In the days before the riots at our nation’s Capital that temporarily stopped certification of Joe Biden’s election as President, I wrote a piece for the Almanack detailing all the ways that our Adirondack and North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik had lied to her constituents about the 2020 election. Then, after the rioters were cleared from the Capitol on January 6th, which included dead bodies, Elise Stefanik took to the floor of the House of Representatives and lied some more.
Elise Stefanik has gone big on Donald Trump’s big lie, which is that Trump won the 2020 election. Despite numerous recounts and audits in places like Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which included the participation and oversight of hundreds of local Republican election officials, Donald Trump’s big lie says that in all these places, in hundreds of different counties, there was a grand conspiracy to steal the election. Trump tells us that he won the election by a lot, in a landslide. Trump tells us that Joe Biden did not win the popular vote by over 7 million votes.
In the past four months since the January 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol, Elise Stefanik stepped up her lying, and today she managed to lie her way into a leadership position. She was voted in today as the House Republican Conference Chair, the 3rd highest ranking position in the House Republican conference. In Washington, D.C., she’s part of the political leadership and is now a power player by any standard.
I live and vote in Hamilton County, which is near the center of the 21st Congressional District. Elise Stefanik is my representative in Congress. I find it disheartening to have as my representative somebody who has decided to lie continuously and aggressively. It’s something that she started during the first impeachment hearings of President Trump in 2019 and it has escalated over the last 18 months. Elise Stefanik now tells us that she’s lying to uphold the U.S. Constitution.
In embracing the big lie, Elise Stefanik has shown that she is willing to trade away her moderate bonafides, her independence, and any reputation she may have achieved for trying to work across the aisle. She decided she’s willing to align herself with the most radical of Republicans in the House. In the last few days, her statements when campaigning for the No 3 position among House Republicans were empty of substance, yet laced with disdain for “socialist democrats.” She still refers to Trump as President Trump. What does her willingness to trade away her political brand, and any principles that she may have held, tell us about her willingness to trade away things for her congressional district? She has not been big at bringing home the bacon, and now, will she be able to secure funding for things like broadband or infrastructure funding for bridges and municipal water systems?
The reality of our times is that as Elise Stefanik has increased her lying and told bigger and bigger lies, her campaign contributions, her TV appearances, and her prestige and status in the Republican Party have all risen dramatically. As Elise Stefanik lies more, her fame and power grow. Lying, quite literally, opened the doors to leadership among House Republicans.
In moving up to House Republican Conference Chair today, Stefanik took out Representative Liz Cheney from Wyoming, who had refused to lie, and who had called out Trump’s big lie as a big lie. Liz Cheney said “we’ve had a situation where President Trump claimed for months that the election was stolen and then, apparently, set about to do everything he could to steal it himself.”
Before she was voted out, Cheney said “If you want leaders who will enable and spread his [Trump’s] destructive lies, I’m not your person. You have plenty of others to choose from.” And then today House Republicans chose Elise Stefanik, who is quite happy to spread destructive lies.
In her farewell speech before being ousted, Cheney spoke about the importance in America for the “reverence for the rule of law.” She said “Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with our Constitution.” Trump’s big lie was tested in more than 60 courts (reviewed by 86 different judges, 38 of whom were appointed by Republicans) where he and his supporters lost legal challenges again and again. Cheney said “remaining silent and emboldening the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”
After being deposed, Cheney told reporters “We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the Constitution.”
You don’t have to take it from me, but by using Liz Cheney’s analysis of things, Elise Stefanik has become emboldened by Trump’s big lie, has abandoned the rule of law when she sought to overturn the election, and is now working to undermine our democracy as she continues to press the big lie.
Donald Trump’s big lie is now Elise Stefanik’s big lie.
The big lie is now the heart and soul of Elise Stefanik’s political life.
On January 6th, after Congress reconvened after the riot, Stefanik spoke on the House floor. She amplified the big lie and attacked the elections in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan with even more lies. She said that she was doing so because “My North Country constituents and the American people cherish the Constitution. And they know that according to the Constitution, elected officials closest to the people in state legislatures have the power of the pen to write election law, not unelected bureaucrats, judges, Governors, or Secretaries of State.”
Item by item in Stefanik’s speech on January 6th was shown to be nonsense. Elise Stefanik tells us that she’s not lying for her own career or to gain political power in the Republican Party. She tells us that, in essence, she’s lying because she cherishes the Constitution, and she’s lying for her constituents who also cherish the Constitution.
On the other side of the U.S. Capitol after the January 6th riot, in the Senate chamber, Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney gave a speech. He said “The best way that we can show respect to the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That’s the burden, that’s the duty of leadership. The truth is that Vice President Biden won the election and President Trump lost.” Romney closed with this question: “And in light of today’s sad circumstances I ask my colleagues: Do we weigh our own political fortunes more heavily than we weigh the strength of our republic, the strength of our democracy, and the cause of freedom?”
Senator Romney believes that a political leader in America should tell the people the truth. Leaders should not misinform their constituents for political gain. Same goes for Liz Cheney. Elise Stefanik does things differently. Unlike Senator Romney or Congresswoman Cheney, telling the truth is no longer an option for Elise Stefanik. The rewards for lying are simply too good.
One of the reasons that Elise Stefanik has embraced lying as a core part of her politics is that she’ll pay no price for lying in her congressional district. In every race from now on, she’ll have untold millions to use to lie about and squash her opponents.
25 years ago Adirondack politics was dominated by theories about black helicopters in the skies over the Adirondacks leading to a United Nations takeover. At public meetings in the 1990s fears about black helicopters and a UN takeover would elicit thunderous applause. Conspiracy theories were thick about state environmental agencies spying on Adirondack landowners. Exercises in things like park-wide wetlands mapping were hyped as the first step of the government’s removal of the local population. When local government leaders dared to sit down with state officials they faced a rebellion in their towns and were ostracized from other local government leaders. Our politics was irrational and paranoid.
In many ways, the crazy Adirondack politics of the 1990s was just ahead of its time. We often think that we’re behind the times in the Adirondacks and the North Country, but in irrational politics, paranoia, and conspiracy theories, we had to wait for many other parts of the country to catch up. Over the last ten years, I’ve watched with dismay as the crazier strains in Adirondack politics went national.
There appears to be a lot of places in the United States today where lying works and pays off handsomely. 139 members of the House of Representatives, mostly from other rural parts of the U.S., also practice the politics of the big lie. Unfortunately, I think that Elise Stefanik has shown us that the Adirondacks and the North Country is part of the new American geography where lying works and pays off politically.
I’m confident that Elise Stefanik will keep lying to her constituents like me and my neighbors in Hamilton County and to everybody else in the 21st Congressional District. The big lie now defines who Elise Stefanik is. Lying is Elise Stefanik’s brand.
At the same time, I’m pretty confident that a majority of Elise Stefanik’s constituents will reward her with new term after new term. She can never win statewide office in New York State, but she can probably keep winning her seat in Congress as long as her congressional district is mostly the Adirondacks and the North Country. That says a lot about the viability of Elise Stefanik’s ruthless politics of lying and deception, but it also says a lot about us.
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