Sifting through the figurative rubble from the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol, I recovered a valuable nugget – more on that in a moment – that was overshadowed by the tone-deaf charade that former President Donald Trump’s congressional toadies perpetrated after the riot.
Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and their craven posse of Republican sycophants proselytized the same conspiracy theories that had emboldened violent marauders to shake the foundations of the building and our democracy. But it’s not clear what additional price the former instigator-in-chief will pay for fanning the flames before the riot.
As for Hawley and Co., perhaps they should be banished, at least temporarily, to a political leper colony as punishment for their anti-democratic persistence in disputing the Electoral College’s certification of President Joe Biden’s legitimate and incontrovertible victory.
But that shouldn’t obscure the importance of a reality – the nugget I mentioned earlier – that underscored their political stunt: Millions of Trump supporters still believe that a rigged election system allowed Biden’s allies to steal enough votes to deprive Trump of his rightful “landslide victory.”
Audits, recounts, investigations and lawsuits failed to uncover widespread vote fraud, but Trumpers, subjected to weeks of bogus claims by their hero and his loyal political and media acolytes, still believe the fantasies and not the facts.
Their main grievance is that an unprecedented expansion of mail-in voting, necessitated by fears of crowded polling places during a pandemic, required ballot counting by hand and invited tampering and fraud. And since more Democrats than Republicans, especially in heavily minority urban areas, were voting by mail – in part because Biden encouraged it and Trump didn’t – a lot of white Republicans bought into this racially tinged vote fraud conspiracy theory.
Digging out of this complicated mess will be a long, difficult journey, but a good way to begin restoring faith in our election machinery is by inspecting it up close.
The first step is to actually execute a version of what the Trump congressional cabal was calling for: Briefly revisit the November election but with an independent, rather than congressional, commission headed by a couple of ex-presidents or other well-respected officials from each party. Folks like George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Colin Powell come to mind right off the top.
They should be selected and empowered by Biden in one of his first acts of reconciliation.
Give them a small staff to work alongside election officials in the swing states to quickly confirm that the voting and counting were honest and accurate. Revisit cases that Trump tried unsuccessfully to push through the courts, which prompted his supporters to allege unfair treatment by the judicial system.
That would hopefully begin to restore faith in our elections – the bedrock of our democracy – and just as importantly, provide Trump supporters with a new version of reality to at least consider.
Step two is to come up with recommendations for improving an election system that is basically sound but porous enough to need some remediation.
Trustworthy elections must have widely accepted, fraud-resistant procedures for handling mail-in and drop-box ballots, which are here to stay; high-tech security upgrades to protect the reliability of voting machines; a uniform process for auditing and verifying results and handling challenges; and a fresh look at our reliance on the arcane Electoral College to determine a winner, regardless of who gets the most popular votes.
None of this will quickly heal the wounds inflicted on our democracy and body politic in the last few months by incendiary pundits. That will take years.
But a bipartisan commission’s sincere effort to restore faith in our election system is a good way for a new president to encourage the millions who voted against him, and still doubt the legitimacy of his victory, to take a fresh look at the November election and perhaps grudgingly appreciate a heartfelt attempt to protect the integrity of future ones.