Pro-Trump Crackpots’ Talk Gets More Dangerous. Should We Worry?

Pro-Trump Crackpots’ Talk Gets More Dangerous. Should We Worry?

Pro-Trump Crackpots’ Talk Gets More Dangerous. Should We Worry?

The GOP’s antidemocracy agenda gets clearer by the day. Is Joe Manchin paying attention?


Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn belongs in prison, but his corrupt political allies helped him go free. First, Attorney General Bill Barr attempted to dismiss all charges against him last spring, even though Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his foreign contacts; when a federal judge attempted to block that move, Donald Trump issued him a full pardon.

Flynn has repaid Trump many times over, by being one of the most outspoken and loony purveyors of the notion that the November election was somehow “stolen” from Trump, floating one conspiracy theory after another, from corrupt voting machine companies to fraudulent absentee ballots, even urging Trump to declare martial law and seize suspect ballots. Since the failed January 6 insurrection, he’s gone full QAnon, embracing dark theories about sex-trafficking Democrats and Trump’s eventual resurgence to defeat them.

This weekend he might have taken his most dangerous turn yet, advocating a military coup similar to the one in Myanmar. “It should happen here,” he told an audience of the faithful at the “For God and Country” rally in Dallas. He later denied he said it, but there’s video.

Today comes news from New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, so far only on Twitter, that “Trump has been telling a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August.” It’s not clear how he believes that “reinstatement” would work, but she says he’s “laser-focused” on the baseless GOP “audits” of votes in large Democratic counties in Arizona and Georgia.

Conservative Byron York likewise reported that Trump believes the theory floated by crackpot lawyer Sidney Powell at the same event where Flynn endorsed a coup: “It should be that he can simply be reinstated, that a new inauguration day is set,” she said to cheers. “And Biden is told to move out of the White House. And President Trump should be moved back in.” That can’t and won’t happen, of course—but should we be worrying about all of this anyway?

Reluctantly, I say yes. The failed January 6 insurrection showed the potential for violence among Trump supporters, even elites like Flynn, Powell, and the president himself, who cheered it on. All hope that congressional Republicans would stand up against it died when they killed a commission to investigate it last week with only a few GOP dissenters. A very alarmed former George W. Bush speechwriter, Michael Gerson, noted last week that according to a survey last year, a majority of Republicans agreed with the statement: “The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it…. American politics is being conducted under the threat of violence.”

Meanwhile, following the lead of Georgia, GOP-controlled state legislatures are stepping up their voter suppression legislation—Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Arkansas, and five other states have already passed laws making it harder to vote. Texas is trying; only a walkout by state Democrats prevented the passage of the draconian SB 7, but the reprieve is likely temporary. Arizona and Wisconsin are meddling with the administration of voting in ways that could disadvantage Democrats.

All of these developments are connected. The threat of violence—well, it’s more than a threat—either intimidates or inspires GOP lawmakers to endorse Trump and Co.’s big lie about voter fraud by making it ever harder for Democratic constituencies, especially those of color, to cast votes in the first place. I happen to think we should stand up to crackpots who threaten and even commit violence to overturn elections by imprisoning them when they break the law and denouncing them when they threaten democracy (oh, and Flynn is supposed to be in prison, but I digress). Republicans seem to think you placate them by restricting ballot access—including practices, like absentee and early voting, that used to be seen as favoring GOP voters, who tended to be older and rural, but are now used by Democrats. If they get their way, there won’t be any need for a “coup” or a Trump “reinstatement” next time around.

How are congressional Democrats responding? Almost all of them are rising to the occasion, passing two sweeping voting rights bills that would block some of the worst laws being passed or proposed in GOP states. But they’re blocked by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, of course, who’s on a vain quest to find 10 Republicans to support the measures. He hasn’t, of course, and he won’t. The only answer is doing away with the filibuster—Stacey Abrams, Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock, and others have suggested preserving it for some matters but creating an exception for voting rights legislation. Manchin says he won’t support that compromise either.

Manchin should have learned that his efforts were in vain when he couldn’t convince those 10 mythical Republicans to support the January 6 commission. He pronounced himself “disappointed” but undaunted last week, and continues to block the voting rights bills by opposing a filibuster. So far, he’s only convinced Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski to join him. But it’s not hopeless, he told The Daily Beast. “I never feel that. Never felt that at all. That’s not me.”

A few Senate Democrats continue to hope Manchin is playing a long game and will accept some kind of limit to the filibuster once he’s demonstrated, to his own and other moderates’ satisfaction, that Republicans won’t compromise. But this “long game” has already gone on for five months. In his own way, Manchin’s almost as delusional as Flynn, and his delusions are almost as dangerous to democracy. If he sticks to his guns, Republicans will use gerrymandering and voter suppression to make Democratic victories nearly impossible in many places. (He might survive in West Virginia.) But at least we won’t have to worry about right-wing coups.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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