My Turn, Bradley Bethel: Congressman Budd fails to tell the truth

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 14, 2021

By Bradley Bethel

Ted Budd has been making my job more difficult for months.

The third-term U.S. congressman represents North Carolina’s redrawn 13th district, where I live and work. As a high school English teacher, I teach young people how to evaluate rhetoric and construct sound arguments. The skills I teach include examining evidence, applying reason and representing opposing positions fairly. Unfortunately, American politics currently offers few examples of elected officials who demonstrate those skills. More often, politicians such as Rep. Budd demonstrate the opposite.

On Jan. 6, during the official count of the Electoral College votes, Budd and 146 other Party members voted to reject at least one state’s electoral votes for Joe Biden, even after the Capitol insurrection disrupted the proceedings. During the two months leading up to the insurrection, Budd actively participated in his party’s campaign to delegitimize, if not overturn, the election. He propagated false claims of election malfeasance even though state and federal courts dismissed them and Republican officials found no evidence to support them. That campaign of disinformation clearly provided the ideological foundation for the insurrection. Yet, Budd justified his position by asserting he was “giving voice to the thousands of North Carolinians who demanded a debate on the irregularities and Constitutional violations in the presidential election.”

Budd seems not to understand his moral duty as a congressperson. That duty, our nation’s founders believed, is much greater than merely “giving voice” to one’s constituents.   

The framers of the Constitution designed our government to prevent not only the tyranny of monarchies but also the factionalism of direct democracies. To steer clear of both dangers, the United States would be a democratic republic, and Congress would be the primary vehicle of governance. As such, Congress’s dual function is to check the authoritarian impulses of the president and to moderate the divisive tendencies of the people. In James Madison’s words from Federalist No. 10, Congress should be an enlightened body of citizens who “refine and enlarge the public views” and whose “wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”

Sadly, Budd has fallen far short of the intellectual and moral standards the founders delineated. Rather than work to refine the collective views of his constituents, Budd has merely amplified the most partisan. In so doing, Budd has demonstrated neither wisdom nor patriotism nor love of justice.

Although Trump’s efforts to overturn the election failed, we still desperately need congressional leadership to help us overcome the pandemic of disinformation that has ravaged our nation. That leadership begins not by moving on as if nothing happened but by telling the truth about the election.

The truth, plain and simple, is that Joe Biden won a free and fair election and is now our rightful president. Budd has yet to acknowledge that truth fully, but moral leadership requires it nonetheless. “Giving voice” to insurgent constituents is no more an acceptable excuse for members of Congress than “just following orders” is acceptable for soldiers who comply with unethical or unlawful commands. A congressperson’s moral duty is to truth and justice, not to the aspersions and squabbles of the loudest constituents. The truth, now more than ever, is what Budd’s constituents need. Those constituents include the young people I teach. Budd has made my job more difficult not through legislation or policy but by giving the young people of North Carolina’s 13th district the impression that truth matters less than power.

In May 1860, as the nation splintered toward Civil War, Abraham Lincoln wrote to the abolitionist Joshua Giddings, “May the Almighty grant that the cause of truth, justice, and humanity in no wise suffer at my hands.” Although Budd and his party claim to follow the tradition of Lincoln, they have abandoned that noble cause for which Lincoln gave his life. We now face a splintering unlike any since the Civil War. May the Almighty grant that the cause of truth, justice, and humanity be renewed in my classroom and in classrooms throughout our nation.

Bradley Bethel teaches high school English and journalism in Alamance County.