October 11, 2022 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Democracy isn’t the only thing on the ballot. So are criminals

Replacing a democratic rule of law with a fascist one.


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Last week, the Post updated a report on the number of Republican candidates who “have denied or questioned” the result of the last presidential election. It had been a near-majority. It’s a majority now.

The Post found that 53 percent of 569 campaigns had “refused to accept Joe Biden’s victory [and] are running in every region of the country and in nearly every state. Republican voters in three states nominated election deniers in all federal and statewide races.”

While criminals, as they are usually understood, break the law from inside the rule of law, these Republicans are breaking the rule of law from the outside. They are committing crimes against democracy.

So the news is that the number of fact-defying Republicans is growing. The takeaway is by now familiar. Again, the Post: “Experts said the insistence on such claims, despite the lack of evidence, reflects a willingness among election-denying candidates to undermine democratic institutions when it benefits their side.”

Last month, I commented on the Post’s previous report. I said sure, anti-democrats are indeed undermining democratic institutions, but it’s better to say that they are telling us who they really are. They are anti-democrats admitting that they can’t be trusted with democracy. Put that way, citizens have a clearer view of the choices before them.

For this new report, let me add a new layer. Yes, these Republicans can’t be trusted with democracy on account of being anti-democrats. But when we say “democracy is on the ballot,” let’s be pristine clear about who is doing what to whom. It isn’t just democracy on the ballot.

So are criminals.

Permit me to define “criminal.” I don’t mean a person who has broken the law. I mean someone who is breaking the democratic rule of law by embracing, spreading and magnifying gargantuan lies. Here’s Heather Cox Richardson on Hannah Arendt’s perception of lying:

Arendt explained that lies are central to the rise of authoritarianism. In place of reality, authoritarians lie to create a “fictitious world through consistent lying.” 

Ordinary people embraced such lies because they believed everyone lied anyhow, and if caught trusting a lie, they would “take refuge in cynicism,” saying they had known all along they were being lied to and admiring their leaders “for their superior tactical cleverness.” 

But leaders embraced the lies because they reinforced those leaders’ superiority, and gave them power, over those who did believe them.

You can see how this applies to the 53 percent of GOP candidates.

The rule of law was not a framework for democratic politics. The peaceful and orderly transition of power was not the heart of democratic values. For the former president and his seditionaries, the rule of law was an impediment to taking and holding power.

The solution is manufacturing, through “consistent lying,” an alternative universe in which the rule of law, as it’s currently understood, is moot. In this “racist theory of the universe,” Donald Trump speaks for the soul of a nation wronged by an enemy that’s gotten the upper hand. In that space, the rule of law does not operate according to facts and reason, because facts and reason are whatever Trump says they are.

“What this man understood as lies were facts that ran against his racist theory of the universe,” wrote Federico Finchelstein in his magnificent book, A Brief History of Fascist Lies. “His conception of the world rested on a notion of truth that did not need empirical verification. In other words, what is truth for most of us (the result of demonstrable causes and effects) was potentially fake to him. What most of us see as lies or invented facts were for him superior forms of truth.”

The “he” in the Finchelstein quote isn’t Trump. It’s Adolf Hitler. But you get the idea. As long as the rule of law – and democracy – is based on the conviction that lies are lies and truth is truth, the rule of law – and democracy – will always stand in the way. The answer is creating conditions in which lies are truth and the truth is a lie. In denying the legitimate outcome of the last presidential election, a majority of GOP candidates are inventing a fake rule of law for the purpose of replacing the real one.

I don’t know about you, but forcing a democratic rule of law to conform to an anti-democratic and “racist theory of the universe,” in effect replacing it with a fascist “rule of law,” is a crime in all but name.

And people who commit crimes are criminals. 

While criminals, as they are usually understood, break the law from inside the rule of law, these Republicans are breaking the rule of law from the outside. They are committing crimes against democracy.

The president, congressional Democrats, journalists, policymakers, scholars and activists – they’re sounding the alarm. Democracy is on the line. If the GOP wins, it could be the end of self-government.

That’s good, but let’s not forget who is doing what to whom.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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