Past the Point of No Return

The New York Times just published a “guest opinion” piece by J. Michael Luttig, a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and an advisor to Republican senators. https://nyti.ms/3HS9cjT

The article is entitled, The Conservative Case for Avoiding a Repeat of Jan. 6. That language suggested to me that the argument would be that we should just accept the Big Lie that the last election was stolen, accept massive voter suppression legislation around the country in red states and, as a democracy, roll over and not only play dead but be dead. My second reaction was, over my dead body.

Turns out, I was overreacting. My first impression of the topic was wrong. Moral: always read the story before falling for the headline. So, I did.

Luttig, to be sure, is a learned man, shaped in the higher echelons of Republican politics and the judiciary during the halcyon days of the Reagan and G.W. Bush administrations. I say “halcyon” because this was the time when the Republican Party still purported, at least, to stand for something. Luttig eventually resigned from the Court of Appeals to become Boeing’s General Counsel with a reported pay raise of more than $2.5 million. https://bit.ly/3Jvs88e Pretty good for a boy from Tyler, Texas.

I mention all that because, as is often true, challenging someone of his standing and accomplishment can be … challenging. But what are they going to do? I don’t practice law anymore and I do love a challenge. So, let’s look at Luttig’s latest thoughts on the all-important subject of avoiding another violent attack on the government and the Constitution.

To his credit, Luttig recognizes that Trump and his Republican devotees represent a “clear and present danger” to our democracy. Noting issues with the language of the 1887 (yes, over 120 years ago) Electoral Count Act, he further acknowledges that the efforts of Senators Hawley and Cruz to overturn the election were based on “little more than a wish” and notes that Trump has confessed to his perfidy, both past and looking forward.

Trump’s continued promotion of the Big Lie has never been an issue. As president he stated he could do “whatever I want” and he still thinks that. Here’s where things get sticky for Judge Luttig.

Referring to the mythical remnants of the Republican Party after deducting Trump fantasists, Luttig says they are “mystifyingly stymied by Mr. Trump” and while they allegedly reject his lies about 2020,

they are confused as to exactly how to move on from the 2020 election when their putative leader remains bewilderingly intent on driving the wedge between the believers in his lies and the disbelievers.

This political fissure in the Republican Party was bound to intensify sooner or later, and now it has, presenting an existential threat to the party in 2024. If these festering divisions cost the Republicans in the midterm elections and jeopardize their chances of reclaiming the presidency in 2024, which they well could, the believers and disbelievers alike will suffer.

In moving with such facility from “clear and present danger to democracy” to concern about the “existential threat to the {Republican] party,” the Judge reveals his true goal is to right the listing Republican ship and enhance its political fortunes, notwithstanding its hypnotic devotion to Trump. If so, his argument has little or nothing to do with protecting the country from the collapse of democracy.

Luttig’s argument is another variation of “can’t we all just get along?”

the right course is for both parties to set aside their partisan interests and reform the Electoral Count Act, which ought not be a partisan undertaking.

“Ought not,” indeed. My, oh my, what a wonderful world it could be.

Luttig completes the fantasy analysis by assigning mutually reinforcing goals to the two parties. This is a standard tenet of books and courses on negotiating for “mutual gain.” Democrats, Luttig imagines should want to reform the Electoral Count Act to protect democracy which he admits is failing.  This, he speculates, would “prevent another attack like the one at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.” The logic of that premise-conclusion escapes me. As Peter Navarro has insisted, the aim of the January 6 mob was to force the election into the hands of the states, where the Republican majority would install Trump. They didn’t really care what the law said or what power Vice President Pence actually had under the law.

The mutual gain in Luttig’s conception is that “Republicans should want to reform the law for these same reasons, and more.”  Uh huh. He asserts that, while Trump and Trumpers won’t join, “there are consequential reasons of constitutional and political principle for the large remainder of Republicans to favor reform in spite of the former president’s opposition.”

“Consequential reasons of constitutional and political principle” —  got it. I am rolling on the floor LMAO. Except it’s not funny. Luttig’s thesis, right out of the old and long-ago discarded Book of Republican Orthodoxy, is that,

Republicans are proponents of limited federal government. They oppose aggregation of power in Washington and want it dispersed to the states. It should be anathema to them that Congress has the power to overturn the will of the American people in an election that, by constitutional prescription, is administered by the states, not Washington. If the Democrats are willing to divest themselves of the power to decide the presidency that the 49th Congress wrongly assumed 135 years ago, then it would be the height of political hypocrisy for the Republicans to refuse to divest theirs.

Well, now, isn’t that wonderful. Republicans favor limited federal government. Unless, of course, their state gets hit by a big hurricane or flood. Then they are more than happy to line up for federal money and manpower. Actually, I had understood that Republican orthodoxy was opposed to big government everywhere, but that idea was trashed in Texas recently. Republicans are perfectly fine with big government telling people what to do and not do, as long as it aligns with their religious or so-called freedom and family values.

Putting aside Luttig’s phantasmagorical search for coherence in Republican political doctrine (it being the party that advanced no platform in 2020), he next argues that Republicans should want reform of the Electoral Count Act because it is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Trump acolytes like Mr. Cruz and Mr. Hawley should appreciate the need to reform this unconstitutional law.

… no Republican should want to be an accessory to any successful attempt to overturn the next election — including an effort by Democrats to exploit the law.

Did you catch that unsubtle attempt to both-sides the question? He goes on to suggest that it’s the Democrats that may abuse the ECA in 2024 and thus Republicans should support a statutory redo to prevent that heinous outcome.

Someone please make him stop. Cruz and Hawley caring about the constitution? Seriously?

Luttig argues that reform should include giving federal, yes, federal, courts the power to resolve disputes over state electors and to ensure compliance. Right. Remember Gore and Bush?  And recall that the courts do not have command of the means to enforce anything. That power largely, if not entirely in practice, resides in the Executive Branch.

There are other details to Luttig’s proposals, but, frankly, madam, I don’t give a damn. The Republicans are so dug in on resisting any and every action supported by Democrats that the debate over electoral count reform could last decades. All the while Trump would be whining that he was cheated and his lunatic fringe supporters would continue attacking state capitols and Congress … unless and until the leaders of these fascist efforts are indicted, arrested, tried, and imprisoned.

Recall that the Republican Party has, among other things, embraced many of the conspiracy theories of QAnon, failed to discipline members like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, supported a president who lied and dissembled about a deadly virus that has now killed more than 915,000 Americans and maimed countless more, and twice refused to convict on impeachment in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt. These people are not going to do anything to help the country resist the fascism they regularly promote.

If Luttig is right that “the future of our democracy depends on reform of the Electoral Count Act” that was enacted in 1887, we are in more trouble than rewriting an obscure statute can fix. It’s fine to say that “Republicans and Democrats need to put aside their partisan differences long enough to fix this law.” Fine indeed, but such proposals will have no credibility as long as the planners/leaders/major perpetrators of January 6 walk free. Senators Manchin and Sinema have put the last nail in the myth of bipartisanship.

And that’s the one point that Luttig got right:

the only members in Congress who might not want to reform this menacing law are those planning its imminent exploitation to overturn the next presidential election.

If you remain in doubt as to who they are, their names may be found here, https://bit.ly/3gPVNwM, in the updated Congressional Hall of Dishonor

In closing, let me repeat: no statutory language changes are going to protect our democracy from elected and unelected officials who have no respect for law or oaths of office. The Republican Party has made clear beyond reasonable doubt that it is committed to obtaining and keeping power permanently by whatever means are necessary. If it were otherwise, it would have formally repudiated the lying traitor Donald Trump. Instead, it has embraced him as its leader. Just ask Lindsey Graham.

People who believe in the American democracy, however flawed it may be, had better remain alert to the danger and act/vote accordingly. Don’t be distracted by appeals to bipartisanship and unity, however (or not) well-intended. We’re well past the point of no return.

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