Moving beyond the “Big Lie”
As a person who has been a registered Republican since first being eligible to vote 32 years ago, I believe it is time for Republicans to unequivocally repudiate the “Big Lie” and begin a new era of civic engagement focused on putting the people and communities we are serving ahead of our ideological affiliations and special interest loyalties.
It is time to set aside the politics of grievance and the culture wars that breed contempt, distrust, and a perverted form of nationalism. While we should vigorously debate competing ideas, values, and policies, we should put a stop to the tactical and strategic decisions made every election cycle to instill fear, anger, and mistrust into targeted groups of people for the sake of creating “energy” so people will turn out to the ballot box and vote — or so they will write big checks to our candidates and political action committees.
Rather than reaching for the proverbial ring of power to push a short-sighted hyper-partisan agenda to please an angry faction to retain power and position, those of us who value the genius of the U.S. Constitution should change how we gain power and how we use power. The ends do not justify the means no matter how noble the end we desire to achieve.
Words matter. The rhetoric we adopt and approve has the power to shape communities, form the character of citizens and greatly affect civic life for good or for evil. Unfortunately, Republicans have adopted and approved extreme rhetoric to gain power which has set into motion extreme actions and caused irreparable harm to our institutions. Our constitutional form of government was specifically designed to moderate extremist views and to compel communication between competing political factions, collaboration toward a shared set of values or objectives, and compromise on how those values and objectives are codified into law and policy.
But, if we have learned anything from the Trump effect on American politics, especially through the investigation of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol (hereinafter referred to as the “Select Committee”), we have learned that the words used by our leaders have the power to set into motion a violent assault on democracy and the fragile intuitions that protect and preserve what has truly made America a great nation.
The “Big Lie” is a direct contradiction of an unequivocal fact: Joe Biden won the 2020 election and Donald Trump lost in a free and fair election. There was zero evidence of fraud. Every secretary of state, both Republican and Democrat, have confirmed this fact. Every court that was presented with a case alleging voter fraud concluded that there was insufficient evidence to assert such a claim; consequently, every case – more than sixty of them – was dismissed by each of the judges presented with evidence and argument from the agents of the election deniers regardless of who appointed them (many Trump appointees).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explained shortly after the electoral college votes were cast, “President Trump claims the election was stolen. The assertions range from specific local allegations to constitutional arguments, to sweeping conspiracy theories. Dozens of lawsuits received hearings in courtrooms all across our country. But over and over the courts rejected these claims, including all-star judges, whom the President himself has nominated. But nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale that would have tipped this entire election. Nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break when that doubt was incited without evidence. The voters, the courts, and the stage have all spoken. They’ve all spoken.”
And then in the great tradition of our Constitutional form of government, Sen. McConnell acknowledged, "Many millions of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result, but our system of government has processes to determine who will be sworn in on January the 20th. The Electoral College has spoken, so today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden."
However, shortly thereafter, thanks to the repeated lies of Mr. Trump and his minions, a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 with the express goal to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and install Donald Trump to a second term. Call it an insurrection or a coup attempt, it was fueled by the "Big Lie": the verifiably false assertion that Trump won. Joe Biden won 306 votes in the Electoral College, while Trump received 232. In the popular vote, Biden won by more than 7 million votes.
Unfortunately, the “Big Lie” of a stolen election has grown more entrenched and more dangerous, particularly in Nevada where almost every Republican candidate for statewide office, except (arguably) gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo, has adopted the “Big Lie” as a part of their campaign talking points. Additionally, losing candidates in the recent primary, like Joey Gilbert, have appropriated their own version of the “Big Lie” propaganda to their own narcissistic ends without regard to the consequences of attacking the credibility of ballot box.
There is zero evidence to support any of the claims Gilbert is making concerning the outcome of the primary election, but it appears he and his benefactors subscribe to the old saying, “If you tell a big lie enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." Add a faux “mathematician” to the “Big Lie” and cast doubt on the basic arithmetic deployed by hardworking county election officials to determine the outcome of our elections and you have a story that rivals the “science” behind Sasquatch stories in the Pacific northwest. This is a dangerous game being played by a person who took an oath as a Nevada attorney to support our form of government, comply with a professional code of conduct, and to faithfully and honestly discharge his duties in service to clients, courts and our community. When confidence in the ballot box is compromised, history has repeatedly shown us that democracies erupt into violent chaos.
"I've never been more scared about American democracy than I am right now, because of the metastasizing of the 'big lie,' "says election law expert Rick Hasen, co-director of the Fair Elections and Free Speech Center at the University of California, Irvine. Sharing this concern, Sen. McConnell pointed out in his speech supporting the outcome of the election that, “Self-government requires a shared commitment to truth and shared respect for the ground rules of our system. We cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes; with separate facts, and separate realities; with nothing in common except hostility toward each another and mistrust for the few national institutions that we still share.”
To combat the “Big Lie,” eight prominent conservatives released a report on July 14, 2022, examining “every claim of fraud and miscount put forward by former President Trump and his advocates” following the 2020 presidential election, Participants included three federal judges (Thomas B. Griffith, J. Michael Luttig, and Michael W. McConnel), two former senators (John Danforth of Missouri and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon), former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, Republican election lawyer Benjamin Ginsburg, and David Hoppe, former chief of staff to Paul Ryan. They reached an “unequivocal” conclusion: “Joe Biden was the choice of a majority of the Electors, who themselves were the choice of the majority of voters in their states.”
The report walks alphabetically through the six battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, providing both a written analysis and an addendum of court cases and their results for each state and concludes, “President Trump waged his campaign for re-election during a devastating worldwide pandemic that caused a severe downturn in the global economy. This, coupled with an electorate that included a small but statistically significant number willing to vote for other Republican candidates on the ballot
but not for President Trump, are the reasons his campaign fell short, not a fraudulent election.”
Unfortunately, even with efforts to defeat the “Big Lie,” our current political system does not reward leaders who work with people of opposing points of view to solve problems. Rather, our system rewards politicians and political parties who instigate conflict and exploit the fear and anger of the constituent groups that support them. As I wrote a few years ago, in today’s political world, conflict is what is being bought, sold and promoted.
Both major political parties and the politicians who serve at the pleasure of these parties appear to have concluded that there is no value in actually working together to solve problems. Why? Because solving problems does not make people angry enough to turn out to the polls. Because solving problems does not instill enough fear to cause people to write a check. Because, sadly, solving problems does not win elections. But, promoting conflict does. The reasoning of my partisan friends goes something like this: Maybe, just maybe, if we get enough members of our own party elected, we will begin to solve problems, but we can’t begin to think about solving problems until we have first achieved that objective. Partisans in today’s political culture don’t want to spend time and money collaborating with political rivals, taking advantage of points of agreement and promoting shared values because such efforts don’t win elections.
However, if both Republicans and Democrats would realize that, across party lines, there are major points of consensus that could be the catalyst to solving significant problems and improving the lives of people, I believe we could move beyond the “Big Lie” and the politics of grievance. This requires those of us who vote and who are otherwise engaged to resist the worn out political talking points we beat each other over the head with and actually engage in real conversations with those who disagree with us on important issues. Further, we must stop rewarding those who embrace the “Big Lie” political tactics of Mr. Trump and his minions. We must stop giving permission to this type of rhetoric by either supporting it directly through who we support and vote for or through our silence.
By way of example, I am working within the Republican party to oppose candidates who have actively promoted the “Big Lie,” including Jim Marchant, Michelle Fiore, Sigal Chattah, and Adam Laxalt. This opposition takes one of two forms: (1) actively supporting their opponents even though their opponents are of a different political party and/or (2) voting None of the above in November. The latter option has been my preferred way to conscientiously object to the repugnant candidates my party has nominated in the past without supporting people of the other party who disagree with me on issues that are important to me. (Though this option is good for my conscience, it is an approach that I have concluded is too cynical to have a positive impact on the current political culture that makes all or nothing demands of candidates on single issues before offering support.)
Therefore, this election cycle I am actively working with other Republicans to support people who disagree with me on issues important to me in order to make some effort at real change. In this regard, after much deliberation, prayer, and soul searching, I recently agreed to serve on a host committee for a fundraiser for Attorney General Ford’s re-election and to be a part of a coalition of Republicans supporting his re-election campaign. I agreed to do this despite the fact that I supported my friend Wes Duncan, who narrowly lost to Ford in the last election. Moreover, I decided to support Ford despite our sharp disagreement on quite a few important issues. My hope in supporting people who disagree with me on important issues might open the door to having consensus building conversations and that we could find ways to work together, despite our differences, on serving people and solving problems instead of participating in another election cycle where we engage in rhetoric that exploits the fear and anger of people for political gain.
My opposition to Sigal Chattah is also a factor in supporting Ford. My views on her are published for all the world to see, so I won't repeat myself here. However, I will say it grieves me that the Republican Party did not denounce her and her racist statements concerning Attorney General Ford a few months ago. Instead, the Republican party nominated her to represent the party in a campaign for the highest law enforcement officer in Nevada. I regret the fact that Attorney General Ford and his family were subjected to racist and violent rhetoric that was ultimately endorsed by thousands of people in a Republican primary election. Every Republican who has remained silent in the face of this rhetoric should be deeply ashamed at the moral failure to speak out and oppose such evil.
I am not suggesting my approach to defeating this corrosive political culture is the best way or only way or that my efforts will ultimately result in change. But it is time to move beyond the “Big Lie” and begin a new era of civic engagement focused on putting the people and communities we are serving ahead of our ideological affiliations and special interest loyalties.
Toward this end, speaking out is better than remaining silent. Taking action is better than hopeless inaction. We can’t keep engaging in the political process with the same conflict promoting rhetoric using the same political strategies and tactics election cycle after election cycle and expect a different result. The age of Trump and the destructive events of January 6, 2021 did not spring forth in a vacuum. This political culture has been nurtured by a political system that encourages the manipulation of fear and anger rather than appealing to our shared hopes and values and working together to solve problems that affect us all.
Jason D. Guinasso is the managing partner of law firm Hutchison & Steffen’s office in Reno. He is a litigator and trial attorney who also maintains an appellate practice, which includes petitions for judicial review of administrative decisions, extraordinary writs, and appeals to the Nevada Supreme Court. He also is legal counsel for the Reno/Fernley Crisis Pregnancy Center and an associate pastor at Ministerio Palabra de Vida where he serves a diverse multicultural church.