The Signal: Tuesday was the safe harbor date by which all states had to certify their presidential election results. Next Monday, based on those certifications, the Electoral College will meet and vote. Biden has 306 Electoral College votes pledged to him, far more than the 270 he needed to win.
In any other presidential election year, by now there would have been a gracious concession speech from the losing candidate; the winner would have been invited to the White House; the transition would have ramped up to full speed; Congress would have begun actively preparing for the inauguration… but of course none of that is happening this year.
Trump is still putting out as much misinformation, as much Noise, as possible, telling his supporters (and anyone else willing to listen) that the election was fraudulent and that he, Donald J. Trump, was, is, and always will be the true winner. He is being enabled in this fantasy by ever-kookier legal interventions, including the most recent absurdity, in which the Texas attorney general is spearheading a multistate lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to void the election results in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and to prevent the Electoral College from meeting next Monday. On Wednesday afternoon, Trump’s campaign joined in the lawsuit—despite the fact that the court had, only hours before the Texas intervention, thrown out a Pennsylvania GOP request to invalidate the election in that state.
Trump is still being enabled, too, by a Republican congressional leadership that refuses to acknowledge Biden’s victory, going so far as to vote against a (largely symbolic) motion acknowledging that Biden will be the person inaugurated on January 20.
Meanwhile, Trump’s political team continues both to block vital transition meetings and exchanges of information and also to work at breakneck speed to lock in place some of the most extreme parts of the Trumpite political project before year’s end. Witness the recent Labor Department rule changes that essentially provide a “religious freedom” allowance for federally contracted employers to discriminate against LGBTQ+ employees. And witness the publication of rule changes, to kick in on January 11, that will dramatically eviscerate the already shamefully limited access to asylum for people on the southern border.
These are not actions one would expect during a normal post-election transition process. This isn’t just about semantics. And it isn’t just McConnell and McCarthy and other GOP bigwigs partaking in political fun and games. It’s about an ongoing, and escalating, attack on the principles that make democracy possible. Tot it all up and what you have is an authoritarian assault on the truth—evidenced by the vote-count totals and dozens of court rulings over the past five weeks—and on the bedrock idea of a peaceful transfer of power after elections.
I know that readers of this column have heard me on this before. But it’s impossible to overstress the importance of this moment. One of America’s two political parties is abandoning its commitment to democracy. The president, who now not only leads but holds a tight grip on that party, is actively working to sabotage the Constitution that he has sworn to uphold. GOP legislators and state officials are conspiring to overturn an election simply because it didn’t go the way they hoped it would. As of Wednesday, 17 states were party to the Texas lawsuit, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz had apparently agreed to argue the case before the Supreme Court. And tens of millions of Americans are being told not to recognize an election result they don’t like. This could all too easily lead to violence—Arizona’s GOP this week sent out a tweet asking its supporters if they were willing to die to secure a Trump victory. And in Michigan, armed protesters descended on the secretary of state’s house.
This during the deadliest week so far in the Covid pandemic, with infection rates at upwards of 220,000 per day.
Given how dire America’s public health emergency now is, this ought to be an all-hands-on-deck moment, in which Congress, the outgoing administration, the incoming administration, state officials, and public health experts move in unison to coordinate public safety messages and interventions, minimize the immediate risk of hospital systems collapsing, and smooth the distribution of vaccines over the coming weeks. Instead, Congress is bickering over a Covid relief package, with the GOP doing everything it can to stymie large-scale interventions that could mitigate the economic pain. Instead, Trump is tweeting and retweeting crazy-uncle conspiracy theories and refusing to invite Biden’s experts to his White House vaccination summit. And the Senate is pulling a twisted political stunt by inviting anti-vaxxers to testify this week.
Many years from now, people may look back at this moment and laugh—at the absurdity, the hubris, the arrogance, the egos. Perhaps it will eventually make for powerful theater. Right now, however, there’s nothing remotely funny about this moment. Trump’s final chapter is, as many worried it would be, a full-blown American tragedy.