On cheating in politics

Jim Chrisinger: Cheating by violating the spirit (though not the letter) of the law corrupts our democracy and alienates us from each other.  

Fair play is a bedrock American value. Fair play follows from our egalitarian origins: all persons are created equal and endowed with rights. Fair play means we all play by the rules. Treat others as you want to be treated. Play by the spirit as well as the letter of the rules.  

We feel strongly about fair play because it springs from emotion as much as logic.  

The opposite of fair play is cheating. Cheating shows a lack of integrity and a total failure of character. No one likes a cheater.  

One of our political parties — the Republicans — now regularly cheats.  

“Cheating” here means acting within the technical boundaries of the law but grossly violating the spirit of the law, as well as undermining democracy.  

Let me count seven ways, not including the many examples of former President Donald Trump cheating: 

  1. While both sides now gerrymander, there is far, far more of it on the right. Democrats would be happy to conduct all redistricting under neutral systems, like Iowa’s. Gerrymandering ensures that some votes count more than others. It’s particularly pernicious because it precludes democracy from self-correcting; gerrymandering locks in minority rule.  
  1. Voter suppression by twisting the rules to make it harder for the other side’s supporters to vote violates the essence of democracy.  
  1. Putting election deniers and conspiracy theorists in charge of elections threatens the integrity of the entire process.    
  1. In at least four cases, Republican legislatures cheated voters out of the statewide initiatives they had passed: Medicaid expansion in Missouri, restoring ex-convicts’ voting rights in Florida, an anti-corruption law in South Dakota, and a fair redistricting process in Ohio (see below).  
  1. Lame duck Republican legislatures and governors stripped incoming Democratic governors of authority in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Similarly, the GOP-controlled Iowa legislature voted to strip the Attorney General’s authority to bring suits Republicans opposed.  
  1. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Chuck Grassley refused to give Merrick Garland a hearing, let alone a vote, when a Supreme Court vacancy occurred more than eight months before a presidential election. Then they confirmed Amy Coney Barrett eight days before an election when 65 million Americans had already voted.  
  1. After Ohioans passed a referendum establishing a neutral redistricting process, Republicans presented a bad-faith, partisan plan, which even the Republican-dominated Ohio Supreme Court rejected. Then they did it again, and the court rejected it again. And again, and again, and again. The Republicans ran out the clock. Then they got a federal three-judge panel, including two Trump-appointed judges, to okay their illegal plan, which is now in place for the 2022 election. Shameless.  

Both sides engage in cheating, unfortunately. For example both sides have boosted extremists in the other party's primaries, with the Democrats being more guilty of this sin in this election cycle.  

Republicans have claimed that Democratic initiatives to expand voting options during the COVID-19 pandemic in the 2020 cycle were cheating. But how is it cheating to help more people to legally vote? The whole point of democracy is people voting.

Many on the right see the decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton as a result of her emails as cheating. But the legal process was followed. The FBI investigated, and the prosecutor found a lack of intent required to sustain the charge. That’s not cheating but it does illustrate why it’s so important that the Justice Department and other prosecutors’ offices don’t become corrupted by partisanship as Bill Barr’s DOJ was during the Trump administration.  

That cheating often seems to be in the eye of the beholder should not blind us to reality. Equating Republican and Democratic cheating is the worst kind of false equivalency. The cheating today is clearly one-sided. 

Why do Republicans believe it’s okay to cheat? Perhaps because “their America” is under such existential threat that they “have to” win. Or Democrats have been so demonized that Republicans are so sure that the Democrats are cheating so they have to cheat in return. For example, the few cases of voting fraud that have been found recently tended to be committed by Republicans, not Democrats. See the ballot harvesting case in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional district in 2018.   

Cheating is easier when you don’t respect the game. For Republicans and especially MAGA Republicans, overall hostility toward government makes it easier to cheat. Cheating even provides another opportunity to take credit for “sticking it to the libs.”  

Cheating undermines more than our politics and government. It corrodes our relationships. It alienates us from each other. It enables us to “other” our fellow citizens.  

Cheating undermines the trust democracy needs to survive.  

Top image by OSTILL is Franck Camhi is available via Shutterstock.

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