It is a year later, and our Republic is in even worse shape, which is why I am writing this piece to say, once again, what I have said before: Donald Trump and his minions in the Republican Party are a clear and present danger, a threat to turn our two-century experiment in self-government into an authoritarian state.
On January 7, 2021, many Republicans believed Trump, the disgraced then-president of the United States, responsible for the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812. Many Republicans, from political leaders to rank-and-file voters, appeared ready to cut their ties with Trump.
Not any more! Within weeks of the January 6 coup attempt, most Republicans returned to the fold, humbling themselves before the cultic leader of their party. The example of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is typical. During the storming of the Capitol, McCarthy phoned Trump, urging the president to call off his supporters. In an expletive-laced conversation, Trump said the rioters “are more upset about the election” than McCarthy was. A week later, McCarthy said Trump must “accept his share of responsibility” for the violence on January 6. But, before the end of the month, barely three weeks after the insurrection, McCarthy trekked to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s ring, and he has not wavered in his fealty since. The vast majority of the Republican Party resumed its blind obeisance to Trump, refusing to vote to impeach and convict Trump for his complicity in the riot and declining to participate in investigations of the insurrection.
The most important criteria in proving loyalty to Trump — especially for those running for office — is to embrace the “big lie” that Trump won the 2020 presidential election. The Washington Post showcased one Republican — Bernie Moreno, a candidate in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary — who asserted in November 2020 that Joe Biden won the presidential election. Now, Moreno has done a complete about-face, running a campaign ad in which he says, “President Trump says the election was stolen, and he’s right.”
Nothing has changed, of course. Moreno was right in November 2020, and wrong now. Republicans have uncovered no evidence that changes the election results. Yet, Moreno is willing to lie to Ohio voters to further Trump’s unwillingness to admit he lost. Moreno is not alone; more than 150 Republicans running for statewide positions — as governors, senators, state attorneys general, and secretaries of state — echo Trump’s “big lie.” These candidates, if they won, would have authority over the administration of elections.
The mob that stormed the Capitol was one element of the Trumpian assault on democracy. Another element, about which we have learned more in the year since January 6, 2021, is the concerted effort by Trump and his lackeys — in government and out — to use the mechanisms of government to overturn the free and fair election results. Pressure was put on Vice President Mike Pence to reject electors from several closely contested states. Other attempts were made to force state election officials to tamper with vote totals. Trump demanded that Georgia’s secretary of state find enough votes to swing Georgia from the Biden column to Trump’s.
All of these sad events now amount to a dress rehearsal for stealing the next election. Trump is laying plans to run again in 2024, and he and his allies are installing mechanisms that will aid Trump either to win enough votes to claim the presidency outright or manipulate the results should Trump fall short in the Electoral College. As Barton Gelman detailed in The Atlantic, Trump’s next coup has already begun.
Republicans believe, evidently, that they and Trump cannot win fair and free elections. In this they are right, so the answer for them is not to figure out how to compete fairly but to change the rules. Hence, the attempts in numerous Republican-controlled states to limit who can vote and to give Republican state officials the tools to nullify votes cast. This constitutes an assault on the principle of one person, one vote, and it undermines the arc of American history, which has been to widen the franchise, not limit it, since the founding of the Republic.
In a speech marking the insurrection, delivered in the rotunda of the Capitol, President Joe Biden said, “The former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections. It’s wrong. It’s undemocratic.” The president is correct about the intentions of Trump and his supporters, but Biden’s analysis overlooks one important fact: America is not a true democracy. Many of the mechanisms of our constitutional framework enshrine minority rule and frustrate the will of the majority, one of the basic criteria of democratic governance.
The Electoral College allows for the loser of the popular vote to become president, which has happened twice in this century. The Senate is based on the equality of states, giving population-poor Wyoming as much power as population-rich California. The Senate further hampers majority will through the enshrining of the extra-constitutional filibuster. A minority of voters — from rural, conservative districts — have out-sized influence in the House because of gerrymandering.The current Supreme Court does not reflect the popular will because of the appointment of so many justices by presidents who failed to win the popular vote.
For the foreseeable future, little can be done about the Electoral College and nothing to change the basis of representation in the Senate. But, Democrats have the power to answer the dearth of democracy by expanding democracy. The protection of voting rights — which requires eliminating or altering the filibuster — is the sine qua non of any attempt to make the United States more democratic. It is also the sine qua non of any hope of protecting against the coup next time, which will surely happen if we Americans do nothing to protect against Trump’s authoritarian instincts.
It is often said that democracy dies in darkness. Actually, the assault on American democracy is occurring in broad daylight. We know what Trump did in 2020; we know what he is planning for 2024. We have the ability to prevent an illegal seizure of power. Now, all we need is the will. It is up to us!
Posted January 7, 2022