Sympathy for the Devil

I’m writing two days after Liz Cheney was crushed in her attempt to hold onto her Wyoming Congressional seat, the same seat she won with 73% of the vote in 2020. This time, the election-denying, reality-defying Trump acolyte who crushed her got 66%. And so it goes.

For as long as I’ve been aware of her, I have disagreed with Cheney on virtually everything. I came to loathe her – strong word, but accurate – during the second Obama term and through virtually all of Trump’s. She could be a rank demagogue. Obama, she said, had “literally declared war” on the first and second amendments. Probably the low point was her adamant, seemingly untroubled opposition to gay marriage. Her sister was gay and married at the time. (To her credit, she later said she was wrong.) She voted with Trump 93% of the time.

But for God’s sake, let’s set all of that aside. Because right now – even after her loss – Liz Cheney is one of the few Americans in power standing in the breach between a sputtering democracy and a Hungary-like autocracy.

Adam Kinzinger guesses that, of the 212 Republicans in the House of Representatives, about five actually believe Trump won. Naif that I am, I’ve been incredulous that one of my senators, John Cornyn, whom I respect despite his vote not to impeach Trump in 2021, is plainly afraid to discuss the election. Unlike Cheney, his vote against impeachment has safeguarded him against most attacks from Trump loyalists. He’s not a wounded duck.

Of course, that would change if he did state, loudly and repeatedly, that Biden won. He’d draw Trump’s ire. He’d have to live with his supporters’ rage. If Trumpism is still a winning brand in 2026 and Cornyn runs again, he’d be primaried from the right. He might lose.

Is political office, or power, or the prestige of being a U.S. Senator, or the affection and support of millions, so intoxicating? It would seem I have my answer.

More to the point, would it even matter if Cornyn insisted the election was above board? Would it move the needle even a little bit among Republicans if he called out Trump for what he’s done to erode a bedrock American faith? I don’t know. But I suspect it would. It couldn’t hurt to have a Republican who enjoys broad support from true believers standing shoulder to shoulder with the turncoat / truth-teller Cheney.

But reading what Cheney has endured for telling the truth has made me think again about Cornyn et al.’s timidity. She had to shut down public campaign appearances in Wyoming because of death threats. The threats included family members. She campaigned by showing up at house parties hosted by supporters. She continues to require round-the-clock security.

Maybe it’s not only the fear of losing that has turned Cornyn and the respectable Republican ilk mute. If so, no judgement.

The only thing that’s clear is that Cheney, for reasons she’s articulated repeatedly and eloquently, has accepted the risk of saying what’s true. For that, all of us who value the American experiment, in all its manifest shortcomings, owe her thanks.

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