Quo Vadis, Republican Party?

You may recognize the Latin phrase, or not. It derives from “Domine, quo vadis? meaning Lord, where are you going?” and was assertedly spoken by Saint Peter who, fleeing persecution in Jerusalem, came upon the resurrected Jesus and made the inquiry, leading Jesus to tell Peter that he was returning to be crucified again. [source: e­­ncyclopedia.com https://bit.ly/38OcLIG] [Also a 1951 movie title]

I was reminded of this by a, typically, erudite and lengthy essay by Yale historian Timothy Snyder in today’s New York Times Magazine, entitled The American Abyss: Trump, the mob and what comes next. Snyder also wrote On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, a book that should be required reading for every American interested in the survival of our democracy.

A major premise of Snyder’s Times essay is that the Republican Party’s political establishment has two main branches. One, the gamers,

is concerned above all with gaming the system to maintain power, taking full advantage of constitutional obscurities, gerrymandering and dark money to win elections with a minority of motivated voters. They have no interest in the collapse of the peculiar form of representation that allows their minority party disproportionate control of government.

The main exponent of this group’s point of view is the former Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, of the failed state of Kentucky.

The other, even more craven group (my view, not necessarily Snyder’s) are the “breakers,” who “might actually break the system and have power without democracy.” That group is now led by Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.

Snyder then begins the analysis, noting that to some Republicans the hopeless quest to overturn the election was just political theater, but

for Congress to traduce its basic functions had a price. An elected institution that opposes elections is inviting its own overthrow. Members of Congress who sustained the president’s lie, despite the available and unambiguous evidence, betrayed their constitutional mission. Making his fictions the basis of congressional action gave them flesh. Now Trump could demand that senators and congressmen bow to his will. He could place personal responsibility upon Mike Pence ….

If that doesn’t lead you to immediately buy a Times subscription and also Snyder’s book, I don’t know about you….{I get no royalties; just trying to be helpful]

As noted, Snyder’s treatment is erudite and complex. My own view is more simplistic.

The principal distinguishing feature of our mish-mash American democratic republic with its squirrelly Constitution and three “co-equal” branches of government intended to mutually restrain each other, is that the people elect their leaders. If the leaders fail to perform as the voters think they expected, the voters can elect new leaders on the immutable schedule of elections. AND — this is critical — assuming a fair process, the loser accepts the loss and waits for the next election in the immutable schedule for another try. ALWAYS. The loser accepts the loss, moves on, reorganizes and so on.

If the acceptance of loss, a/k/a the peaceful transfer of power, were to be lost, the entire system, Constitution notwithstanding, would collapse and American democracy would be finished.

As noted, the essential premise of this scheme is “fair process,” and everyone knows that politics can be “rough and tumble,” “dirty,” and other unpleasantries, often in direct proportion to how much power is at stake. But “rough and tumble” or not, the process by which voting occurs must be accepted as fair, meaning each voter has a fair and equal opportunity to vote and to have her vote honestly counted.

Obviously, that goal is aspirational. We have, for example, gerrymandering which alters the “equal opportunity” element by rearranging the electorate to favor one party over another. Since both parties, in a floating tit-for-tat combat try to tilt the system in their favor when they can, the electoral system begins to resemble an exercise in mutually-assured-destruction, a/k/a MAD. And that doesn’t even account for the way in which the Electoral College system enhances the votes of smaller states or the way in which the allocation of legislative seats dilutes the votes of high-population states.

But those are features of the imperfect system that have been present for a very long time. At bottom, there remains, at least until now, the fundamental core principle that the loser will accept the loss and move on.

But, what if the process is not fair, in that the voting or the vote-counting is rigged in some way that favors one side? Why would the loser be expected to just accept defeat, an ill-gotten gain by an adversary with no recompense? Isn’t that exactly what Trump and his supporters have claimed?

No, it is not. The entire system by which the “truth” is determined in our society is based on arrangements provided in the Constitution. Thus, the taking of an oath to support the Constitution is an oath to accept those arrangements. The determination of “truth,” as close as we frail humans can come to its ascertainment, is made by a system of challenge-response-decision by independent courts which in turn have elaborate appeal arrangements so that erroneous decisions may be corrected before doing lasting harm. Like all human systems, the legal system is not perfect, but it is the closest we have come and is far better than a system in which appointed autocrats make all the decisions. And our systems have published “rules of engagement” that all parties must follow, so that the fight in a legal environment is as fair as it can be, assuming both sides have access to adequate representation.

Thus, our system includes the legal system as a fail-safe against faulty electoral process, as regards problems like obstruction of access to the polls, corrupt vote counting and the like.

Turning then to the 2020 presidential election, we first should recognize that the president began complaining of election rigging even before issue was joined with a chosen Democratic opponent. Moreover, through direct manipulation of the U.S. Postal Service, he tried to rig the election in his own favor, all the while complaining about what the opposition was up to. Aided by Republican governors, access to the ballot box was restricted by closing polling stations and other techniques of voter suppression.

Whatever one may say about social media and their manipulation by Trump and other politicians, those media also enabled the Democrats to call out the voter suppression as it was happening. So, it came to pass that the president, in sharply declining popularity as he downplayed the deadly coronavirus and was caught trying to pressure foreign governments to help undermine his opponent, lost the popular vote by more than 7 million votes, lost the key battleground states and lost the Electoral College vote. Joe Biden was declared the winner.

Trump fought back, screeching that the election had been stolen due to massive voter fraud, but only in the key battleground states he lost and, inexplicably, only regarding the presidential election but not the down-ballot races for supremely important seats such as that held by Majority Leader McConnell of Kentucky, who survived a challenge despite having done little or nothing for his constituents. Trump sent a team of lawyers into the field, filing lawsuit after lawsuit, more than 60 cases, many to be decided by judges he had appointed. Not knowing and not caring how the legal system worked, Trump apparently expected his appointees to simply award him victories. He, and his crack legal team, could not, however, overcome the lack of evidence, defined as credible information of specific facts supporting a legal claim. Such evidence simply did not exist. Trump’s case was actually damaged by trotting out “witnesses” who did not understand how vote counting worked in their precincts. Trump lost ALL but one insignificant decision, more than 60 defeats. Even his “house lawyer,” William Barr, putative Attorney General of the United States, concluded that Trump had lost the election fairly.

And still Trump cried “foul,” arguing that he had won the election by a landslide, that the fix was in.  His mendacity was exposed yet again by a tape of his attempt to induce the Georgia Secretary of State to “find” a collection of votes just one more than Trump needed to reverse Biden’s win in Georgia. Never mind that for his claims to be true, tens of thousands of people would have had to conspire to tilt the vote count, a vast conspiracy that both theory and practice informs us could not happen without someone spilling the beans. There were no beans to spill.

And still Trump cried “foul.” And still his Republican enablers in Congress remained silent or engaged in full-throated support not only of Trump’s right to test the legal waters, but in support of the proposition that the election had been “stolen.” Stolen by means and persons unknown, but stolen nonetheless.

That “situation,” created by Trump’s own irrational insistence and domination of his political party, led to the January 6 assault on the Capitol Building in which a violent mob of Trump supporters tried to prevent the final certification of the Electoral College vote count. Trump watched on TV, apparently quite happy with his handiwork. He was a hero to his fans and within arms’ reach of getting the second term he claimed to deserve.

The attack failed, a perfect metaphor for Trump’s presidency.

Trump’s term ends at noon on January 20, just three days away. The nation’s capital city is an armed military camp awaiting a predicted resumption of the January 6 attack in an attempt to overthrow the government and install Trump as dictator.

Time will tell. But what is clear to me at least is that Donald Trump has violated the fundamental and central premise of democratic government. He has rejected his electoral loss and is trying to force himself on the country for a second term.

This then is the root of the tree of ultimate political evil. Unwillingness to accept the loss and move on after being heard more than 60 times in court, and despite multiple audits and recounts, is a  bridge too far, an undoing of norms, conventions and legal/Constitutional principles from which there is no recovery for forgiveness. In this effort, Trump is supported by multiple elected representatives of the people in the national legislature.

For those reasons alone, though there are many others, Trump should not only be convicted in his second impeachment, but he must also be prevented from holding public office again. If you don’t play by the rules, you must not be allowed on the field. The same is true for the other politicians who continue to falsify, fabricate and bloviate regarding the election result. They — Hawley, Cruz, Johnson and the others who voted to reject the final count even after the January 6 coup attempt —  must be removed from office and banned from holding another.

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