In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, Rusty Bowers, the Republican speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, and Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, had a choice to make: They had to choose between the party and presidential candidate they favored or the states and voters they served and the US Constitution to which they had sworn an oath.
They chose integrity and honor. They chose to abide by their oaths. They did it seemingly as a matter of course.
The reason the two faced such a choice? Because then-President Donald Trump had made the opposite decision. He had been told by top aides he had lost the election. He had been advised there was no systematic voter fraud. Faced with those considered judgments by top members of his administration and campaign, Trump chose to propagate what’s become known as the Big Lie: the utterly fraudulent claim that the election victory had somehow been stolen from him. He did it seemingly as a matter of course.
Embracing a team of rogues, rascals, and wild-eyed legal nitwits, Trump proceeded to tell his shameful canard to America as he pursued a multi-state effort to subvert both the election results and, by so doing, the US Constitution.
On Tuesday’s fourth hearing of the House select committee on Jan. 6, we heard much more about the effort by Trump and attorneys Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman to pressure states to decertify legitimate Electoral College slates, even as fraudulent Trump electoral slates started to spring up in contested states.
In Arizona, Bowers told Trump and fellow schemer Giuliani that he would not embrace or accommodate their efforts to overturn the election results. As he recounted on Tuesday, his message to them was this: “You are asking me to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath.”
In Georgia, Raffensperger rejected Trump’s telephone pressure to find him enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s victory there. “We had many allegations, and we investigated every single one of them,” he said on Tuesday. But when the secretary of state told Trump that, Trump instantly denounced his staff investigators as “either dishonest or incompetent.”
‘Family members of a secretary of state received death threats . . . why? . . . Because I chose to tell the truth? Is this the United States?’
Raffensperger has written a short book, “Integrity Counts,” which is worth reading simply for his 40-page annotation of his now famous phone call with Trump, chief of staff Mark Meadows, and several of Trump’s legal henchfolk.
For doing his job, Raffensperger found himself reviled by Trump, who went so far as to label him an “enemy of the people,” which as Raffensperger noted in his book is “a phrase once used in Nazi Germany against Jews and in the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin against anyone who disagreed with him.”
And which was adopted by Trump to denounce not only the press but also an honorable public official of his own party who stood up for the truth.
Referring to threats made to his wife, Tricia, Raffensperger wrote: “Family members of a secretary of state received death threats . . . why? . . . Because I chose to tell the truth? Is this the United States?”
Bowers and his family and neighbors have also been harassed, as he recounted at the hearing. So too were Shaye Moss, a former election worker from Fulton County, Ga., and her mother, Ruby Freeman. After Trump and Giuliani made the baseless claim that Moss and Freeman had engaged in voter fraud, Moss received Facebook messages that wished “death upon me” and declared that she should “be glad it is 2020 and not 1920.” Following the precautionary advice of the FBI, her mother left her home for two months.
To enlarge Raffensperger’s question: Is this really our country, the United States of America, in 2022?
It’s certainly what our country could become without men and women of honor, regardless of party or persuasion.
Georgia voters seemed to recognize that last month. In May, Raffensperger easily survived a Republican primary challenge from a pro-Trump Republican.
Write about the Jan. 6 hearings and one grows accustomed to a certain response from Trump supporters: We don’t care. We aren’t paying attention and you can’t make us.
At least in theory, Americans expect honesty and integrity from their public officials. We saw it from Bowers. We saw it from Raffensperger. The sterling display of character by two men who had voted for Trump but put country first helped thwart his attempt to steal this election.
For our democracy to endure, we need a broad recognition of the importance of such probity. But we need something more too.
We need citizens who, in matters crucial to constitutional democracy, will themselves put partisanship aside and think, act, and vote with country and Constitution in mind.
Has that become too much to expect in the United States of America of 2022?