Even post-Trump, Republicans must confess complicity in the Big Lie
Until we hear confessions and corrections from right-wing leaders and conservative media, we will continue to inhabit a dark cave as a country.
If you missed the retraction from the right-wing online magazine The American Thinker, it’s one for the ages.
Noting that they had received a warning from lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems, the editors admitted that they had published pieces that “relied on discredited sources who have peddled debunked theories ... These statements are completely false and have no basis in fact. ... We apologize to Dominion for all of the harm this caused them and their employees. We also apologize to our readers for abandoning 9 journalistic principles and misrepresenting Dominion’s track record and its limited role in tabulating votes for the November 2020 election. We regret this grave error.”
Fox News has issued similar retractions. This is the beginning, not the end, of the story.
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Dominion has sent letters to 20 other entities and individuals, including One American News Network, Newsmax, Lin Wood, White House Counsel Pat Cippolone and Rudy Giuliani. Sidney Powell, the “Kraken” lawyer in Donald Trump’s orbit, got more than a warning. She was slapped with a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit for her outrageous and outlandish claims including that Dominion’s voting machines were designed by Hugo Chavez to help him rig elections; that the machines contained secret algorithms to change Donald Trump votes into Joe Biden votes; that Dominion had bribed Georgia officials to obtain its contract with the state; and that she had a video showing the company’s founder bragging that his system “could easily change a million votes, no problem.”
Powell has yet to grovel as The American Thinker did, but she would be wise to start. Dominion is not backing down. CEO John Poulos told The Washington Post that he would prefer to take these cases to court rather than settle, because “We feel that it’s important for the entire electoral process.” The company did not rule out suing Trump.
It seems that the only means we still possess as a society for holding people to account for vicious and democracy-endangering lies is the tort law system. The only acknowledgment of wrongdoing in the most destabilizing crisis of the past 160 years was that extracted from an obscure website by a private company whose reputation and income took a severe hit.
I wish Dominion every success against the other defendants, but what of the country that has taken a severe hit? Can Dominion also sue Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, The Federalist, the 17 state attorneys general who joined the ludicrous Ken Paxton lawsuit challenging the election results in four states, Kevin McCarthy, the 121 House Republicans and six Senate Republicans who voted to reject the Electoral College ballots of Arizona? Because until we hear confessions and corrections from conservative media, we will continue to inhabit a dark cave as a country.
The 20,000-plus National Guard presence in Washington, D.C., along with smaller forces arrayed in state capitals may, God willing, got us through the inauguration without any further spasms of violence. But unless the propagandists of right-wing media confess and correct the record — unless they forthrightly admit that they spread lies about the election being rigged — the fury they’ve incited among a huge swath of Americans will continue to endanger the lives of public officials and crack the foundations of this republic.
The lie they propagated is what propelled those deluded people to storm the Capitol. Of course, the perpetrators of the violence are fully responsible for their decisions, and some of them were clearly mentally unbalanced or extremists or criminals of various stripes. But there were also thousands of otherwise normal people who were deceived into believing that their democracy had been fatally compromised, and millions who now harbor doubts about our system’s legitimacy.
Nearly 75% of Republicans believe that Trump was the legitimate victor of the election. They couldn’t have gotten this idea entirely from Facebook posts or YouTube videos (though those platforms bear responsibility, too). No, without the imprimatur of prestige conservative media like Fox and Limbaugh, and the support from official Republican Party organs, and the complicity of actual Republican officeholders like Ken Paxton, Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, it’s doubtful that Trump’s big lie could have led where it did. The guilt is corporate.
The goons who defiled the Capitol and smashed poles into the heads of police thought what they were doing was righteous. They think of themselves as patriots. The cynical liars like Hawley and Levin and the rest, who took advantage of their ignorance for their own purposes, drape themselves in the flag, too. How dare they? Their little game, which began by indulging the base’s attraction to stories like the birther conspiracy, has matured into stoking insurrection.
Is there no point at which they question their complicity? Is there no point at which they say to themselves, “For the good of the country, I need to correct this”?
Dominion Voting Systems may get its reputation restored through the courts. The damage to the nation must be repaired by a chastened Republican Party.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her most recent book is “Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense.”