The Big Lie is voter fraud. It’s the metaphorical Reichstag fire that Republicans have used to rally their troops and strip away voting rights in attempts to rig elections. And it’s the spark that led to the failed insurrection on Wednesday that left our Capitol damaged and a Capitol policeman dead. 

Republican cynics developed the myth of widespread voter fraud after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Too many white conservatives could not believe that many Americans would support a Black man for President of the United States. Then, with the Tea Party movement, conservative politicians and media outlets started claiming that our elections were tainted. They told vague stories of dead people voting, of undocumented immigrants voting, and of people voting multiple times in multiple states. Ten years later, there’s still no evidence. 

Evidence, or truth, no longer mattered. The lie, spread widely through conservative traditional and social media outlets, had taken root in the conspiracy-addled minds of the GOP base. Republican leaders pushed through voter suppression laws designed to stop the imaginary fraud by limiting access to the polls for people likely to vote against Republican politicians. Trump adopted the lie to fuel his election in 2016, telling us that he actually won the popular vote but that 3 million illegal voters cast ballots that year. Few Republicans rebuked him.

So when Trump realized he was likely to lose in 2020, he doubled down on the Big Lie of voter fraud. Initially, few Republican leaders contradicted him, even after he lost. Indeed, in the wake of his defeat, one Republican official asked the Washington Post, “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?” In other words, what’s wrong with lying to the American people for a little longer? 

Republicans in Congress were complicit in spreading the lie. They signed onto the phony lawsuit filed by the Texas Attorney General. They stayed silent as Trump’s lawyers tweeted unhinged conspiracy theories, promising evidence that never emerged. They vowed to stop the election with powers they didn’t possess.

In North Carolina, six of the eight Republican Members of Congress questioned the validity of the election despite no evidence of fraud. Some were spreading lies up until just hours before the insurrection. At 9:22 am on the morning of the assault on the Capitol, Congressman Dan Bishop tweeted, “Democrats’ attack on our elections was not minor or sporadic. It was coordinated & widespread. The burden of proof is on the Democrats in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan & Georgia. I will be not be voting to affirm Presidential election results in those states.”

Bishop has no evidence to support his accusations. More than 60 judges, including numerous Republicans and ones appointed by Trump, found no evidence of fraud. Republican elected officials and election officials in states across the nation denied any evidence of fraud. Trump’s own election officials confirmed the validity of the election. Just hours after Bishop’s tweet, Mitch McConnell denied the election was fraudulent. If Bishop believes his tweet, he’s a fool.

But Bishop is not a fool. He’s far worse. He’s a cynic who is using lies and deception to mislead his constituents and the people of this country in an effort to undermine our democracy. That’s the point of the Big Lie. It’s the result of ten years of telling people our elections cannot be trusted.  

The Republican Members of Congress who told their constituents and the American people that our election was tainted have blood on their hands. They are not patriots. They are liars and cynics who deserve consequences. 

Reversing the damage caused by the Big Lie of voter fraud will not be easy. Too many Republicans are still willing to perpetrate the cynical ploy and too many conservative media outlets will continue to cast doubt on our elections. They have spent a decade convincing a multitude of ill-informed and uneducated Americans that they cannot trust their governments or their democracy.

To restore faith in our democracy and our country, we need to elevate and celebrate Republican voices that are telling the truth. We need to repeat Mitch McConnell’s admonition to those who balked at certifying the election. Listen to Republican Representative Peter Meijer who calls out his Republican colleagues for telling “things they knew were lies.” And give Mitt Romney more of a voice. He’s proven to be a patriot who lives by the truth.  

And the perpetrators of the assault need consequences as well as those who egged them on. The people who invaded the Capitol need to go to jail and be treated like traitors so future aspiring insurrectionists understand the serious consequences of their actions. Members of Congress who opposed certification of the election in clear violation of the Constitution need to be censored and stripped of their powers as much as possible. And Donald Trump needs to be impeached again, if for no other reason than to make sure history remembers him most for his traitorous rhetoric. 

The jig is up. It’s past time to push back hard against the politics of cynicism and deception. It’s time to stop the Big Lie.  

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