Trump, Kobach and Hawkins flap loose lips, sinking Kansans’ trust in our institutions
Former President Donald Trump, Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach and Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins all offered their own irresponsible statements in recent days, writes Clay Wirestone. (Official White House photo and Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Whether they come from a former president facing imminent indictment or a Kansas attorney general and speaker of the House reacting to an election law decision, words matter. What we say and what we write has tangible consequences.
At times, those consequences may be surprising. A decade ago, I wrote a number of articles for hipster trivia magazine Mental Floss and was subsequently contacted by a TV producer to contribute research to the show “Only in America With Larry the Cable Guy.” No one expected that.
At other times, the consequences are entirely predictable. My columns criticizing Sen. Mark Steffen’s peddling of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories elicited multiple messages from those convinced the entire medical establishment was duping them.
I tried to reason with my correspondents. That went about as well as you might expect.
Within the past few days, however, we have seen former President Donald Trump, Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach and House Speaker Dan Hawkins go out of their ways to use words that put our democracy at risk, in various ways at at various levels. What’s worse, the consequences that could ensue are entirely predictable.
Trump has erupted on his social media platform, Truth Social, at the possibility that he may be arrested and charged by New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg over an alleged payout to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in 2016.
The former president, who set in motion a failed insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, wrote an ALL-CAPS note on Saturday.
“NOW ILLEGAL LEAKS FROM A CORRUPT & HIGHLY POLITICAL MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEYS OFFICE … INDICATE THAT, WITH NO CRIME BEING ABLE TO BE PROVEN, & BASED ON AN OLD & FULLY DEBUNKED (BY NUMEROUS OTHER PROSECUTORS!) FAIRYTALE, THE FAR & AWAY LEADING REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE & FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK. PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”
That sure reads like a call to his fervent supporters. I suppose nothing should surprise me about Trump after the past seven years, but I expected him to demonstrate at least a tiny bit of shame after attempting a coup.
I suppose nothing should surprise me about Trump after the past seven years, but I expected him to demonstrate at least a tiny bit of shame after attempting a coup.
– Clay Wirestone
On the plus side, at least he’s not asking the MAGA faithful to install him as president immediately. He just wants them to keep him out of jail.
That’s … progress, I suppose?
You would like to think that Kansas leaders show more restraint. Two had the opportunity on Friday, and both failed miserably. The Kansas Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal of a 2021 voting-rights case, holding that voting is a foundational constitutional right. That means restrictions of the kind championed by Kobach and GOP legislative leaders could well be illegal.
One can imagine the restrained response of a generic — yet still conservative — politician: “I disagree with the court’s ruling and believe that Kansas needs these laws. I look forward to a forceful defense and maintaining our safe and secure elections.”
Here’s how Kobach reacted: This ruling was our country’s “most radical election law decision.” The appeals court was “clearly wrong” and “illogical.”
Here’s how Hawkins reacted: “Today’s decision was shocking and endangers every election integrity measure currently on the books. It’s just the latest salvo in the effort by the woke left to destroy the sanctity of the ballot box and opens our state up to the possibility of massive election fraud.”
So much for restrained. So much for responsible.
Both men have been chosen to serve by Kansans in free and fair elections. Both men served before and after the laws at question took effect. To suggest that removing these restrictions could lead to “massive election fraud” risks igniting dangerous conspiracy theories. To suggest a court’s ruling is “radical” simply because you disagree with it adds fuel to that conflagration.
Too many Kansans believe the worst about our electoral system. Already this session we’ve seen a lawmaker consider banning drop boxes to appease those snookered by con artists. Kobach and Hawkins should follow the responsible lead of Secretary of State Scott Schwab, who has repeatedly and forcefully defended the integrity of Kansas elections.
Some political junkies believe that we shouldn’t write about such comments. Covering Trump’s calls to action or bombast of state officials only powers their absurdity, goes their argument.
In today’s political ecosystem, all three men I mention here have multiple ways to broadcast their thoughts. The truest believers on the far right have their own news ecosystem. The rest of us, however, need to know what those in power have said and what might result from their words. We need to be prepared for those predictable outcomes (and a couple of unpredictable ones).
We all have a responsibility to the public discourse. Trump, Kobach and Hawkins have fallen short of exercising their power and their roles responsibly. That doesn’t mean they should be silenced, but they should be covered and challenged vigorously.
Words matter. Their consequences matter. Those who use inflammatory rhetoric must recognize what they’re doing, and that they may not be able to control the outcomes.
Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, the Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.
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