By Shivaji Sengupta
In a senate hearing on the 2020 elections what Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said rose clearly above the din and cacophony created by the Republicans as they continue to falsely claim that the 2020 presidential elections were rigged. Said Murphy: if political leaders continue to think they can act without responsibility on what defines our country, our core values, do whatever they like, claim fraud where there has been none; delegitimize an entire election just because their candidate did not win; if Americans continue to privilege candidate over country and its almost 250 years old democratic process, then democracy in America will die.
All reasonable people, Republicans, Democrats or Independents, are in dismay about Donald Trump and his Republican supporters’ continuous claim that the president was cheated out of a second term. Today, when a reporter asked Trump if he was troubled by what effect his actions were having on democracy, he brazenly declared with perfect self-righteousness, “I’ll tell you what troubles me; that America will have an illegitimate president.”
Wow! How does this man have the audacity to claim something so blatantly false? He has to know that Joe Biden won the election fair and square. He garnered over 80 million votes and 306 electoral college votes, all of which were awarded to him without dissent. He reinforces his lies with a rhetorical “you know that,” evidence of a severely delusional mind, or of an “incredible” (to use one of Trump’s favorite adjectives) liar. I prefer to think he is the latter.
The question must arise for many Americans, as it does for me, is: “All right, Donald Trump may be a liar or delusional, but how can so many professionals, politicians and attorneys general believe his lies? They not only agree with Trump but do his bidding and have brought over fifty lawsuits to Court on his behalf, and lost forty-nine. Moreover, having done so, they do a lickety-flick and say, as Senator Josh Hawley of Montana did in the above-mentioned senatorial hearing, that it is the people, perfectly rational people in his constituency who really believe that Donald Trump won, and that the election was stolen from him.
To Hawley and the Republican leadership, I say, that the good people of Montana believe so because the president says so every day. It was Paul Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist, who said, ” If you repeat a lie thousands of times, it becomes the truth.” To Hawley, I say: tell them the truth instead of perpetuating the lie. That is your responsibility. Remember your country man, the noble late senator, John McCain. During the 2008 presidential campaign, in which he was the Republican nominee running against Barak Obama, a woman in one of his campaign appearances claimed that Obama was a Muslim. McCain immediately interrupted. “No ma’am, he is Christian. He is my opponent, I have differences of opinion with him, but he is a good, decent man.” The woman was silent. McCain could have stayed silent, giving strength to the lie, but he didn’t. Josh Hawley, sir, learn from your superior! Lying so blatantly and ominously by so many people in power, weakens our democracy because the lies attack its very basis. At some point it must clash with the law.
Readers of newspapers and magazines must have noticed that how the very same Republicans who are lying about the elections, are the ones who are breaking the law by invoking the courts with their perpetual lies and false evidence that don’t hold up. While every American has the right to bring grievances to the court, he or she also has the responsibility to respect the law, and present rationally argued empirical evidence.
Many of us do not understand what law is. Lawyers and most elected officials (the law makers) do, but many unscrupulous lawyers purposely confuse in people’s minds, the concept of law with its deliberate natural and pragmatic applications.
Natural law is not a matter of will but reason. It is hard to find legal theorists who still believe all of this but there are many who believe some of it, especially when it suits them. Ronald Dworkin, a famous theorist of law, has argued that law includes not only norms found in treaties, customs, constitutions, statutes, and cases, but also moral principles that provide the best justification for people’s beliefs. Dworkin says things justified by moral principles are socially constructed, but the justifications themselves are not law. It is important to bear in mind that a justification is not an event; it is an argument. Believing, or accepting, or asserting a justification are events. This, I think, lies at the heart of the so called legal battles – all fifty of them – between Trump’s lawyers and the courts. The lawyers (deliberately) confuse “justifications” with the law(s), more to appeal to the people than to the courts. Believing, or accepting, or asserting a justification become events. For example, lawyers like Rudy Guiliani say that they have evidence and proof (again, they are not the same) that the presidential elections in various states were rigged. That is an assumption, not justification for any action to be taken by the courts. But the people believe them to be genuine legal actions. Lawyers and the Josh Hawleys of this world would rather that his constitutey go on believing it as long as it serves his political purpose. The time has come that in the interest of democracy these Republicans put an end to this lie. People think that the Trump Republicans adhere to the president for fear of losing his support in the 2022 Mid-Term elections. I respectfully disagree. They adhere to Trump because they believe that post-Trump, they will gain politically with the people who idolize Donald Trump, like Tom Cotton, Ron Johnson and Josh Hawley.
I began this piece by referring to Senator Chris Murphy’s warning about democracy’s demise. I finish this piece with him. In the “hearings,”, he lamented the Republicans’ irresponsible acts. But the senator also warns us about democracy’s failure to benefit the ordinary middle class and those below the poverty-line, not only here in America but also in Western Europe and Asia. Consequently, there has been an obvious backlash against democracy. People are beginning to give up.
Historically, the law is one of the first casualties in weaker democracies such as in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Fortunately, Western Europe and in North America, that law is still followed. You can say that if democracy is the energy that keeps us going, then the law is its transmission. In the last five years, we have witnessed serious attacks on democracy through the states’ legal institutions. Hopefully, in Donald Trump’s America, we have dodged a bullet.
Let us hope it stays this way.