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An election myth becomes a violent mob

The mob of violent Trump supporters storming the Capitol on Jan. 6 was nothing short of a national disgrace. Their hijacking of Congress was no protest, but rather a criminal act against American voters, values and institutions. That many carried the American flag as they sought to upend a defining aspect of our democracy — certifying the election of a president — gave this whole absurd, dangerous takeover a blasphemous sheen.

Soon-to-be-former President Donald Trump owns the most responsibility for egging on devotees with his fabrications of a stolen election. But it would be incomplete to ignore the supporting roles that some Republicans — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and others — have played in creating this crisis of country. They have, without evidence, promoted claims of voter fraud even as multiple judges — some appointed by Trump — have thrown out the flimsy lawsuits in multiple states that Trump and his allies have pursued.

Peddling lies and encouraging mistrust to people already seething over their candidate’s loss makes for a dangerously combustible mix.

It would be tragic enough if the insurrection stemmed only from statements and actions by the president and elected officials from other states. But to our deep disappointment, Oregon elected leaders have been among those fanning the flames, including Rep. Cliff Bentz, the newly-sworn-in representative for Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District.

Bentz’s predecessor, Greg Walden, has already said he has not seen any evidence of widespread election fraud, despite Trump’s claims, and acknowledged the coming Biden administration. But Bentz, unfortunately, failed to voice such confidence in the election, instead signing a letter with other Republicans that called for an investigation into supposed voting irregularities.

We do not believe that Bentz, who has long demonstrated his ability to analyze and distill the most complex policy decisions, could possibly be swayed by the fact-free claims that Trump has made of a rigged election. We do recognize, however, that many in his pro-Trump district are hurting over the loss. After his split vote on whether to object to the Arizona and Pennsylvania results, we hope to see him publicly affirm the validity of the election and focus on how best to work with his colleagues for his rural district’s needs.

Twelve Republican state legislators also questioned the legitimacy of the presidential results, urging Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to join a meritless Texas lawsuit challenging the Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Wisconsin results. In a letter, they complained about the states’ expansion of mail-in balloting — a particularly bizarre position coming from legislators who themselves were elected in Oregon’s vote-by-mail system.

Sen. Kim Thatcher, the Republican candidate for Oregon secretary of state last year, was among them — confirmation that voters made the right choice in rejecting her for the post, which oversees the state’s elections. She was joined by Sen. Chuck Thomsen of Hood River, Sen. Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls, Sen. Alan Olsen of Canby, Rep. Bill Post of Keizer, Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson of Prineville, Rep. Greg Barreto of Cove, Rep. David Brock Smith of Port Orford, Rep. Gary Leif of Roseburg, Rep. Mike Nearman of Independence, Rep. E. Werner Reschke of Klamath Falls and Rep.-elect Bobby Levy of Echo (Linthicum’s and Breese-Iverson’s districts include part of Jackson County). Their support for canceling out the votes of millions of Americans with whom they disagree should not be forgotten.

It could be that some of these legislators are simply catering to their constituents who are angry about Trump’s loss. But if so, they are ultimately hurting themselves and the people they represent. It is never wise to promote false information that undermines people’s faith in our fundamental democratic processes and our institutions.

Our government derives its legitimacy and authority from the trust, faith and support of its people. The events of Jan. 6 show how destructive losing that can be.

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