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Woster: Considering Jan. 6 and what the Republican Party wants to be


The attached interview is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment.

For most of my adult years, I have been registered Republican.

There were pragmatic reasons for that to a professional reporter. A GOP registration allowed me to get mailings from the Republican Party and Republican candidates that I would not otherwise have received. And the registration gave me some access to things like Republican meetings, in the event my reporter’s job didn’t do that.

Also, it allowed me to say “Well, I’m a registered Republican” when someone would say, “All you reporters are Democrats.”

As Republicans came more and more to dominate state elections, getting a glimpse inside the party operation was useful. And beyond journalism, being able to vote in GOP primaries — which are closed to all but registered Republicans — often meant being able to help choose the eventual winner in the general election, if the Democrats even had a challenger in the general, which they don’t always have in all races.

And there are a couple of issues, one that my Catholic faith promotes (perhaps too) relentlessly that makes the Republican registration a bit more comfortable for me.

Or at least it has at some times.

But mostly, I am and have been a Republican In Name Only or RINO, and don’t argue much when I’m referred to as such by another Republican with, perhaps, more traditional credentials.

I am more than anything a believer in a healthy two-party system with a significant body of independent voters. I think that’s a good mix, and one we haven’t had in South Dakota for some time.

I’m a centrist by nature who probably leans left on all but a few issues, including the big one mentioned above.

And I have friends I respect across the political spectrum.

From the party of Lincoln and Reagan to the party of Trump

That’s a roundabout way of getting to my increasing concern over the state of our dominant party — my party, if we go by registration —in South Dakota.

Over the years, in my case meaning more than half a century, that I have covered and followed South Dakota politics, most of the Republicans I have known have been rational, fact-based people, generally committed to lower taxes, smaller government and more personal freedoms, except in some instances of apparent contradiction, such as abortion.

They have been science-based people with a general respect for educational systems and educators and healthy but not angry or demeaning or threatening suspicion of government. They believed in the Second Amendment but didn’t wear that belief, literally, on their hips, nor want to wear it in public places to show, well, I don’t know what such actions are intended to show.

They were generally respectful of others — even others of different beliefs — in the way they conducted themselves. Most of them were pretty well informed. Some were very well informed.

Names like Joe Barnett and George Mickelson, Debra Andersen and Mary McClure, Steve Cutler and Larry Gabriel and Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard all come to mind among elected officials. And I could name many, many others.

And, yes, Bill Janklow. Oh sure, he could seem irrational. He could be unreasonable on some things, with some people. But he was a fact seeker who believed in science and studied it, along with studying just about anything else that crossed his desk.

Those Republicans and so many others like them believed in their party. But they always seemed to believe first in their state and their nation.

They also believed in facts, and in essential truths based on facts.

So none of them would have believed or do now believe the Big Lie that the majority of Republicans across this state and nation say they believe. That is that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump and given to Joe Biden.

It was not, of course. Competent, experienced elections officials — Republican, Democrat and independent — across the nation have verified that.

Stating the simple truth instead of the Big Lie

Trump lost, Biden won. Just like in 2016 when Clinton lost and Trump won.

There was no widespread fraud in either election. The results were legitimate as certified by Congress, including our three-member delegation — Congressman Dusty Johnson and Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds.

Although it offended some in their party and enraged others, they voted to certify the 2020 election because they don’t believe the Big Lie. That’s because they are rational, fact-based people.

Some Republicans are not, including some in Congress. They even join national Republicans in promoting another big lie about the attack on the Capitol by a mob of Trump-inspired lunatics a year ago on Jan. 6 as being an FBI operation or an ANTIFA operation or, what, Klingons maybe?

That dangerous Jan. 6, 2021, act of insurrection and disrespect for the center of our nation’s government is distorted and minimized by some in the GOP, including some here in South Dakota.

When I first saw the insurrection being covered on cable news last Jan. 6, I texted Dusty Johnson: “Are you safe?”

I thought he’d respond with: “Sure. Capitol Police have us protected.”

Instead, I got: “Honestly, I don’t know. Police have been overrun. They can’t hold them.”

Now, the deranged mob that attacked the Capitol and attacked Capitol Police that day, threatening to hang Mike Pence and do harm to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, didn’t represent the average Republican or the average Trump supporter.

But they were Trump supporters, those thugs. They said so. And they were there to fight for the Big Lie and against the legal transfer of power because Trump wanted them there. They said so.

Devotion to Trump means accepting the crazy

Crazy stuff. Dangerous stuff. And these days, Republican stuff. And while the average Republican might not have approved of the attack on the Capitol, a majority of Republicans in this nation believe the Big Lie.

Which is more than just disappointing. It’s scary.

Because Donald Trump is the leader of the Republican Party, across the nation and here in South Dakota.

And that means Trump-like behavior.

So how do we get from a rational, fact-based party to a majority of Republicans and what seems to be an increasing number of Republican office holders and candidates in South Dakota who believe the Big Lie, or at least promote it?

Well, a lot of it’s Donald Trump. Nobody in my lifetime or probably in the history of this democracy — or democratic Republic, if you prefer — has promoted as many lies and successfully with a large segment of the population, particularly his own party, as Donald Trump has.

He is a master at manipulating his people into believing — or pretending to believe — whatever lie he decides to present.

He is also pretty good at dumbing down the language and demeaning political rhetoric to a childish, petulant and often profane level.

Which is, I guess, how you get a governor — our current governor — showing up on social media grinning at a slogan that, while it doesn’t say it in so many words, means in code: “F… Biden.”

It’s how a businessman from a long-respected family in Winner ends up using that childish, thinly hidden vulgarity about the president of the United States in a newspaper advertisement. And it’s how a newspaper publisher decided it was appropriate to run.

I assume the same paper and same publisher would not have run that ad if it had been directed at Donald Trump. And I believe there was a time when no credible publication in South Dakota would have run that ad at all. Period.

Whatever happened to the place I knew?

We don’t live in that time anymore. I wrote in a Twitter comment about the advertisement that my state is becoming a place I no longer recognize. And not a better place.

I suppose we all have to take some responsibility for that. Democrats do dumb things too. They say dumb things. Sometimes inappropriate things. But most of the responsibility for the mess of rhetoric and the attack of facts in our nation today goes to the Republican Party, its members and leaders.

In a runaway.

The Republican Party is a different party than it was. So is the Democratic Party, perhaps. But in South Dakota, it’s not very significant. And whatever differences today’s Democratic Party demonstrates from the party of the past might be, they pale compared to the abandonment of fact and truth and reason that a majority of the Republican Party are demonstrating these days.

And far too many office-holding Republicans are either supporting it or tolerating it.

A newspaper editor I worked for years back liked to say about himself, other editors and other people in positions of authority: “You either made it happen or you let it happen.”

Either way, it’s on you.

The Big Lie is on Donald Trump and his immediate circle of minions, of course. But it’s also on any Republican — and especially those in positions of authority and prominence — who either make the Big Lie live on in the Republican Party or — by their silent tolerance — let it live on.

Either way, it’s on them, too.

That’s something Republicans should ponder any day, but especially on Jan. 6.