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It’s not that the world has gone crazy. It’s that a growing collection of elected officials are so steeped in cynicism and determined to get and keep power, they are willing to ignore reality—or worse, willfully deny it.
That means losing an election and pretending that you didn’t. That means knowing there are violent extremists among you, yet feeling no need to discourage them—quite the opposite. That means sticking with the guy who incited a deadly attack on the building where you work and taking notes on how to emulate him. That means working to banish those among you who dare to say out loud what’s really going on.
Joe Biden won the presidency by over 7 million votes. He won the electoral college with 306 votes (his opponent received 232). The election results were certified on January 6.
Earlier that same day his opponent, occupying the White House and refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, incited an insurrection at the Capitol which led to five deaths and at least 140 injured police officers. More than 410 participants in that deadly event have been criminally charged, with over 100 others still being investigated.
Now ensconced in his Palm Beach club, he emerges from time to time to join the buffet and rant with strangers about how he really won the election. Less than two weeks ago, he was captured on cell phone video standing on a tiny stage in the midst of a guest’s wedding, insisting that “it was a rigged election, everyone knows it.”
He’s been banned from Twitter forever and still banned from Facebook for at least the next six months, but his declining position doesn’t appear to have loosened his stranglehold on the GOP. Consider this from the likes of Sen. Lindsey Graham: “I’ve determined we can’t grow without him.”
On January 13, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on the House floor: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” Yet two weeks later, he visited Mar-A-Lago and insisted he had a “great” meeting with that same individual. He also told a TV interviewer that “everyone across the country” bears some blame for the events of January 6.
Now this same House leader and other top Republicans are determined to purge Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from leadership. She was among the few House Republicans to vote for impeachment in those waning days before Joe Biden took office. She refused to repeat the lie that the election was stolen from his opponent, raise doubts about election fraud or question the legitimacy of President Biden.
How did she describe her sins in a Washington Post op-ed on May 5? She insists that Republicans should “steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality” and they must decide if they will “choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.” Among her concerns? “There is good reason to believe that Trump’s language can provoke violence again. Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work—confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law.”
And the likely outcome of raising these concerns? She will be ousted from her No. 3 role in the House Republican Conference and replaced by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik.
On Friday night, at a retirement community near Orlando called The Villages, two members of Congress repeated the lie that the election was stolen. They did not say so reluctantly, sheepishly, obliquely. They flaunted it, reveling in the power this false narrative gives them.
And these were not just any two Congress members. This was Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, under federal investigation for sex trafficking and having sex with a minor, and openly white supremacist Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Promising to go on tour and keep America First going, the pair whipped up the crowd with relish. “Tell me who is your president?” Greene taunted. “Donald Trump!” the all-white crowd shouted.
As the Washington Post reported, Gaetz mocked the Department of Justice investigation of him and rallied the room with the power of the 2nd amendment: “We have a right to bear arms in this country and we will use it!” He urged the excited throng to “not wave the flag of surrender.” And he promised that in coming stops “America’s greatest president and undisputed leader of the Republican Party, Donald J. Trump” may join them. The cynical con continues.
Will the Republicans stick with the Big Lie to the bitter end? Will they ever return to reality? Will indictments of Trump and other elected officials flip the switch? For now, it’s hard to see how even in a post-Trump world they won’t be copying the lessons they’ve tragically learned.
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