Northwest Missourian Opinion

Imagine a kindergartner crossing the street.

Imagine two teenagers leaning out of their car windows, throwing fruit at the 5-year-old girl. One throws fresh, crisp apples. The other throws rotten oranges. They’re trying to injure her with good fruit and bad.

We’ll return to the fruit.

First, the basics: The U.S. is a democratic republic. We hold elections to decide some matters for ourselves, and we hold elections to choose our representatives who then make decisions about other matters on our behalf. The power flows upward from us, the people. 

Elections are therefore an essential, nearly sacred part of our system of self-governance. They’re both how we exercise our power and how we hire and fire those who exercise our power on our behalf. 

Sen. Josh Hawley’s recent column in the Southeast Missourian purports to explain why he objected on Jan. 6 to the presidential electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania, chosen by the popular vote in those states. But his explanation is rife with distractions and logical fallacies, and he never adequately justifies his attempt to disenfranchise millions of voters. 

“My objection proceeded according to the letter of the statute, which specifically permits for objections and debate, and followed the traditions of Congress,” Hawley wrote. He’s a rule follower, he wants us to remember, not a violent insurrectionist. 

But Hawley is presenting a false dilemma. The options for what he could have done on Jan. 6 are numerous, but he disingenuously limits those options to two: Either he embraces lawless violence, or he leads polite debates according to the “letter of the statute.” 

This distraction aims to emphasize the difference in means between Hawley and the insurrectionists while ignoring — and hoping we will be unable to remember — their shared desired end: to replace the will of the people with the will of a minority. 

This apple can’t possibly be harmful to anyone; it’s so tasty and full of nutrients.

The senator tells us that he objected to the electors from Pennsylvania because an election law passed by that state’s legislature more than a year ago — Act 77 of 2019 — doesn’t jibe with his reading of the Pennsylvania State Constitution.

Hawley is claiming authority he doesn’t have. 

As a member of the U.S. Senate, his role in the electoral college certification is to count the votes. Instead, on Jan. 6, the senator expanded his job description; in addition to being a senator, he also assumed, at least for a day, the responsibilities of a justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or the Supreme Court of the United States, only without all the law clerks and legal briefs and oral arguments and due process.

On Jan. 6, Hawley attempted to disenfranchise the voters of Arizona — for reasons unarticulated — and Pennsylvania because, “[t]o this day, no court has found [Pennsylvania’s] mail-in voting scheme to be constitutional,” Hawley said. 

This is another logical fallacy: an appeal to ignorance.

“No court has found … constitutional” is not the same as “all the courts have found … unconstitutional.” 

The Pennsylvania law hasn’t been challenged and then made its way through the courts. About the constitutionality of Act 77 of 2019 in Pennsylvania, we are all, including Hawley, ignorant. 

Ignorance of something isn’t — can’t be — proof of anything. 

The kindergartner saw the apple in my hand and then saw it flying toward her face. But she never said she saw the exact moment the apple left my hand, so that proves my innocence. 

But the senator has studied constitutional law, and he’s argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Let’s assume, for a moment, he’s correct that this particular Pennsylvania state law will eventually be found unconstitutional.

It still doesn’t matter. 

For the election of 2020, it won’t — and it doesn’t — matter. 

For reasons of basic fairness, in a democratic republic, matters related to our elections need to be resolved well before the next election, not in the period of certification immediately after one.

Imagine if, amid the confetti-strewn celebration immediately after the 2021 Super Bowl, the referee pushed his way past the Vince Lombardi Trophy and found a microphone and announced that he now believes the winning team failed to disclose a positive drug test for a wide receiver in 2019. That receiver caught the winning touchdown pass. The scoreboard is scrubbed. The losers become winners, suddenly, now, after the game’s over, by bizarre fiat.

There are others, of course: for instance, the tu quoque fallacy, or the appeal to hypocrisy. 

“In the past, when Democrats objected, they were praised for standing up for democracy,” Hawley wrote.

Claiming the other side is being hypocritical in responding to your argument often makes for good theater, and it sometimes helps the sympathetic stay in your corner, but it doesn’t count as supporting evidence for your argument.

Hawley mentions, of course, how deeply concerned he is about the “unprecedented interference of the Big Tech corporations in this election.” 

Not only does he fail to provide specific, credible evidence about this “interference”; he fails to connect this vague claim about Big Tech’s behavior in any way to his objections to the electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania. 

Big Tech is a red herring. 

Lastly, Hawley’s most egregious fallacy — we can simply call it a lie. 

“Some wondered why I stuck with my objection following the violence at the Capitol,” Hawley wrote. “The reason is simple: I will not bow to a lawless mob, or allow criminals to drown out the legitimate concerns of my constituents.”

Returning to the joint session to continue counting the electors surely seemed a symbolic refutation of the mob’s short-term desires. We should applaud the members of Congress, Hawley included, for returning on the night of Jan. 6. 

But upon returning to work Hawley then attempted to disenfranchise millions of voters, which is at least part of what the mob, from all available evidence, wanted. His actions dealt no deathblow to the mob’s cause. 

Hawley and the insurrectionists used different means in an attempt to reach the same desired end: disrupting the recognition and enactment of the will of the people.

That’s Anti-Democracy 101.

Generally, the fresh, crisp apple is good for eating and good for you. But both the nutritious apples and the rotten oranges were being lobbed at the kindergartner crossing the street. 

There’s not a moral difference. Throwing either at the kindergartner crossing the street is wrong. 

And that kindergartner isn’t worthy of our protection only because she’s adorable. She’s the premise of the United States of America. 

I want Hawley to resign because of what he did on Jan. 6. It was an anti-democratic attack, an effort to injure democracy; he took our essential, nearly sacred process — by which the people, speaking through their ballots, delegate their collective power — and, in a Brooks Brothers suit and with eyes trained on the camera lens and with all due deference to decorum, tried to make it bleed. 

And that’s wholly rotten.

Richard Sonnenmoser is a constituent of Senator Josh Hawley and teaches English at Northwest Missouri State University.

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