“It Has To Stop”

It has all gone too far. All of it…. It has to stop. — Gabriel Sterling, a Republican who is Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, referring to death threats against election officials.

Pearl Harbor, December 7,1941

I am writing these words on December 7, 2020, the 79th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, one of the darkest days in American history. Our nation has had other dark days: The British burning Washington during the War of 1812; President Abraham Lincoln declaring “the bottom is out of the tub” in January 1862, a low point in the Civil War when saving the Union appeared nearly impossible; and September 11, 2001. America survived those attacks, often coming out stronger. 

Gabriel Sterling

Today, American democracy is under attack, not from a foreign adversary, but from the president of the United States, aided by sycophantic Republicans in Congress and by tens of millions of Trump’s supporters who believe (or want to believe) that he won an election he clearly lost — by a wide margin. This is unprecedented in American history; it is corrosive to democracy. And, in the words of Gabriel Sterling, it has to stop.

Joe Biden won the election: He received seven-million votes more than President Donald Trump, and he has an insurmountable lead in the Electoral College. Yet, five weeks after the election, only 27 congressional Republicans will refer to Biden by his title: President-elect. Two Republicans actually believe Trump won; the other 220 GOP members of the Senate and the House — 88 percent of Republicans serving in Congress — refuse to say who won.

The Roman Senate

What is wrong with these elected officials? They hold a sacred trust, and they swore an oath to uphold the Constitution; yet they passively and cowardly are bending to the will of a pathological leader who refuses to accept reality. Everyone is familiar with Trump’s demons, narcissism, and fears (as in he may go to jail if he returns to private life). But, what drives the 222 Republicans in Congress who willingly participate in Trump’s alternate universe? Fear of electoral defeat? Perhaps, but, really, Republicans — from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to the lowest backbenchers — do you want to serve in a Congress after American democracy is destroyed? One thing can be predicted: If Trump prevails in his coup d’état, the American Congress will resemble the Roman Senate after the Emperor Augustus overthrew the Roman Republic: A sinecure for the wealthy and aristocratic, devoid of any power or influence. 

Perhaps these cowardly Republicans think they can let Trump salve his ego, because in the end Biden will be inaugurated and life will return to normal. Will it? Remember McConnell and McCarthy and all the rest of you: Trump received 73-million votes and a majority of those Trump voters — more than 60 percent in polls — believe the election was rigged. That translates into a frightening number of Americans who are convinced that this election — and, perhaps, by extension, all elections — are not to be trusted. Our Constitution lays out the framework for a system of government, but the survival of that system rests on the belief by virtually all members of the body politic that the system is fair, that laws prevail, and that the manner of choosing our leaders is honest. Democracy cannot endure when millions believe the system is corrupt.

President Trump at a rally last Saturday in Valdosta, Georgia

Twice last week, Trump launched lie-filled rants claiming he won a landslide victory. He released a 46-minute diatribe on Facebook, taped in a White House room without an audience, and in an appearance in Valdosta, Georgia, Saturday night, ostensibly on behalf of two Republican senatorial candidates in next month’s runoff election but which was all about him, Trump erected an alternate reality. In Trump’s universe, millions of votes were illegally cast and election officials — Democratic and Republican — are in cahoots with “deep state” actors to steal the election. It is, of course, Trump who is trying to steal the election by overturning the will of the American electorate. This past weekend, Trump went so far as to appeal to Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp, a loyal Trumpista in the past, to call the Georgia legislature into special session to appoint friendly electors. Kemp has no authority to fulfill Trump’s outrageous request. 

Much has been made of state and local Republican officials who have rebuffed Trump and certified election results, as did Kemp in his refusal to ignore Georgia law and call the legislature into session. These officials have been contrasted with congressional Republicans, who have been obsequious in their refusal to acknowledge reality. While there certainly have been Republicans whose bravery should be recognized, it is also true that these local and state officials are merely obeying the law. They have no discretion in the matter. Most of their decisions in certifying Biden’s victory and ignoring Trump’s outrageous requests are dictated by law. The same goes for judges — whether Republican or Democratic appointees to the bench — who have thrown out of court the vast majority of Trump’s lawsuits because they have no basis in fact. A plaintiff cannot go into court without evidence and hope to win. And, a plaintiff certainly cannot lie to a judge.

Demonstrators outside the home of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Trump lost Michigan by 154,000 votes

Sterling, in his remarkable appearance last week demanding an end to lies about the election, cited several instances of threatened violence against election officials. “Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.” Sterling said. “Someone is going to get hurt, someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed. And it’s not right.” Sterling mentioned a 20-year-old contractor for a voting system company targeted by someone who hung a noose and said the young man should be executed for treason for performing a routine part of a routine job. Sterling castigated Joseph diGenova, a lawyer for the Trump campaign, for calling for the shooting of Chris Krebs, a federal cybersecurity official who vouched that the election was fair. (Krebs was fired by Trump for the sin of honesty.) Sterling said he has been threatened and his emails hacked. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, responsible for running the state’s elections, was targeted by an armed, obscenity-spewing mob outside her home after she and her four-year-old son decorated for Christmas. And, a caller told a Black Democratic Michigan lawmaker that she should be lynched. 

Yes, this campaign of misinformation has to stop before someone gets hurt. It has to stop before irreparable damage is done to American democracy (if that has not happened already). Unfortunately, Trump will not go away after Biden is inaugurated. He will continue to spew his lies, undermining Biden’s legitimacy, just as he attempted to undermine President Barack Obama’s administration with the racist “birther” conspiracy.

Trump will leave the White House on January 20, 2020, but he is paving the way for future demagogues who will not uphold the Constitution and democratic norms. We will probably escape for now. Who knows what happens the next time?

That is why, as Gabriel Sterling said, it has to stop!

Posted December 8, 2020

Comments are closed.