, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced that he had directed Acting Alaska Attorney General Ed Sniffen to file an amicus brief supporting the Texas lawsuit. “While this case concerns election integrity,” Dunleavy said, “it also impacts states’ rights.” The issue, he said, was “free and fair elections,” implying that there was merit to the Texas case. Four Alaska House members and one representative-elect joined in supporting the brief, as did other Alaskans. This week House Rep. David Eastman, in Washington for Trump’s rally, defended the perpetrators of the melee.
Such actions and the words accompanying them give aid and comfort to the misguided and ill-informed. Coming from people in leadership positions, they encourage thinking not based in fact, but in fantasy. By the time the Texas suit was filed, numerous courts, many led by Trump appointees, already had dismissed the claims of corrupt voting as fraudulent and fictional, as baseless. The states whose totals were challenged had already recounted their votes. The claims made by Trump and those arguing on his behalf were in fact a bald attempt unlawfully to hold on to power. Joining in the suit constituted an embarrassment for the state at best, at worst collusion.
Just as words can encourage, so can silence. Sen. Lisa Murkowski spoke, eventually, accepting the legitimacy of the election. Not so Sen. Dan Sullivan, who — by his persistent reticence — aided and abetted.
Where is the complicity? It lies in just such encouragement, in nurturing a desperate clinging to fiction, not a genuine search for truth. As the world witnessed last Wednesday, it can lead to senseless conviction and unreasoned violence.
History will harshly judge those who cravenly pandered to the conspiracy, who indulged in a shameful assault on democracy.
Steve Haycox is professor emeritus of history at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
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