Hannah Arendt in her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, wrote, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” Mr. Bakke in his June 13 editorial said that I had in my June 2 editorial “conflated lies with mere differences of political opinion.” As such, he raises the important point: When do opinions become lies?
I would argue that a line is crossed when a fair and thorough examination of the evidence leads to only one conclusion. Republicans have continuously ignored overwhelming evidence (which I cited in my June 2 editorial) that the 2020 election was one of the most honest and secure in recent history and claim that Donald Trump won the election. A recent poll found that 53% of Republicans still think Trump won the election. The reason I and others call this the Big Lie is because if it were true, our democracy would be imperiled. Mr. Bakke did not acknowledge this critical truth. Instead, he stated, “claims of fraud couldn’t be fairly and conclusively addressed given the evidence available.” I am sorry if Mr. Bakke wishes it otherwise, but that is not a difference of opinion, his statement is not true.
With this false view of the 2020 election unrefuted and as a foundational background, Mr. Bakke continued in his earlier editorial to oppose the For the People Act (H.R. 1, which was passed by the House, and S. 1 in the Senate). I expressed no problem with his opposition to the Act (which is clearly his right). I only questioned the premise on which Republicans around the country are introducing state laws that reduce voting access. The laws are based on the Big Lie and claim to fix a problem that does not exist and will only make voting more difficult and threaten the integrity of our elections.
These issues have led 188 scholars to sign a “Statement of Concern: The Threats to American Democracy and the Need for National Voting and Election Administration Standards.” As they point out, included among these Republican bills are “laws politicizing the administration and certification of elections” that “could enable some state legislatures or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020: reverse the outcome of a free and fair election. Further, these laws could entrench extended minority rule, violating the basic and longstanding democratic principle that parties that get the most votes should win elections.”
I agree with Mr. Bakke that we can have different political opinions and that we must be able to discuss them in an open and respectful manner. However, when one political party and many of its leaders not only refuse to accept reality, but actively promote lies that put our democracy at risk, we must call them out.
Thomas Hill is an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Northern Iowa.