On Election Day, the future of our democracy is ballot | Fletcher McClellan

On Tuesday, American voters can point the world toward rejection of authoritarian rule

November 7, 2022 6:30 am

(Alex Wong/Getty Images).

Early morning on October 28, an intruder entered the San Francisco home of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Once inside, a man identified as David DePape shouted, “Where’s Nancy?” 

Carrying a backpack stuffed with rope, a hammer, and zip-ties, DePape instead found Pelosi’s, D-Calif., husband, Paul Pelosi. After some tense moments with the trespasser, Paul Pelosi managed to call 911 from the bathroom. An alert dispatcher recognized a real-time emergency and sent police to the residence. 

When the officers arrived, they found DePape and Pelosi struggling for control of the hammer. DePape swung and cracked the 82-year-old’s skull.

All this time Nancy Pelosi was in Washington, D.C., far away from the lunatic who allegedly told investigators he wanted to kidnap her, break her kneecaps, and parade her around the Capitol as a lesson to her Democratic Party colleagues. 

Taken quickly to a nearby hospital, Paul Pelosi underwent brain surgery and treatment for serious injuries to his hands and right arm. Doctors say he is on the way to a full recovery, psychological damage notwithstanding. Speaker Pelosi said she and her family were “heartbroken and traumatized” by the attack.

Last week, DePape pleaded not guilty to multiple state charges, including assault, attempted murder, and attempted kidnapping.

Looking into the background of the alleged assailant, investigators discovered DePape, a white male who is 42 years old, was immersed in the dark world of MAGA propaganda. His writings and posts contained racist, antisemitic, and anti-LGBTQ remarks. He was deeply involved with the delusional QAnon movement. 

In addition, DePape believed former President Donald Trump was the victim of election fraud in 2020.

This was the second time that radicalized Trump supporters targeted Nancy Pelosi. On January 6, 2021, an armed mob roamed the U.S. Capitol looking for the Speaker, shouting, “Nancy, Nancy, where are you, Nancy?”

As shocking as the assault on Paul Pelosi was, even more frightening was the reaction of Republican and conservative commentators. 

Some Republicans, such as U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., condemned the attack. Others chose to politicize it, saying the assault illustrated the weakness of Democrats on crime and immigration, the latter because DePape was in the U.S. illegally since 2008. 

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Still others, including Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, thought the incident was funny. Commentator Ben Shapiro encouraged followers to support a legal defense fund for DePape.

Trump spread a rumor that DePape and Pelosi knew each other and faked the break-in. Donald Trump Jr. insinuated the two were same-sex lovers who had a spat. This smear of course became a meme that circulated throughout MAGA world.

All of these scurrilous and, frankly, juvenile narratives were directly refuted by eyewitnesses, DePape’s statement to investigators, and security cameras managed by the Capitol Police.

Despite a decades-long campaign of demonizing Speaker Pelosi, no one in the MAGA media empire took responsibility for inciting threats of violence toward her. 

In his address to the nation on Nov. 2, President Biden linked the Pelosi assault to Trump’s refusal to accept defeat in the 2020 presidential election and the presence of 300 election deniers on the ballot in the midterm elections.

Political violence and rejection of election outcomes are threats to democracy in America, the president stated.

It should be clear that the danger to democracy is coming from the Republican Party. In poll after poll, two-thirds of Republicans believe the Big Lie that Trump was a victim of election fraud.

Dozens of recounts, audits, and lawsuits, many of which Republican officials conducted or decided, found no systematic irregularities in the 2020 elections.

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This is not to say that all Republicans support political violence or election subversion. However, the failure of GOP leaders, conservative commentators, and Trump supporters to condemn the Pelosi assault is an abdication of leadership.

Unfortunately, the attempt to harm a Democratic Speaker of the House was only one example of increased violence, intimidation, and harassment – physical, verbal, and online – by the ultra-right.

Rather than attempt to attract new supporters, Trump has aligned himself more closely with QAnon believers, Christian nationalists, antisemites, and white nationalists. Fearful of the extremist tendencies of Trump’s base, Republicans are reluctant to speak out. 

Living in an alternative reality, detached from truth, morality, and accountability, MAGAs feel free to say and do whatever they think will outrage political opponents and the mainstream media.

The GOP – the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan – has become one of the most extreme right-wing political parties in the world, according to the Harvard political scientist Pippa Norris.

Many European countries have multi-party systems which can isolate extremist parties. Here in the U.S., however, Republicans are the only viable alternative voters can turn to.

Republicans know this, and are keeping their mouths shut about what they plan to do if they take over one or both houses of Congress. We can anticipate a flurry of investigations toward the Biden administration, leading toward a possible impeachment of the president.

Last week, Brazilian voters turned away the bid of incumbent president — and Trump favorite — Jair Bolsonaro for a second term.

On Tuesday, American voters can point the world toward rejection of authoritarian rule. Democracy is on the ballot.

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Fletcher McClellan
Fletcher McClellan

Opinion contributor Fletcher McClellan is a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @mcclelef.