In her battle against former U.S. president Donald Trump, Liz Cheney has become the least likely hero since King Kong smashed it out with Godzilla. The Wyoming congresswoman was the third-most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives until this week, when her powers were stripped away over her condemnation of Mr. Trump’s lies that the election was stolen.
“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” she said to the House before she was ousted from the party’s leadership. “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 mean, who wants to be on Liz Cheney’s side? She makes hawks look like peahens. She is in favour of government-sanctioned torture and waterboarding, although she prefers the euphemism “enhanced interrogation methods.” She threw her married lesbian sister under a bus when she declared that she was anti-gay marriage (and anti-choice to boot). Until Mr. Trump crossed the boundary of sanity, she supported his legislation 93 per cent of the time. She’s no saint, unless we call her Joan of Dark.
Despite all this, she deserves encouragement and support for one thing: Calling out “the big lie” perpetrated by Donald Trump and his lackeys around the perfectly legal election of 2020. If Bernie Sanders can find it in his heart to praise her courage, even after she called him a “commie,” the rest of us can at least follow suit.
Courage, as we know, is sorely lacking in the Republican Party, which has transformed into a parade of tiny clowns following their lead Bozo down an increasingly ludicrous (and dangerous) path. It is, as the Kinks once sang, a mixed-up, shook-up world when Republicans like Ms. Cheney and Mitt Romney are punished for speaking the truth about Mr. Trump inciting the Capitol riot of Jan. 6 and lying about the election being stolen. Meanwhile Republicans who support Mr. Trump’s delusions are feted, even if they’re fetid, like Marjorie Taylor Greene (a conspiracy theorist who’s called for political rivals to be executed) and Matt Gaetz (currently being investigated over allegations of sex-trafficking and sex with a minor).
But there’s a more important reason to applaud Ms. Cheney, especially since her actions could have repercussions in Canada and around the world. The war she’s engaged in is not some minor, internecine party squabble (or, at least, it’s not only that). It’s actually a battle over the fundamental issues of civic trust, and who gets to manipulate public disillusionment for political gain.
Right now, in the United States, that’s Republicans. They are weaponizing Mr. Trump’s lies about electoral fraud – which they know to be lies – in order to carve up the country’s legislative districts and change voting laws in ways that will benefit them for decades to come. The Washington Post reports that as many as 250 laws have been introduced that will restrict the ability of millions of people to vote in U.S. elections.
Those laws might restrict voting hours, or the location and number of drop-boxes for ballots, or drive-through locations. Famously, Georgia’s new voting restrictions forbid people waiting in line from being given food or water. Those restrictions are not aimed at everyone: They are aimed at suppressing the rights of Black voters.
You may have heard that Major League Baseball pulled its All-Star game, which was to be held in Atlanta, over these new restrictions. This was not an example of “cancel culture,” despite what right-wing commentators might have huffed. It was an example of a huge institution recognizing injustice that would harm its players – and its fans.
The thing that ties these voting restrictions together is that they are premised on a lie – the lie that Mr. Trump told about widespread voter fraud, which was then amplified by his cronies, and led to the horrifying violence at the Capitol. As The New York Times recently reported, lawmakers are using this lie as a way of suggesting that voters are now suspicious about elections, and therefore new laws are needed to protect the sanctity of the vote. Except these laws are intended to protect the sanctity of only some votes – the ones that will keep Republicans in power. It’s diabolically clever, not to mention just diabolical.
As the Times story puts it, Mr. Trump’s “unfounded claims gutted his supporters’ trust in the electoral system, laying the foundation for numerous Republican-led bills pushing more restrictive voter rules. … The bills demonstrate how disinformation can take on a life of its own, forming a feedback loop that shapes policy for years to come.”
If this corruption of voting rights works in the U.S., who’s to say it won’t spur similar actions in other democracies? You can bet that self-serving politicos around the world are watching this spectacle play out in state capitals. In Canada, our laws are more robust and less partisan, around redistricting for example. But we won’t be spared the corrosive effects of deliberate lies spread from the top and embraced as truth by opportunistic politicians below.
So it is worth supporting the few Republicans willing to stand up and call a lie a lie. Right now they’re in a losing battle, and they may all lose their primary challenges. But at least they’re trying to maintain the basic fabric of truth and integrity that’s needed for their democracy to survive.
Would I vote for Liz Cheney? Never. I wouldn’t even invite her to a picnic. But on this one issue, I stand by her side.