The Banana Republic of the United States

#OVERTURN,” President Donald Trump shouted in a one-word tweet this week. No longer is he merely claiming he deserves a second term because, if the votes were counted fairly and accurately, he would have won. No longer is he content to rail against a “rigged” election marred by illegally cast mail-in ballots. Now, the president is calling on someone or some people to ignore the will of the electorate as freely expressed in a fair election.

Donald Trump is orchestrating a coup d’état, calling on unspecified people to “overturn” the results of the November election. Unspecified, but everyone can guess to whom Trump is appealing: The courts to invalidate the election or state legislatures to override the will of the people in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and/or Arizona and replace the legitimately chosen electors with ones who will vote for Trump. And, if both the courts and state legislatures fail to satisfy the president, his tweets imply a recourse of last resort: Encouraging his armed followers to take to the streets and prevent the inauguration of Joe Biden as president of the United States.

This is what politics in the banana republic of the United States has come to in 2020: A putative dictator clinging to power by ignoring the will of the people. 

In the days immediately after the November 3 election many analysts and presidential allies claimed Trump just needed time to process his defeat. But, in the end, so the argument went, he will leave the White House and our democratic republic will survive. Trump’s latest machinations prove that analysis to be wanting. Trump never had any intention to leave. He plans to pull any trick he can to stay in power.

Conventional wisdom has held that Trump would not concede the election because he hates to lose. In Trump’s damaged psyche the worst label a person can have is “loser.” But, illegally remaining in office will not dispel the image of loser, so Trump must have other motives for his attempted coup. I suspect Trump fears federal and state prosecution for numerous crimes — and the possibility of a jail term — so much that he will risk the appellation “loser.” We may not know much about the extent of Trump’s crimes, but he does.

Trump has never demonstrated a knowledge of nor an interest in protecting American democracy. Such niceties as the people’s will, free and fair elections, and constitutional norms mean nothing to him. But, what about the rest of those willing to overturn the system? Are they so beholden to Trump, so afraid of losing an election, so fearful of the president’s wrath that they are willing to discard more than two centuries of constitutional government to maintain in office a man who shows no inclination to do the job? Let us remember that more than three-thousand Americans died of COVID-19 Wednesday — more than the number killed on 9/11 — while the president did little to battle the pandemic but much to destroy democracy.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, has agreed to argue the baseless lawsuit brought by the attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, claiming that alleged voting irregularities in four states — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — warrant interference by the Supreme Court. Paxton is immersed in a scandal in his own state involving allegations of bribery, so it may be possible that he filed this suit — which is outlandish since Texas has no standing to sue over voting practices in other states — to curry favor with the president. Is a pardon being dangled?

Republican attorneys general in 17 states have joined the suit, and Trump has filed a motion with the Supreme Court to intervene, which makes him a party in the suit. A majority of House Republicans — 106 of the 196 GOP members — signed an amicus brief filed in the high court. The court is not likely to hear this case, which is perhaps why Cruz agreed to argue it. Cruz may be many things, but ignorant of Supreme Court practices and the constitutional division between the federal government and the states — which this lawsuit violates — is not among them. My hunch is he told Trump he would do it because he gets on the good side of Trump without having to make a horse’s ass of himself by arguing a case that he — a former law clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist — knows is absurd. Saying yes to Trump was a cynical freebie for Cruz.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri

Cruz ran for the presidency in 2016 — he was the last Republican standing before Trump sewed up the nomination — and he clearly has not put aside his presidential aspirations. Agreeing to argue the Texas case wins Cruz favor with the 74-million Americans who voted to reelect Trump. Another spineless Republican with presidential ambitions is Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri who praised his state’s attorney general for siding with Texas and Trump. “Good work,” tweeted Hawley. 

On Tuesday, I wrote about the dangers that election officials in Georgia and Michigan faced because they did their jobs in certifying the election results in their states. The threats of violence have only intensified in recent days. This week, the Republican Party in Arizona urged people to fight to the death to overturn the election in which Biden defeated Trump by 11,000 votes in the state. Dozens of Republican lawmakers — current and former — in Arizona publicly called for the results to be decertified. 

Kim Ward, Republican majority leader in the Pennsylvania Senate

In Pennsylvania, 64 Republicans in the General Assembly signed a letter urging Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to reject the state’s Electoral College votes for Biden. Kim Ward, the Republican majority leader in the Senate, who Trump called to ask her to declare there was electoral fraud in Pennsylvania, said she had not been shown the letter, but when asked if she would have signed it, Ward said, “If I would say to you, ‘I don’t want to sign it,” I’d get my house bombed tonight.”

Welcome to the banana republic of the United States! Coups are common in banana republics, so none of what I have written should surprise anyone. Yet, I cling to the hope that Trump can be thwarted and our constitutional republic saved. 

At least I used to cling to that hope. Now, I am not so sure. Even if Trump’s coup is prevented, I am not optimistic about the future health of American democracy. It is been sorely tested over the last four years, and many in power have shown themselves willing to throw it away. 

Posted December 11, 2020

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