It is now been three weeks since an election that Trump lost by more than 6 million popular votes and 74 Electoral College votes. And though the General Services Administration finally began the transition process on Monday evening, the president himself has still not conceded, and the series of lawsuits intended to retroactively disenfranchise millions of voters continues.
Because of Trump’s gracelessness in defeat and his attempts to undermine the will of the people, Joe Biden has lost more than two weeks as he prepares to become president. During that period, with the GSA holding up the transition process, he wasn’t receiving intelligence briefings, couldn’t coordinate strategies between his team and Trump’s regarding the pandemic and the distribution of vaccines, couldn’t get government e-mail addresses and office space for his staff, and couldn’t even get his cabinet nominees background-checked by the FBI—meaning that their confirmation process will likely be delayed.
While these shenanigans played out, Trump’s henchmen have engaged in a twin strategy of guerrilla warfare: On the one hand, they are locking in place as many changes to environmental and health care regulations, to participation in multinational agreements such as the Open Skies treaty, to foreign policy, and to personnel in key scientific, defense, and intelligence agencies as possible; on the other hand, they are lighting the fuses on economic grenades intended to detonate early in a Biden presidency, and to increase the likelihood of a double-dip recession.
Trump’s actions don’t surprise me. It’s been clear for five years that he’s a megalomaniac and a narcissist, that he doesn’t believe in the bedrock principles of democracy, and that he is, at heart, a saboteur: a wrecker of people, of institutions, and, ultimately, of countries. It’s been clear since the spring, when Biden emerged as the Democratic Party’s candidate and when the polls began settling solidly against Trump, that No. 45 would not accept an election result in which he wasn’t the winner. And it’s been clear since November 3 that Trump has talked himself into believing he’s the rightful victor and has locked himself into a fantasy bubble in which he is now, and always will be, supremely powerful.
All of this is infinitely depressing—and also as entirely predictable as Trump’s playing golf instead of talking with world leaders about how to coordinate a response to the Covid-19 surge. But what amazes me, at this point, is the number of Good Americans who have been willing to continue down this foul path—which will probably end in the wreckage of the entire Trumpian project but could lead to Trump’s somehow staying in power, a destination so entirely void of democratic presence and so destructive of two and a half centuries of the American political and societal experiment that it would come to be seen as one of the great calamities of the human story.
And, no, that’s not hyperbole. This isn’t a game, and Trump’s actions aren’t simply truculent or petty. They are at this point unabashedly authoritarian, and contemptuous not just of the institutions that make democracy possible but also of the nearly 80 million Americans who cast their votes for Biden. Trump is attempting to reduce all of those Americans to subjects rather than citizens, to expendable ballast to be thrown overboard in order to keep his horrific version of the ship of state afloat.
Erstwhile Trump allies such as former New Jersey governor Chris Christie can see where this all leads, which is why Christie took to the airwaves this weekend to denounce the efforts to overturn the will of the people. Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey finally found the balls to join a handful of his GOP Senate colleagues in congratulating “President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris,” after the latest Pennsylvania court ruling rejecting Trump’s efforts to throw out hundreds of thousands of votes from that state. It’s been a long while coming, but better late than never for these politicians to distance themselves from Trump’s ongoing coup efforts.
But where are the nearly four dozen Republican senators, including the entire leadership, who haven’t acknowledged Biden’s win? Toomey’s statement was a good one, but where are other Republican voices from Pennsylvania who should be forcefully pushing back against Trump’s attempt to disenfranchise most voters in that state’s urban hubs?
Where were the Republican politicians in Michigan who didn’t publicly push back against Trump’s and the RNC’s efforts to endlessly delay certification of that state’s votes; and who didn’t disavow the outrageous attempts to somehow disappear Detroit’s voters—under the immaculate logic that if we simply discounted the people who didn’t vote for Trump, then Trump would have been the clear winner in Michigan? Ultimately, that strategy failed, when one of the two GOP members on the state’s board of canvassers voted with his Democratic colleagues to certify the Michigan result for Biden on Monday. But the very fact that that decision was a nail-biter, despite Biden’s having won the state by roughly 150,000 votes, shows the lengths that large parts of the GOP are now willing to go to sabotage the popular vote.
Where are the Wisconsin Republicans who ought to be pushing back against the slew of conspiracy theories and nuisance challenges to thousands of ballots, all designed to slow this week’s recount of votes in that state to such a crawl that it’s not completed in time for the certification deadline?
Where were the Georgia Republicans, who could have raised voices against Trump’s insistence on yet another recount—paid for by Georgia taxpayers—in a state that had already certified Biden’s victory?
These men and women of the Republican Party, who wrap themselves in the flag at every opportunity, who call themselves patriots and their opponents enemies of the people—they have become the Benedict Arnolds of our age. It is an extraordinary metamorphosis. These intriguers and sycophants have in essence spent the weeks since the election plotting to erase Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address: his solemn pledge to those who died fighting so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” And they are guilty, through their silence in the face of Trump’s extraordinary actions and words, of seeking to extinguish Lady Liberty’s torch. They have, in short, been auditioning for the role of pallbearers at democracy’s funeral.
Trump’s strategy is putsch politics. Christie has belatedly recognized it for what it is. But, shamefully, much of the GOP seems content to continue playing a game of follow-the-fascist, as Trump enacts his own version of Götterdämmerung in these last, twisted weeks of his presidency.