I said Tuesday I thought the Republicans would wait until the lame-duck period of the 116th Congress to follow through with confirming a new US Supreme Court justice. I was mistaken, evidently. According to the Post, Lindsey Graham, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wants the process wrapped up by October’s end. The president, meanwhile, told reporters Tuesday he needed nine justices to handle “the unsolicited millions of ballots” expected to come in, by which he meant a loyal court majority to hand him victory after he alleges fraud in the form of very cool and very legal absentee votes, a necessity stemming from his failure to protect the country from a lethal virus that has killed more than 205,500 Americans, per Worldometer.
Now comes news this morning that the Trump campaign is “discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority.” According to The Atlantic’s peerless Barton Gellman, “With a justification based on claims of rampant fraud, Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly. The longer Trump succeeds in keeping the vote count in doubt, the more pressure legislators will feel to act before the safe-harbor deadline expires.”
This is the clearest picture of what many of us suspected might happen. We already knew the weeks and months between Election Day and Inauguration Day would be the tenderest and scariest any of us has witnessed, a period of deep uncertainty, insecurity, lawlessness and violence; that the US Department of Justice designated cities like New York and Seattle “anarchist jurisdictions”; that Attorney General William Barr urged federal prosecutors to charge dissenters with “sedition”; that the president and his Fox confederates are prepping heavily armed right-wing vigilantes to terrorize Trump’s opponents; and that mass protest against Trump’s power-grab would be called an insurgency “proving” accusations of voter fraud and justifying a government crackdown. There will be blood. This we knew. We didn’t know the ace in the president’s pocket—a future 6-3 supermajority ready to legalize a coup d’etat.
This is a time for respectable white people to stop wondering who’s to blame for “division,” “polarization” and “dysfunction” in Washington, and instead do what Bob Woodard did recently—come to a firm, final moral conclusion. Donald Trump and the Republicans are not trying to persuade a majority of the electorate to take their side in accordance with American custom, principle and law. They are instead trying to take power by force, using American institutions—the Electoral College in particular—to smash the republic itself in order to remake it in their authoritarian image. This is a time to understand that every accusation is a confession of what they have already done, that every allegation is a projection of what they are prepared to do. This morning, when Ohio representative Jim Jordan said Joe Biden and the Democrats are trying to steal the election, what he was really saying was the GOP is trying to steal the election.
If the president gets away with swing-state electors handing him the election, he will spark mass protests the size and scale of which this country has never seen. Trump and his Republican confederates will accuse the protesters—all of them, even veterans, kids and grandmas—of being criminal or something terrible justifying a reaction they already want to take against public demonstrations challenging Trump’s legitimacy. Inevitably, they will allege “insurrection,” because insurrection is precisely what they are doing. They are advancing an insurrection step-by-step in coordination with a hostile foreign power that’s radicalizing Americans by the millions. Russia is now to the Republican Party what the United States was in the 1980s to Contra rebels. But instead of successfully destabilizing a democracy just getting started, as the US did to Nicaragua, the Kremlin is successfully destabilizing the world’s oldest democracy.
When you ram through a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, when you rig a presidential election, when you piss on the bedrock American principle of the consent of the governed, you’re really not entitled anymore to the benefit of the doubt. You’re not entitled to deference or trust. You’re not entitled to anything. You have irreversibly broken faith with the American people. When you treat Americans like enemies, eventually Americans start reciprocating in kind, degree and intensity, which is exactly what the president and the GOP cannot see coming at the moment. They are too blinded by the prospect of seizing what they have coveted. True, they may be on the brink of victory. In that victory, however, lie the seeds of future doom.
John Stoehr is the editor and publisher of the Editorial Board, a newsletter about politics in plain English for normal people and the common good. He’s a visiting assistant professor of public policy at Wesleyan University, a fellow at the Yale Journalism Initiative, a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly, and a contributing editor for Religion Dispatches.