Declaration of Conscience

(Cheyenne, Wyoming) — The defeat of Liz Cheney in the Wyoming Republican congressional primary shows just how troubled our country is two months before the next congressional election and two years before the next presidential election.

It is sick with disinformation. Voters have been fed countless lies by Republican politicians, and media outlets dedicated to making money off those lies. In this environment, Cheney has been held up by some as a profile in courage simply for insisting the truth be told. She has become a political martyr for having the character to behave only at a level most parents would expect from their five year old. The bar for civility in American politics is that low.

In Cheyenne in July, I stopped by Republican Party headquarters. An old store front a few blocks from the state Capitol. In the window facing the street was a Macy’s style display purporting to depict the most important issues facing Republicans in Wyoming. “Election integrity” is the top concern. Leaning into election security is of course the polite way of saying; the 2020 presidential election was stolen; Donald Trump won; Joe Biden’s administration is illegitimate; and Liz Cheney needs to be voted out of office, because she will not affirm those beliefs.

Almost anywhere else, Republicans might be able to claim legitimate concerns over election security, but not in Wyoming where Republicans overwhelmingly out number Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

Republicans: 207,674

Democrats: 39,753

Unaffiliated: 33,769

In 2020, 193,000 Wyoming voters went for Donald Trump(Biden — 73,491), 198,000 voted for Cynthia Lummis, the Republican for the U.S. Senate, and 185,732 voted for Liz Cheney. Cheney’s opponent got 66,000 votes that year.

The numbers strongly suggest Wyoming Republicans have nothing to fear when it comes to election integrity. It’s a false issue.

In the August 16 primary, Cheney got 49,316 votes, but her opponent, Harriet Hageman, won with 113,025 votes. About 60,000 Wyoming Republicans used their power to remove Cheney from office to show their support for the former president, a potential future candidate who is under criminal investigation in Georgia, who is the target of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, and who is facing several civil lawsuits that bring into question his integrity as a businessman and political leader.

In media interviews before the voting in Wyoming many voters, including Democrats, voiced their support for Cheney, but many more said she had betrayed their state by focusing too much on Washington issues and specifically by serving as vice-chair of the congressional committee probing Trump’s role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. That was the deal-breaker for most. They are tired of hearing about January 6. They do not wish to see it as an attempt by Trump to ignore the results of the 2020 election despite the evidence.

In 1950, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith gave a speech on the Senate floor denouncing Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations meant to expose communists in U.S. society. She was serving her first term in the Senate. She was expected to keep quiet according to the traditions of the day. Like Cheney, she was one of the few of her party to speak the truth. Unlike Cheney, she was re-elected to the Senate three more times, serving a total of four terms.

The analogy is not perfect, and Smith was penalized within the Republican caucus for her independent streak on a number of issues, but the voters of Maine did not run her out of office for insufficient loyalty to Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, or any specific Republican cause. Another Republican president, George H.W. Bush, later awarded Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1989, six years before her death.

More than seventy years later, Smith’s speech — one speech — against McCarthy(known as the Declaration of Conscience) is still celebrated as one of the most important political speeches in U.S. history. On August 16, voters in Wyoming turned Cheney’s declaration against her and — at least for now — ended her political career. What’s the term Republicans like to use? Zero tolerance.

As I wrote last month, in the wide open spaces and high plains of Wyoming, it is easy to understand how people might think a riot at the U.S. Capitol has nothing to do with them. It’s easy to understand how people who live in such a big state with such a small population view Washington politicians as out of touch with the hard realities of daily life; they are. What is troubling is how political leaders, starting with the former president and going down through most of the leadership of the Republican Party, prey on the frustrations of those who feel left behind by feeding them false information.

It is all a grotesque extension of an argument I often heard members of Congress make when they returned to their districts for town hall meetings when I was a young news reporter. “I’m fighting for you,” they would say. “I’m going to keep fighting. I’m not going to give up this fight. You can count on me to keep fighting.”

It took me time to catch on, but after a few years of hearing this, and after a few years of seeing members of Congress getting re-elected for doing nothing but claiming to fight the good fight, I came to understand that was all that was necessary. It was mostly a lie. All they had to do to get re-elected was convince their voters that they were fighting for them. They never had to deliver. The failure to deliver was blamed on others, others who needed to be fought.

Many of the current class of Trump backed members of Congress have taken this to a new level. They do not attempt to fight the good fight on any issue. They seek only to create havoc on behalf of their constituents who feel resentful toward their government. They wish only to be the chief drunk in a cow tipping contest.

The “I’m fighting for you” play is the sales tactic Trump has perfected beginning in 2015 with his first campaign. I am with you. I am the only one who understands how hard it is for you. I am the only one who understands how it all works. “I alone can fix it.” The lie that preceded the big lie.

It has worked so thoroughly that a sizable portion of the U.S. population believes the 2020 election was rigged. That most of the main stream news media is biased against them. That the Justice Department is doing the bidding of President Biden by investigating Trump. That January 6 was not an attempt to overturn the results of the last election, but a small protest that got out of hand.

Despite decades of evidence compiled in lawsuits, investigations, and eyewitness testimony demonstrating the general untrustworthy nature of former President Trump, his base of supporters believes it’s all a hoax and he is a victim just as they are. It seems implausible, based purely on the odds, but that’s what they believe and they cannot be convinced otherwise.

What is the hope? How do we break through the misinformation? I don’t believe there is an easy way out. The only way back to a fact based reality is a long-term commitment to the truth. The truth wins in the end. It may take decades. The truth may not win in our lifetimes, but the truth will win. Eventually the truth of these times will be revealed and told and believed and we can only hope it happens before someone else is writing a history of where we went wrong and how our democracy failed.

For more stories visit ThisDecisiveMoment.com.

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Dean Pagani

Dean Pagani

Photojournalism for Brands and Ideas.