Elected officials lead us simply because of their positions — we have chosen them to do so. They lead by policy-making, they lead with the tone they set and the issues they choose to pursue.
This editorial is a plea for these leaders of both parties to come together and tell the American public clearly and unequivocally that our electoral system is sound. To do anything less abets false conspiracy theories and dangerously ignores a real growth of fringes unwilling to accept vote outcomes and increasingly willing to resort to violence in an effort to get their way.
No responsible, clear-thinking political leader should need more evidence than the video footage and subsequent findings about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to fully accept the dangers. And yet many Republicans ignore, minimize or reframe an assault that included violent attacks on law officers and threats to constitutional officers and process.
Their winks at the widely discredited conspiracy theory that the presidential election was stolen by massive, multistate fraud and their failure to firmly and forcefully tell the whole truth allow suspicion in the public to simmer and grow.
They appear to believe the mob they continue to incite can be controlled. We have ample evidence that it cannot.
The influence of this fetid lie is evident. This week, 1.2 percent of state legislators nationwide — 92 of the 7,383 — including Nebraska Sen. Rob Clements of Elmwood, signed onto a call for a 50-state Arizona-style audit of 2020 election results. Those who believe the fraud myth will latch onto these ill-informed and irresponsible leaders’ call as evidence when it really is just proof of the power of a big lie oft repeated.
It is important to say here, as we have for more than a year, that voter fraud is exceedingly rare. A Bloomberg Government canvass of all 50 states found 200 voter fraud cases nationwide since the November 2018 elections “during a timeframe when hundreds of millions of people participated in thousands of elections around the country.”
Those calling for extragovernmental audits thumb their noses at extensive systems already in place to conduct recounts in tight elections, to canvass and certify totals and the role of prosecutors, from the county to federal level to prosecute fraud.
Despite repeated studies with similar findings, Republicans across the country are moving to change voting laws to address a nearly nonexistent problem, citing suspicion among voters as why it’s needed — when, once again, that suspicion is really just evidence of the power of a big lie oft repeated. This only fuels our division.
A poll by the respected University of Virginia Center for Politics found that 41 percent of Biden voters and 52 percent of Trump voters agree at least somewhat with the proposition of dividing America — “I would favor (red or blue) states seceding from the union to their own separate country.”
This is absurd and serious at the same time.
Where would we draw the border? Not everyone in a red state is a conservative Republican; not everyone in our cities is a liberal Democrat. America’s economic engine is in its cities — the 17 percent of the nation’s counties that voted for Biden account for 70 percent of the U.S. GDP.
This is the rotten fruit of our current politics. Our elected leaders are responsible for where we are and where we go from here.
The Virginia poll found substantial areas of agreement — improving infrastructure, raising taxes on the wealthy, rural broadband and more — if we can just move beyond cynical exploitation of conspiracy theories and start trying to address our real problems.
What we ask is a return to normal politics. Posturing and rhetoric to gain an electoral or policy edge is part of life in our democratic republic. We can and should expect tough partisan fights over redistricting, immigration and spending issues. But holding onto, repeating and abetting a lie about the security of our elections is a danger to our country.
Our leaders must lead. Condemn the BS unequivocally. This would be an excellent role for Congress’ Problem Solvers Caucus, of which Nebraska’s Don Bacon is a proud member.
We as individuals also have a responsibility. We must contemplate who we are. The Virginia poll found that three-quarters of both parties see their opposites as “a clear and present danger to the American way of life.” Do we really hate our neighbors who don’t see things the way we do?
You know that if you saw your neighbor fall, you would go help. We are humans, we are Americans. We can get through this.