Current activities in the Republican Party are deeply concerning. The purge of Lynn Cheney from Chair of the House Republican Conference is but the latest example of a major party’s willingness to embrace “the big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump by widespread voter fraud. This is just one in a series of actions—including voter suppression laws and empowering partisan election monitors—that threatens our democracy. Cheney’s punishment derives not from a philosophical or policy-driven difference with others in Republican leadership, but simply because she refuses to kowtow to the former President’s ongoing fabrication that the election of Joe Biden was illegitimate.
As the New York Times reported, “Ms. Cheney warned that Republicans were going down a path that would bring their ‘destruction’ and ‘possibly the destruction of our country,’…and she added that if the party wanted a leader who would ‘enable and spread his destructive lies,’ they should vote to remove her. Republicans did just that after greeting her speech with jeers.”
And, the day before, she said on the House floor: “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”
I am no fan of Cheney’s position on a host of issues, but her unwillingness to overlook the former President’s continued affirmation of the big lie is admirable and—in a legitimate two-party system—would be an imperative for others in the party to denounce this fabrication and declare in the boldest possible terms that Joe Biden was legitimately elected President.
In his recent commentary in the New York Times, Tom Friedman wrote, “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.”
In the early days of this century when I was at Intersections International, my colleague and friend Sam Simon—a Senior Fellow at Intersections—would frequently ask the rhetorical question, “what are we right before?” Sam, with deep personal connections to the Holocaust would challenge America on the brink of the 21st century to ask questions that Germany failed to ask in the 1930’s. Sam’s prodding was prescient. A decade later, Donald Trump was President.
I am reminded of a book I read during that period by Joshua Cooper Ramo called The Age of the Unthinkable. In it, Ramo cites the sand pile model of change put forth by Danish physicist Per Bak at the turn of the century. According to Scientific American, the model works like this: “Think of sand running from the top of an hourglass to the bottom. Grain by grain, the sand accumulates. Eventually, the growing pile reaches a point where it is so unstable that the next grain to fall may cause it to collapse in an avalanche… once the pile reaches the critical point, there is no way to tell whether the next grain to drop will cause an avalanche — or just how big any given avalanche will be.”
Is the Republicans’ ongoing assault on truth, the demand for fealty to one who continues that assault and the ready acceptance of misinformation by so many a warning that the sand pile theory of change is operative in our very midst?
As Sam Simon would ask, “What are we right before?” Or, as Tom Friedman says in the concluding words of his column, “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.”