Tag Archives: coup

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.

Defeating Trump’s Coup d’état

Donald Trump is planning to take control of the U.S. government regardless of the outcome of the 2020 election. I believe that deeply. Even if I’m wrong about that, we must prepare on the assumption that I’m right. If wrong, and he goes quietly, fine. If I’m right, saving the country and its republican form of democracy will likely depend on how we prepare in the next three months.

The classical definition of a coup d’état is the “sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.” But there are other, more subtle ways of accomplishing a coup. Trump himself, a master of the “I am a victim” trope, has argued repeatedly that the Mueller investigation was an attempted coup. Many Republicans have reiterated that “argument.” Now the argument has morphed into an attack on mail-in voting, a process similar to absentee voting and identical to the voting procedures used in five states: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah.

Timothy Snyder, author of  On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from The Twentieth Century, has described Trump’s position as a “prime historical fascist tactic”: create a crisis, then use that as an excuse to reject the peaceful transfer of power. Snyder knows a thing or two about tyranny and how it can work to destroy a democracy. He has written that “Trump’s ‘Delay the Election’ tweet checks all 8 rules for fascist propagandahttps://wapo.st/3i0remw We ignore his warnings at our extreme peril.

Since Trump can’t legally delay the election on his own, his main task is to find someone to foul up the election so he can claim a right to stay in power. The tactic is not unlike the infamous “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest,” an utterance by a king that led to the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He has launched a multi-front attack to get his way: undermining the U.S. Postal Service and claiming mail-in voting is the cause of massive voter fraud.

Let’s move from the sublime to the practical. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, there are about 200,000 polling places in the United States even after the Republicans’ massive voter suppression efforts in multiple southern states to reduce polling places so as to increase voter travel and waiting-in-line times. Election Administration & Voting Survey, 2018 Comprehensive Report to Congress. https://bit.ly/39UakD7

That Report notes that,

more than120 million Americans voted in the 2018 general elections, a turnout rate of 52 percent of the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) .… turnout in the 2018 general elections increased in nearly all states when compared to 2014. Some states saw turnout levels that approached those of a typical presidential election.

That was the glorious Blue Wave that swept Democrats into control of the House of Representatives. Moreover,

More than half of voters cast their ballots in person on Election Day, and one-quarter of participants cast their ballots by mail. Nearly one-fifth voted early at in-person early voting sites, a rate that more than doubled since the 2014 elections. In six states, more than half of ballots were cast at in-person early voting sites. Although the overall rate of by-mail voting has not changed significantly since 2014, the states of California, Montana, and Utah saw large increases in their statewide by-mail voting rates.

These remarkable results involved more than 600,000 volunteer poll workers. However, nearly 70 percent of responding jurisdictions reported that it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to obtain a sufficient number of poll workers. That was, obviously, long before the coronavirus pandemic. This year the challenge will be massively greater.

There are numerous other obstacles to more robust voting. For example,

Thirteen states do not offer online voter registration

Fewer than half of states allow for same day voter registration

Only three states run their elections entirely by mail (4 others have all-by-mail voting in select local jurisdictions

About a quarter of states require in-person early voters to provide an excuse for doing so

Less than one-third of states have vote centers or allow voters to cast ballots at any polling place in their jurisdiction.

That is what Republican control of many state legislatures, combined with active Republican voter suppression tactics, have left us.

Given the pandemic and ongoing threats to voting by Republicans in 2020, what could go wrong? Answer: everything; the signs are unmistakable.

Republicans, including Trump himself, have publicly admitted that, for example, changes like universal automatic voter registration and mail-in voting will favor Democrats. Therefore, Republicans conjure various bogus and non-evidence-based claims of massive voter fraud, mistakes and delays, even as Trump’s appointee to head the U.S. Postal Service works to cripple the Service’s ability to adapt to major volume increases for the upcoming election. And Trump urges the voter suppression work onward because, as Prof. Snyder has observed, he pretty well knows he’s going to be defeated in a fair election process.

What can Democrats do to avoid the roadblocks Republicans are going to place in the path of increased voter turnout?

The answer is to plan out every potential obstructionist scenario and prepare countermeasures accordingly.

At the most basic level, it is crucial to identify polling places where long lines are likely on November 3. For every such location, Democrats should provide portable toilets, snacks, water, rain ponchos and anything else that will make it easier for voters to stay in line as long as it takes. Virtually everyone who gives up and leaves the line will not return later to vote, so it crucial to help every Democrat stick it out as long as needed.

The actual voting process must be closely observed to assure that bogus obstacles are not thrown in the path of voters. In cases of asserted issues, poll watchers must insist that provisional ballots be provided, and a close count must be maintained of how many such ballots are collected. Watching the final tally at the end of the voting day is equally important. This process can be tedious and a bit complicated; trained observers are important, as their mere presence will discourage shenanigans during the counting and reporting process.

To the extent consistent with local laws, videos and photographs should be taken of the physical setup of each polling place. Record any incidents of potential voter interference outside the polling station. The recent incidents in Minnesota, for example, in which armed “protesters” demanded removal of mask requirements and opening of lockdowns at state legislatures and elsewhere are evidence suggesting that armed groups may appear at polling places in “open carry” states to try to intimidate voters by their presence.

Democratic watchers must be present to record any such incidents and to reassure waiting voters that they should not be deterred from exercising their right to vote. Armed “militias” should not be allowed to, for example, interrogate voters approaching the polling station about why they are there. Poll-watchers should be equipped with contact information for the State and Local Police as well as key media outlets in the area. The more eyes on the situation, the less likely actual acts of intimidation will be successful. In polling places located where potential disruptions are considered most likely, Democrats should always have more than one person on-site from opening to reporting of the final tally.

These recommendations are a tall order, requiring a large commitment from many people. Nevertheless, the stakes are also extremely high — nothing less than the survival of American democracy. Trump intends to steal the election by whatever method works and he has started multiple paths to that end. Having sent federal “troops” to Portland and other cities on the pretext of protecting federal property, with the predictable result of further destabilizing the situation and increasing the violence, he will stop at nothing to get what he wants. The people must stop at nothing to thwart his plan to undermine democracy.

It’s important to remember that Trump’s hard-core supporters are a minority of the voting population. Hillary Clinton’s popular vote was larger by just under 2.9 million votes. Her defeat was a product of many things, not least of which was Russian interference and the Electoral College, the vestige of a past time that enhances the voting power of the smaller states and thus, for example, enlarges the impact of southern state resistance to social policies favored by Democrats. It is likely Trump is getting help from Russia again this year. The election rules are fixed for now so the answer to Trump is maximum Democratic voter turnout.

Also keep in mind that Trump has lied repeatedly about his agenda. Just one example — his lawyers are in court right now trying to end insurance protection of pre-existing conditions. If re-elected, Trump will have free-reign to bring down what remains of America’s best institutions. If defeated, we can immediately begin rebuilding a civil society that treats all citizens fairly and promotes the common good of everyone, including recovery from the pandemic.

It’s up to you. If you can do it, please volunteer to help on Election Day. We must prepare for the worst case if we’re going to win.