Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #180. First published in the St. Cloud Times online July 1, 2022; in print July 3

“All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum, published 36 years ago, came to mind as I heard/watched conservative Republican speaker of the Arizona House Russell “Rusty” Bowers on June 21 say to the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol: “I did not want to be a winner by cheating.”

We have come to where a public official’s attesting to something learned in kindergarten can be hailed as a moral declaration for the ages. “Play fair” and “don’t take things that aren’t yours” – truths we "held to be self-evident” when we were kids – now transform people simply doing their jobs into heroes.

The hearings, in which nearly all the witnesses have been Republicans, have made clear how close our democracy came to being hijacked. Many politicians shade the truth some of the time, but Trump’s brazenness was shown to be orders of magnitude worse. Bowers based his refusal to do what Trump asked – call the Arizona House into session to disqualify the Biden electors and substitute a Trump slate – on his oaths to the constitutions of the United States and Arizona, and on his faith in God. “I did not want to be a winner by cheating.” He insisted on playing fair, and not taking things that weren’t his.

The hearings have also made clear how important it is that officials at every level of government remember what they learned in kindergarten. Were it not for principled (but somewhat singular) Republican secretaries of state, governors, legislators and Justice Department attorneys, the coup might well have succeeded. Further, at the June 6 hearing, retired federal Judge J. Michael Luttig, an eminent conservative who advised former Vice President Mike Pence, said, “Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are [not just were] a clear and present danger to American democracy.”

In light of this warning, it seems only prudent that a responsible voter in 2022 find out about a candidate’s character, of whatever party.

It used to be, in the days of Dave Durenberger and Arne Carlson, that all, or nearly all, Minnesota Republicans would have recoiled from what Trump has done to their party and to the country. Today, it is more difficult to know what Republicans would do. Because of this, I believe it is especially important that voters ask every Republican candidate for office – national and state – to go on record saying whether they are with Trump, who tried to cheat, or with Bowers, who refused to.

Failing to answer “Yes” to the question, “Is Joseph R. Biden the duly elected and lawfully serving president of the United States?” is not illegal, but “No,” or even an evasive “He is the president of the United States,” should disqualify anyone from receiving your vote.

Examples of high concern already are plentiful. I would never – until now – have imagined that a major party candidate for Minnesota secretary of state would foment doubts about the integrity of our elections; Minnesota has been the gold standard for decades. But Kim Crockett, Republican candidate for that office, continues to fuel suspicion of the 2020 results, and wants to reduce early voting and mail-in ballots and ballot boxes, despite no evidence of fraud.

You wonder if Crockett wants everyone to vote. In 2019 to a New York Times reporter she said of our East African citizens, “These aren’t people coming from Norway, let’s put it that way. These people are very visible.” She told her supporters that the secretary of state “counts the votes,” which is nonsense.

Scott Jensen, Republican candidate for governor, is on record threatening to jail current secretary of state Steve Simon for the way Simon has overseen Minnesota elections: “Steve Simon, you maybe better check out to see if you look good in stripes, because you’ve gotten away with too much, too long.”

Under Simon’s watch, Minnesota maintains its record of first-in-the-nation turnout, 80%. Crockett says Republicans need to overcome a “margin of fraud” in elections. But in 2020 a federal judge, appointed by Trump, threw out a Republican challenge to Simon’s procedures, noting that since 1979 there had been two confirmed instances of voter fraud in Minnesota out of 45 million votes cast, for an infinitesimal “margin of fraud” of 0.000004 percent. In her ruling the judge said the fears stated by the Republican challengers were “conjectural and hypothetical.” In other words, it was as Rudy Giuliani said after the election, “we’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence.”

A responsible voter should demand that Minnesota Republicans repudiate the Big Lie and the Big Liar who concocted it and continues to propagate it. In kindergarten we learn to tell the truth and play fair, but too many in Trump’s party have forgotten these basics.