The Trump Party — oh, sorry, it’s still technically known as the Republican Party (the same way Kleenex is technically known as facial tissues, or Vaseline is petroleum jelly, or Dumpsters are mobile garbage bins) — has now made it very clear that it flat-out, indisputably, no-two-ways-about-it does not believe in democracy.
There is a long chain of events attesting to that conclusion, but in the interest of keeping this blog below Dostoevesky length, let’s confine ourselves to just the most recent: the current crusade by some 140 House Republicans and a dozen Senate Republicans to have the fair and just results of the 2020 presidential election overturned on no grounds whatsoever, except that they’re mad that their party lost.
Could there be a more blunt example of utter contempt for representative democracy, or the will of the people, or the most basic tenets of our system of government?
No there could not. It’s an unvarnished attempt at a coup d’etat.
Yes, these cretins have predicated their demand on the claim of “election fraud,” but it’s risible. The GOP has been trying to promote that self-serving hoax for years by way of attempting to disenfranchise tens of millions of American voters, people of color in particular. CNN’s Gregory Kreig neatly captured the irrational, self-fulfilling prophecy of the Republican crusade, noting that their demand rests on the supposed “volume of ‘allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities.’ Those charges, of course, are coming from the same cohort of lawmakers now trying to refashion them as evidence to support their actions.”
Ironically, Trump’s bevy of almost sixty failed lawsuits trying to overturn the election has resulted in a sweeping and definitive rejection of his own party’s longstanding lie on that front, as the US court system has affirmed that no such fraud exists. (And, as Colin Kalmbacher notes in Law and Crime, “Not one of the Republican officeholders objecting to Biden’s victory have objected to their own wins on the same day on the same ballots using the same election systems.”)
Speaking of Kleenex, can we pause for a moment to note what a bunch of crybabies these punks are? This is the same crowd that cackled “fuck your feelings” at overwrought Democrats after the 2016 election, and drove around with bumper stickers reading “Trump Won, Get It Over It.”
Didn’t age well, that stuff.
Speaking of Vaseline, can we pause to note how the GOP is once again trying to fuck us, and without benefit of lubrication?
Speaking of Dumpsters, can we note that the one we’ve been living in for the last four years is still on fire?
Pretense and Pretend
The recklessness of this Republican ploy, and the risks it poses to our democracy, can’t be overstated. But that is of a piece with Republican behavior throught the Trump presidency.
It’s true that a handful of random Democrats raised purely symbolic objections to Electoral College certification in the past, but all in cases that was long after the concession of their candidate, who disavowed their efforts. What’s happening now is an active effort to overturn the result, involving a majority of Republican members of the House, with the endorsement of the Vice President who will preside over the proceedings, and the full-throated support of the defeated President, who PS has been musing about declaring martial law and already called for his armed supporters to take to the streets.
Except for maybe newly elected Alabama Senator and former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, who doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, the GOP politicians who intend to challenge the certification of Biden’s victory surely know that they have no grounds to do so, and that their effort cannot succeed. Their reasons for objecting, therefore, can only be performative.
You can say that’s just empty grandstanding, but as Masha Gessen has written at length, performative authoritarianism is merely the test-driving of what aspiring authoritarians hope to get away with in the future. That crunching sound you hear is the Overton window moving.
Despicable does not even begin to describe it. Michael Gerson of all people, the Bush 43 speechwriter who gave us “axis of evil” and the “smoking gun/mushroom cloud,” called for the names of these seditious Repubicans to be permanently inscribed in marble in a kind of reverse monument to cowardice, rather than the usual heroism that gets statues erected.
Damn straight. I know they want to present it as an act of principle, but per above, there is no principle in play here except their communal attempt to pander to the MAGA base in the misguided interest of their own careers…. specifically, their own presidential aspirations in 2024. But let’s not for even a millisecond ever let any of these cretinous opportunists try to pretend that they are reasonable, law-abiding politicians (I won’t even use the term “public servant”) who have any business running for dog catcher, let alone president.
The irony, of course, is that by they are cockblocking themselves by ensuring Trump’s continued chokehold on the GOP into 2024 and beyond. The New Yorker’s John Cassidy writes:
In giving credence to the President’s baseless claims that he is being cheated out of office, these prominent Republicans are just making it even more likely that, at least as far as the GOP is concerned, there won’t be a post-Trump future but, instead, another lengthy period in which he and his grievance continue to dominate all else.
You think you’re gonna be the Republican nominee four years from now, Ted Cruz? Not unless you do a Freaky Friday-style body swap with Donald J. Trump himself. Or maybe Don Jr., or Ivanka.
Parties Differ On Shape Of Planet
The fact is, the reasons why Republicans are doing this make no difference; that they are doing it at all is the whole issue. If anything, the notion that they aren’t really trying to overturn the election, but rather pursuing some less ambitious but still opportunistic agenda, only makes it worse.
As Tom Nichols, a professor at the US Naval War College, writes in The Atlantic, “Republicans in Congress are pretending to be seditionists — and so they have become, in fact, seditionists.”
No amount of playacting and rationalizing can change the fact that the majority of the Republican Party and its apologists are advocating for the overthrow of an American election and the continued rule of a sociopathic autocrat.
It is possible that they know their last insult to American democracy, on Wednesday, will go nowhere, as well. This is irrelevant: Engaging in sedition for insincere reasons does not make it less hideous. Arguing that you betrayed the Constitution only as theater is no defense.
Indeed, shredding the Constitution purely for personal gain is perhaps the worst of the sins of the sedition caucus. It would almost be a relief to know that these Republicans really believe what they’re trying to sell, that they are genuine fanatics and ideologues who have at least paid us the respect of pitting their sincere beliefs against our own.
So how is the media covering all this? Pretty much like you would expect.
In the Understatement of the Year Department, The Atlantic’s Russell Berman, an otherwise fine writer, calls the effort to overturn the presidential election by 140 GOP members of the House of Representatives and a dozen GOP senators “a worrisome sign of a fraying commitment to democracy among a significant portion of the GOP.” And he’s not being ironic. Just in case you were wondering how pathetically ill-equipped the cream of the American press corps continues to be when it comes to addressing the rise of neo-fascism in our country.
(As my friend Walter Sujansky quipped, “JAPAN BOMBS PEARL HARBOR: Worrisome sign of a fraying commitment to peace among a significant portion of Japanese leaders.”)
Berman’s not alone, of course. The Washington Post, continuing its tradition of headline-writing that abets Trump’s alternate reality, ran a story titled, “In extraordinary hour-long phone call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to re-calculate vote.”
“Re-calculate”? As if there is some math error that might be in question?
Sigh. Why did that headline not read “In extraordinary hour-long phone call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to OVERTURN vote”?
A clearer take comes from The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, who writes:
Day after day, Republicans — it’s not just Donald Trump — keep demonstrating that they’re worse than you could possibly have imagined, even when you tried to take into account the fact that they’re worse than you could possibly have imagined. One of our two major political parties no longer accepts the legitimacy of elections it loses, which bodes ill for the fate of the Republic.
As Peter Wehner writes in The Atlantic, this is not a good sign for those pollyannas who believed that the post-Trump GOP would move on from its deposed despot….or even be “post-Trump” at all.
The problem with the Republican “establishment” and with elected officials such as Josh Hawley is not that they are crazy, or that they don’t know any better; it is that they are cowards, and that they are weak.
The single most worrisome political fact in America right now is that a significant portion of the Republican Party lives in a fantasy world, a place where facts and truth don’t hold sway, where “owning the libs” is an end in itself, and where seceding from reality is a symbol of tribal loyalty, rather than a sign of mental illness. This is leading the party, and America itself, to places we’ve never been before, including the spectacle of a defeated president and his supporters engaging in a sustained effort to steal an election.
The Republicans have gone from being a party that touted virtue to being the most squalid and grubby expression of institutionalized self-interest in the modern history of the American republic.
The members of the public and the institutions of American life should shroud these seditionists in silence and opprobrium in perpetuity: no television interviews, no sinecures at universities or think tanks, no rehabilitating book tours, no jokey late-night appearances, no self-serving op-eds.
The sedition caucus is worse than a treasonous conspiracy. At least real traitors believe in something. These people instead believe only in their own fortunes and thus will change flags and loyalties as circumstances require. They will always become what they pretend to be, and so they cannot — and must not — be trusted ever again with political power.
What’s all the more galling about this overt Republican attempt at a coup d’etat is that it coincides with one of Trump’s most shameless and brazenly illegal acts as president, which is high praise considering the non-stop shitshow of the past four years.
What is there left to say about Donald’s hour-long, mob-boss-style phone call attempting strongarm Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his general counsel Ryan Germany into illegally handing him their state’s electoral votes? A kissing cousin of the Access Hollywood tape (gulp), and a perfect bookend to the Zelinskyy call, the Georgia recording is the latest demonstration that Trump is nothing more than a common criminal whose venality knows no bottom. It’s the very definition of abuse of power, it’s a moral outrage, it’s stunningly contemptuous of democracy, the rule of law and the will of the people, and it’s fucking impeachable.
But don’t worry, Susan Collins has personally assured me that Trump won’t do it again.
The call itself is almost unlistenable, so pathetic is the President of the United States in his bullying, irrational, unhinged pleading and threatening. (Apparently he called Raffensperger eighteen times before Brad grudgingly took the call. Memo to Donald: you look thirsty, brah.)
Given the pressure he is under and the cowardice of the rest of his party, Raffensperger’s refusal to buckle is admirable — even though it’s also an inviolable requirement of his job — and that’s the first and last time I expect to say anything positive about a self-described Trump supporter.
Notwithstanding his proper behavior in this instance, Stacey Abrams reminds us that Raffensperger has been a loyal ally of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in that state’s ugly history of voter suppression and disenfranchisement of people of color. So maybe hold off on his sainthood. But while we’re on the topic of disenfranchisement, let us not overlook the inherently racist component of Trump’s efforts, which involve disregarding the votes from predominantly African-American communities. Hence Never Trumper Stuart Stevens’ pithy and wholly accurate description of Cruz, Hawley, et al as the Jim Crow Caucus.
Of course, there’s little chance of impeachment with only fifteen days left in his term, but it’s heartening to hear state officials like Fulton County DA Fani Willis state publicly that she will not hesitate to prosecute Trump for this crime after he leaves office. (It’s also disturbing to see the US Attorney for North Georgia, Byung J. Pak mysteriously resignthe day after the recording came out. Hmmm — watch this space.)
Speaking of which, this would be a good time to revisit the eloquent and prescient words of Adam Schiff during last year’s impeachment:
He has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections, and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less, and decency matters not at all.
Can we be confident that he will not continue to try to cheat in [this] very election?…..The short, plain, sad, incontestable answer is no, you can’t. You can’t trust this president to do the right thing. Not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country. You just can’t. He will not change and you know it.
What are the odds if left in office that he will continue trying to cheat? I will tell you: 100 percent. A man without character or ethical compass will never find his way.
Schiff then called on Senate Republicans to do what almost all of them knew in what remained of their hearts was the right thing:
Every single vote, even a single vote by a single member can change the course of history. It is said that a single man or woman of courage makes a majority. Is there one among you who will say “enough!”?
Turns out, there was one: Mitt Romney, who not coincidentally has also spoken out forcefully in opposition to this latest stunt by his Senate colleagues. But there were 52 who had no such courage, nor integrity, nor shame.
This Ain’t No Foolin’ Around
The other highly germane thing about Trump’s batshit call with Raffensperger is that it gives the lie to the oft-heard claim that he knows he lost to BIden and is merely pursuing this lost cause as a kind of kabuki in order to squeeze money out of his base, or cement his control over the GOP post-presidency, or both.
Although his actions are indeed having that net effect, it should now be clear that Trump is not fronting in the least in trying to overturn the election. He is not playing twelve-dimensional chess (boy, am I sick of hearing that for the past four years): he actively believes, even now, that he can reverse the outcome of November 3rd and carry out a self-coup.
In that context, these Congressional Republicans willingness to play with fire is even more destructive of the very core of our democracy, given those not-facetious efforts by Trump to hold onto the White House. Sure, this time it will fail, but what about the next time?
How egregious is what they’re doing? So egregious that even some of the usual GOP weasels like Paul Ryan, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey have spoken out forcefully against it. It’s the very first time in the Trump era that any appreciable number of prominent Republicans have given any indication that there is a line they won’t cross. I’ll confess that I am as surprised by that as I am appalled by the actions of Hawley, Cruz, et al. As with Mr. Raffensperger, it’s a measure of how debased the GOP has become that Republicans now get praised simply for using to overthrow the government.
But not everybody deserves a merit badge. Lindsay Graham — who just a few months ago himself called Brad Raffensperger to pressure him to overturn Georgia’s vote — gets no credit for not joining in this travesty, nor does Tom Cotton, who last summer advocated the deployment of the 101st Airborne Division to put down peaceful BLM protests by American civilians. You don’t get praised for hewing to the bare minimum or morally acceptable behavior.
So what happens next? I dunno, but I don’t put anything past Donald Trump…..and after the recording that was released this weekend, neither should anyone else. (Not that we needed the tape to prove that.) Anything can happen in a world where cow-antagonist Devin Nunes and pederast-protector Jim Jordan get Presidential Medals of Freedom. (Carpet bombing enthusiast Henry Kissinger, I’ll remind you, has a Nobel Peace Prize.)
The Post’s Dan Balz writes:
Trump will never let this go, not between now and the day he is forced to give up the office and Biden is sworn in, not in the days and weeks and months after that. That he is on a mission is evident, but to what end, other than to avoid the ignominious label of “loser” after a single term in the White House? That, at least, is consistent with the behavior he has exhibited throughout the four years of his presidency. He cares nothing about collateral damage to democracy.
The president, however, is not on this mission alone. Instead, he continues to gather support from members of a party he has remade in his own image.
It is this last point that worries me most going forward, the complicity of his party, comprised as it is of people who may be amoral opportunists, but unlike Donald Trump, are not deranged sociopaths, and therefore ought to know better. But the cowardice they have made their trademark over the last four years shows no signs of abating, not even when the American people have clearly repudiated their Dear Leader.
The last card in Trump’s hand would seem to be a Hail Mary attempt to declare some sort of ginned-up national emergency and call out the US military to keep him in office. We have already discussed in these pages the very long odds of that succeeding. To hammer the point, all ten living former Secretaries of Defense, including two of Trump’s and even war criminals like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, recently issued a statement-cum-warning against the very idea, reading in part:
Our elections have occurred. Recounts and audits have been conducted. Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted. The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived….
We shall see. But even if we survive this brush with fascism, what the GOP is doing does not bode well for the future. As John Cassidy writes, “If the Republic gets through the next two weeks without a catastrophe, we must surely take steps to protect ourselves against the next would-be authoritarian, which could well be Trump himself in 2024.”
It can’t happen here? It’s happening here right now.
Photos: AFP, Reuters, Wall Street Journal
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