I would like to share with you a brief conversation about politics that I didn't want to have. But the man in the Arizona bar sitting a couple of stools down from me was persistent, so I reluctantly engaged.
He first brought up President Joe Biden's handling of Afghanistan, specifically the "idiocy" — his word, not mine — of making a deal with the Taliban in the first place. When I pointed out that it was the former president and not the current one who negotiated the deal — going so far as to pull up video of Donald Trump bragging about making the deal — the man pivoted to Hillary Clinton's email. The Fox News buzzwords just kept coming. It was like playing a drinking game at Tucker Carlson's house.
The best part was when he said the electoral college had to be protected so that California and New York don't "ruin our democracy." I asked how a system saves democracy when it allows the candidate with fewer votes to claim victory?
He paused for a moment. Then went back to Clinton's emails.
But, hey, at least he paused.
That's more than can be said about Republicans in the Arizona state Senate, who in their rush to show their undying allegiance to Trumpism are turning democracy into roadkill. It has been more than nine months since the 2020 general election, and some of these bullheaded elected officials are still having a hard time believing that their president — who at no point received even a 50% approval rating — could lose his reelection bid.
So instead of accepting the election results, accepting the findings from the Maricopa County sample ballot recount, or accepting findings of two firms accredited by the federal U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the Republican-controlled state senate went all in on the big lie. Adding to the insanity, Cyber Ninjas, the company they hired to conduct their audit, had no experience auditing election results before and is led by a Trump supporter who has repeated wild conspiracy theories about election fraud.
The combination of toxic partisanship and misinformation is being used as a fundraiser for Trump supporters seeking office, like state Rep. Mark Finchem, who earlier this month announced he is running for Arizona secretary of state.
"We've already shown evidence of fraud — now it's time for them to prove it wasn't," he tweeted, with a picture of a MAGA red T-shirt that read #ProveIt.
One Scottsdale resident told the Wall Street Journal that she believes the Cyber Ninja audit will prove Trump won Arizona and that "there will be a soft coup and we will have President Trump reinstalled."
A soft coup.
I would hate to see her sitting a couple of bar stools down from me.
The results of this problematic audit? Delayed because three members of the five-person audit team tested positive for COVID-19. That's on brand for a state party that censured the governor for enacting emergency orders to stop the spread of the virus.
When the state GOP chair, Kelli Ward, told the Associated Press that she will "always put America first," I wondered if she understood what that would mean. Because up to this point, it appears she is putting Trumpism first, and democracy is suffering because of it.
Without democracy, there is no America. At least not the version we used to justify invading Iraq to end the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Not the version of America we used to justify staying in Afghanistan 10 years after the U.S. Navy SEALs shot and killed Osama bin Laden in a compound in Pakistan. Twenty years of war guided by the premise we were promoting democracy.
You would think at a certain point Republicans would see the damage being done to the country they say they love. Instead lawmakers from neighboring Utah, the Midwest and Tennessee have traveled to Arizona to see if they can conduct similar audits back home.
Democracy is being poisoned by people who care only about winning. And now there's a retiree in Scottsdale casually talking to the media about participating in a "soft coup" because her party has led her to believe that's how you handle election results you don't like. Presumably that's better than the attempted "hard coup" at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
So much trust in our election system is being undermined even though not a single court or state official found evidence of widespread voter fraud.