From kitchen tables to our state capitals, divisions in our country have reached a boiling point. Like most Americans, I was appalled by what happened at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Seeing new video released this week shows just how close our country came to having a mob of insurrectionists murder elected leaders, including the vice president and speaker of the house.
The disturbing videos reminded me of my time in Iraq when armed insurgents were resisting American and coalition efforts to install a new regime. As an Army infantry officer there at the height of the conflict, I often wondered why Iraqi insurgents were trying so hard to kill me and my fellow soldiers. I came to the conclusion that they perceived our effort as a threat to their way of life. Their perception was their reality and they acted upon it.
The rioters who assaulted our nation’s capital acted upon a false perception of a threat to their country. They read lies about the election on social media, heard them repeated on certain TV networks, and heard them legitimized over and over again by some local, state, and national GOP leaders. If I believed an election was stolen, I would be upset too. However, the rioters must be held accountable.
But the accountability can’t stop there. Political leaders who perpetuate lies about our democratic system that fueled the insurrection must also be held accountable.
As a state lawmaker, I take my responsibility to tell the truth and defend our Constitution seriously. On opening day of the Iowa Legislature, I called for a renewed commitment to truth in politics and our democracy.
I’ve been heartened recently by some Republicans calling out lies that threaten our democracy. Some conservative lawmakers from deeply red states are standing up for truth, despite backlash in their own party. Here in Iowa, former Iowa lawmaker David Millage of Bettendorf was ousted from his post as GOP Scott County chair for speaking the truth and former Congressman Jim Nussle left the Republican Party.
Unfortunately, Iowa’s current Republican elected officials have refused to do the same.
Earlier this year, Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Tama, claimed there was “outright cheating” in the 2020 election and then said “we will survive. Remember, our side has the guns …” When called out, Fisher refused to take responsibility and lied again. When I asked the speaker of the house to hold him accountable, the speaker refused.
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Here are a few other recent examples of Iowa elected officials normalizing lies and conspiracy theories:
• Gov. Kim Reynolds rightly denounced violence after the insurrection, but still refuses to call out the lies of the 2020 election that led up to it. Instead, she tried to turn the rioters into victims when she said to “stop pointing fingers.”
• U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson, Randy Feenstra, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks all refused to back a bipartisan effort to hold their colleague Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene accountable for backing 9/11 conspiracy theories, racists social media posts, and even threatening Democrats with execution.
• Hinson appeared on the discredited, far-right Newsmax TV network with a host that has defended dangerous QAnon conspiracies and spread lies about the 2020 election results.
I want our democracy to thrive. It’s why I serve in the military. It’s why I serve in the Iowa House. It’s why I’m a Democrat. But this isn’t about left vs. right or Democrats vs. Republicans, it’s about being a patriot and putting country before party.
Healing the sharp divisions in our country starts with the truth and leaders holding each other accountable when our words or actions threaten our democracy.
I’m under no illusions bringing our country together will happen overnight. And the divisions may even get worse as some believe maintaining political power is more important than the truth. But our democracy can’t afford to wait any longer.
Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, is Iowa House minority leader.