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Op-Ed: Our political conversation

by McKAY CUNNINGHAM/Special to The Press
| December 23, 2020 1:00 AM

It was foolish, but I had to try. My former Sunday school teacher had posted a message on Facebook. Her message vehemently denounced the Supreme Court for rejecting the Texas lawsuit that alleged election illegality.

When confronted in the comments, my former Sunday school teacher said it was clear “to anyone with a brain” that the election was rigged. She went on to say that she did not expect “the other side” to get it because the other side was “willfully blind” and “morally corrupt.”

It had been 34 years since I was a kid in her Sunday school class, but she knew and respected my parents. I wanted to connect personally, before addressing her Facebook post:

“Hi, Julia! I was in your Sunday school class many years ago. You know my parents, Ken and Eva Cunningham, and I remember your daughter. (We both went to Baylor!)

After Baylor, I graduated from law school, and worked for several years as an attorney in Dallas. (I even had one case where I worked with your late husband. He was truly a great lawyer.)

I eventually left the practice and became a law professor. I’ve taught Constitutional Law for 10 years now. Many of my publications and much of my research addresses election law. So, I wanted to offer my analysis on the Supreme Court opinion you reference above.

A great majority of constitutional law scholars, both liberal and conservative, have studied the petition filed by Texas as well as the amicus briefs in support of the petition, and found them to be without merit. They are procedurally and substantively inadequate under the law.

The Supreme Court’s rejection of the Texas lawsuit is also consistent with 60 other election lawsuits that a variety of state and federal courts have rejected. No court has found widespread voter fraud. Judges nominated by President Trump have rejected such claims, again, because there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

I would love to catch up with you and talk more about these cases, if you want. I hope you are well and staying sneeze-free!”

My Sunday school teacher’s belief that the election was rigged was not surprising. According to a recent poll, 77 percent of conservative voters maintain that Joe Biden won because of fraud. Most Republicans claim that absent a well-executed plan to steal the election, Trump would have won. This is a recurring message promoted by the president and his administration. It is bolstered by an ongoing loop in conservative media.

So, I was not surprised that my former teacher repeated these claims. I was surprised, however, that these assertions allow no room for discussion. Any debate, any request for evidence, any open-palmed invitation to examine the facts, is met with enmity. It doesn’t matter who makes the invitation: politicians, judges, scholars, even former Sunday school kids.

My former teacher’s response to my invitation? “Your parents must be embarrassed by you.”

Although President Trump will leave office on Jan. 20, it will take years to reverse the entrenched divisiveness he cultivated. Our political discourse is monochromatic. Distrust and delusion has splintered a nation into tribes. Whatever our disagreements, we must find our way back to civility.

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McKay Cunningham is a visiting professor of law at the University of Idaho College of Law in Boise where he teaches Constitutional Law and Cybersecurity. His research, interests and publications include election law, cyber law, and data privacy and security.