Republicans hate democracy
On November 9, 2016, I woke up in a country I did not recognize. Donald J. Trump, reality TV host, racist and grifter, had just been elected president. Four years later, the election of Joseph Biden has done little to ease my sense of alienation, of distress. I am still a stranger in a strange land.
While many have touted Biden’s election as the salvation of democracy in the United States, a substantial minority of Americans, including many Republican elected officials, have rejected democratic principles, spurned the Constitution and trounced centuries of hallowed tradition. If Trump were the only madman stalking the hallways of power while uttering lunatic conspiracy theories, I’d believe that our long national nightmare was nearly over. But he’s not. He leads a legion of lunatics, men and women who insist that a massive fraudulent undertaking deprived Trump of his rightful victory.
Just when I think that the Trumpists have reached their nadir — that they have sunk so deeply in a quicksand of crazy that they cannot sink further — they prove me wrong. In one of the latest exhibits of absurdity, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued four other states, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, over pandemic-related changes they made to ensure that voters could cast their ballots safely.
Again, one or two malefactors in high office hardly constitute a grave threat to democratic principles. Paxton’s ethics were already in question: He has been under indictment for felony securities fraud since 2015. But that hardly explains the 17 Republican attorneys general who have filed a brief in support of the lawsuit or the gaggle of Georgia Republicans who leapt to support the case against their own state. Or the more than 100 Republican members of Congress who have signed on.
Paxton claims the changes violated federal law and allowed fraud. While the president and his claque have loudly insisted that the election was stolen, their claims have been repeatedly knocked down in court, including one lawsuit quickly rejected by a U.S. Supreme Court dominated by conservatives.
The late-night TV hosts and the comedians of Saturday Night Live have had great fun with the easy pickings from these seditious renegades. Admittedly, even I laughed out loud watching Mellissa Carone, Rudy Giuliani’s “star witness,” alleging massive voter fraud before a Michigan state legislative panel earlier this month. She made so many outlandish claims that some in the audience also laughed.
But the danger in this wholesale renunciation of democratic principles is clear: Millions of Americans would overthrow the Constitution, support treason and glory in a dictatorship. While some Republican officials may be joining the “fraud” bandwagon out of a cynical expedience, a substantial bloc of their constituents believe that Biden’s election was enabled by stolen votes. Some have threatened violence. Others have spoken openly of secession.
Georgia, where Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win since 1992, is illustrative of the extraordinary chaos that can beset state politics. Though its leading officials, including Gov. Brian Kemp, are all committed Republicans, several have been denounced by the president and others in the GOP for having the temerity to follow the law.
As a consequence, GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump has labeled an “enemy of the people,” has endured death threats. Gabriel Sterling, a GOP state elections official, held a remarkable press conference to rebuke Trump for failing to condemn the threats. But the most stunning change of fortune has accrued to Kemp, who is not only a committed Trumpist but who also has a track record of blocking access to the ballot to ensure Republican victories.
But Kemp wasn’t willing to overthrow the Constitution. He rejected Trump’s personal plea to call a special session of the legislature to overturn the results of the election. So Trump turned on him quickly. If Kemp chooses to run for re-election, he is likely to be challenged in the GOP primary by a candidate more committed to licking Trump’s boots.
This is hardly the model of a healthy democracy, a far cry from the “shining city on a hill” of American myth. These are dangerous times that call for committed patriots — not ultra-conservative white nationalists but people committed to the Constitution — to stand up and be counted. Unfortunately, there are not as many of those around as I had long believed.