An open letter to Congressman Morgan Griffith

By BEN R. WILLIAMS

Dear Congressman Griffith,

It’s been a couple of years since we last spoke, and I hope you’re doing well.

I’d like to preface this column by saying something that might surprise some readers but I hope will not surprise you. Back in my full-time journalism days, I always enjoyed speaking with you. While we’re pretty much on the polar opposite ends of the political spectrum, I always appreciated that you would answer my calls and were always willing to sit down and speak with me when you were in town.

I’ve interviewed a number of politicians over the years, and many reminded me of Greg Stillson, the charismatic populist senator from Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone” who seemed friendly on the outside but was secretly itching to cause a nuclear holocaust. I never had that same sense when speaking with you. You always struck me as a student of law and history, someone with a keen interest in science, and someone who was not, you know, an insane demagogue. Despite our differences, I felt we had a good rapport.

And so I write this open letter not to single you out, but because even though I have an extraordinarily low opinion of many of your colleagues, I know you to be a smart man who might actually consider what I have to say.
I’m writing this open letter because as a member of your sprawling 9th Congressional district, I was frankly disgusted to see your name among the 126 Republican lawmakers who wish to have the Presidential election results thrown out by the Supreme Court.

A bit of backstory for readers unfamiliar with this case: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit on Dec. 8 alleging that Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin somehow worked voodoo on their ballots to produce more votes for President-elect Joe Biden, and as a result, their 62 electoral college votes should be thrown out, thus paving the way for Donald Trump’s second term. 

Of course, the arguments within this deeply stupid lawsuit have already been rejected in other courts. And of course, Ken Paxton was indicted on felony securities fraud charges more than five years ago and has yet to have his day in court, which might suggest that he would really, really like to get in good with the current President and get one of those pardons that are currently being handed out like flyers on the Vegas strip. And of course, everyone knows this lawsuit is going to get thrown out even by a heavily stacked Supreme Court, and probably before this column even runs.

(A late edit from Ben: the Supreme Court threw it out on the evening of Friday, Dec. 11, about an hour after I finished this column. Call me Nostradamus.) 

And so, Congressman, when I saw that you had added your name to this absolute farce of a lawsuit, I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed. And isn’t that so much worse than anger?

Look, I get it. You represent a highly gerrymandered bright red district, and as a result, you have to toe the party line, lest you lose your seat to some nutbar who genuinely believes that the Reptilians from Planet Kahomet have invaded the Democratic party. I understand that we’ve reached a point in this country where politicians of your affiliation can’t ever admit that Trump is wrong even if he were to announce that rain falls up and black is white. I realize that denying objective reality is much safer and easier than speaking the truth.

While I would not put words in your mouth, I know you to be a smart man, so I would certainly hope that you also know that the lawsuit you lent your support to wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on and that nothing will likely come of it. Perhaps that made it a bit easier to sign off on a lawsuit that, if successful, would incite a civil war. 

But having said all that, I still feel compelled to ask: is there no rock bottom?

Merriam-Webster defines “sedition” as “incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority.” I don’t throw the word around lightly, but I sure wouldn’t be the first to describe the Texas AG’s lawsuit as an act of sedition. As you well know, back when right and wrong mattered, sedition was considered a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. 

It is darkly amusing to me to imagine what would happen if the shoe were on the other foot. Had Trump won both the popular vote and secured an electoral college victory, and then a state Attorney General had filed a lawsuit to get the election reversed, I have little doubt that you would call the lawsuit un-democratic, un-American, and downright abominable.

And you know what? I’d agree with you. Because even though such a hypothetical situation might run counter to my own desires, and even though I don’t think our representative democracy is perfect, I still believe that it’s profoundly important. Furthermore, I believe that questioning the legitimacy of a Presidential election — and thereby questioning the will of the American people — is immoral, unpatriotic, and seditious. And I still feel that way even when I don’t like the results.

There is a moment I think of often these days. Way back in October of 2008, the late Senator John McCain was on the campaign trail in Lakeville, Minnesota. He was out in the audience, handing the microphone to various supporters to hear their questions.

One woman took the mic and said that she couldn’t trust then-Senator Barack Obama. 

“I have read about him,” she said, “and he’s not, um, he’s an Arab.”

McCain took the mic from her.

“No ma’am,” he said. “He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about.”

Of course, being Arabic doesn’t mean someone can’t be a decent family man, but I’ll cut McCain some slack since I’m not great at improv either. What’s important is that McCain defended his opponent. He acknowledged reality, even though he probably knew it was going to get him booed (which of course it did).

I disagreed with McCain on a lot of things, but I’ll always respect him for that moment.

There were obviously other moments in which John McCain told the truth and suffered for it, and I’m sure it wasn’t always easy to do the right thing knowing he would be slandered by his own party. But history, I think, will look back fondly on McCain. And I don’t think the same will be true for those who slandered him.

There comes a time in all our lives when we need to step back and consider the legacy we’re going to leave. It is my hope, Congressman, that over the course of your upcoming term, you will carefully consider your own.

I wish you the best.

Sincerely,

Ben R. Williams

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