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Extremists embracing The Big Lie present enormous danger to democracy

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Photo by TapTheForwardAssist on WikiMedia Commons. Licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0.

As the nation prepares in just a few short weeks for yet another pivotal election, the answers and non-answers that many candidates are providing to questions asked of them about the results of the 2020 presidential election raise concerns about the future viability of our democracy. In that regard, one would think that of all elective offices, judicial candidates would provide model examples of (small d) democratic behavior when it comes to the subject of The Big Lie.

Think again.

Instead, two members of the Ohio Supreme Court who were in attendance at a Trump rally in Youngstown dodged the question about who was the clear winner in the last election. The Columbus Dispatch put it this way in describing the non-answer provided by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Patrick Fischer.

“When asked if the 2020 election results are legitimate, Fischer said: “I don’t know if I’m allowed to take a position because I understand there is still some litigation…”

Justice Fischer, in attendance at a Trump political rally, tells us he didn’t know if he was allowed to take a position about the winner of the election but in fact did take a position on Trump by his mere attendance in Youngstown.

Unfortunately for our democracy, Fischer is typical of too many 2022 candidates, the vast majority of whom will not admit that Trump lost the last election even though he was beaten by more than 7,000,000 popular votes and 306-232 in the Electoral College. (Is it American exceptionalism that we reference two different types of votes in describing presidential elections, the only country in the world that has to make such a qualification?)

But the problem with The Big Lie virus infecting candidates in statewide races is that this Trump electile disorder has also spread to a number of secretary of state candidates across the nation, most notably in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, and New Mexico, where election deniers are running to be their state’s chief election officer.

Previously, we’ve seen the phenomenon where an officeholder who doesn’t believe in the mission of a particular government function, as evidenced in the Trump administration by the tenure of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education and Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior, acts as a human wrecking ball to destroy a cabinet department. (Interior Secretary James Watt was an earlier notorious human wrecking ball during the Reagan years.)

That was then. But now, things are different. Quite different.

When Ronald Reagan derided the very idea of government with his 1986 observation that, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help,’” the clear message from conservatives for nearly 40 years has been that, with the exception of national defense, government isn’t necessary. The evidence for that is the push to privatize many government functions, including public education, and the ongoing attempt to privatize Social Security, Medicare, and other forms of public benefit.

Now, with The Big Lie becoming a standard part of right-wing political practice, along with voter suppression and gerrymandering efforts generated in state legislatures, it seems that conservatives have outgrown their anti-government bias.

How is that? It’s quite simple. When you practice the art of “winning” at all costs, as in lying, deceiving, and cheating through legislative trickery for the purpose of making it more difficult to vote for some citizens, it seems that many on the right don’t even believe in democracy anymore.

With this current state of reality, it seems imperative that those who believe in democracy through the actions of a responsive and representative government need to fight back and put these (again, small d) anti-democratic forces on the defensive by using a tactic used by the right during the 1950s.

Hopefully most Americans have heard these words or read them in history classes:

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States”?

The images on a grainy black and white television screen of congressional inquisitors hunting alleged leftists are etched into the memories of an entire generation. Those hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s were famous for the drama they created, with little results in rooting out those dreaded Hollywood communists, left wing pinko screenwriters and playwrights, socialist bureaucrats, and other pariahs of that era who were deemed un-American and a danger to the republic.

But where there was a manufactured crisis about the scope of communist and left-wing infiltration in our government in the 1950s, the current threat to our institutions by right-wing anti-democratic forces is real, as evidenced by the Jan. 6 insurrection led by organized militias and their adjuncts.

It’s time for all of those who believe in our system to get serious and aggressively call out every candidate running for office now and in the future. This needs to be accomplished by asking a certain question any time an office seeker for any local, state, or federal office makes any kind of appearance:

Are you now or have you ever been an election denier who raised questions about the integrity of our system and, in spite of the evidence, disputes the results of a recent election? Yes or No?

Since we know the have you now or have you ever been question was repeatedly asked at congressional hearings years ago or hopefully will be asked of any candidate this year and in the future, it does constitute a form of loyalty oath and seeks to confront an individual about their allegiance to our government.

According to one definition“A loyalty oath is a declaration by an individual of allegiance to a government and its institutions and a disavowal of support for foreign ideologies or associations.”

Our present reality calls for this definition to be updated to include “or for support of any individual or domestic group that calls for or employs violence to undermine our democratic institutions.” 

There is so much at stake this election day. Those who believe in democracy and are concerned about the future of our republic need to show up and start asking a certain question: Are you now or have you ever been an election denier?

Whether it is Justice Fischer, J. D. Vance, or anyone else up or down the ticket anywhere in this country, this question is legitimate, imperative and needs to be asked of every candidate.

To those candidates who chant Let’s Go Brandon or flash a QAnon sign, let us ask in return:

Are you now or have you ever been …


Denis Smith is a retired school administrator and served as a consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office. He has additional experience working in marketing communications with a publisher and in association management as an executive with a national professional society. Mr. Smith is a member of the board of Public Education Partners.

This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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