On Election Day 2020, good and evil were on the ballot and, by the day after, it appeared American voters were deeply split as to which they supported. But even if, as seems likely as of this writing, good ekes out a narrow victory, immense damage has been done by an American president who has compounded his past crimes with what is nothing less than an attempted coup and by the substantial constituency for evil that remained an important force in American politics.
Astonishingly, in the small hours of the morning, as we watched the election returns in bleary horror, on the most bizarre and disturbing election night in American history, the normalizers were at it again. Sure, some of them were trying to be calm and say all is fine, the guardrails will hold. But they did a huge disservice to the degree that they understated the extraordinary nature of the president’s words and actions and the very real and likely damage the president has just done.
It is dangerously misleading to underplay the danger posed by Donald Trump right now. Yes, our system should still work. It appears, barring something unforeseen, that it still will. But the unavoidable truth is that so far, for four years now, it often has not. Manifold crimes have gone unpunished. Our institutions have come under repeated assault from those sworn to protect them.
All that was compounded and perhaps even transcended by the fact that early on Wednesday morning, Trump yet again made clear his desire to carry forward a criminal plan he announced weeks ago. He sought to launch a direct assault against the American people and the Constitution he promised to “preserve, protect, and defend.” He made clear he would, given the opportunity, attempt to steal the power that the Constitution gives to us as individuals and collectively, as an electorate. And anyone who blithely takes for granted that such a coup will not succeed, because “our system doesn’t work that way,” anyone who assumes Trump can’t yet pervert the outcome of this election with the aid of his corrupt attorney general, his illegitimate judges, and their patrons in the still GOP-led Senate, has just not been paying attention.
Remember—never forget—he betrayed the country even before he took office.
He stole from taxpayers. He committed human rights abuses on our border. He served a foreign enemy. He obstructed justice. He turned U.S. government forces against peaceful protestors. He contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands to advance his political interests.
And so far, he has gotten away with all of it. Every time he crushed a norm or violated a standard or kicked a law or constitutional provision to the curb, it was he who succeeded and the system that failed. It was he who benefited and all of us who were made to suffer or pay. We should take very seriously therefore the possibility that Trump’s efforts to cloud the results of the election and to fulfill his sponsor Vladimir Putin’s fondest desire—weakening American democracy and America’s standing in the world—will at least to some degree succeed.
But even if, in the end, he is not the one who is taking the oath of office on January 20, even if somehow, some of the few remaining guardrails in our system hold, we must fight like hell any effort to normalize what he has sought to do—what he tried to initiate at 2:30 a.m. on the morning November 4, 2020—as mere lies or typical Trumpian excess.
It was—successful or not—an act unprecedented in our history, an attempted coup by a president. It was the ultimate betrayal of our democracy. It placed America a hair's breadth away from becoming an autocracy.
Yes, it is hard to imagine the shock and the horror associated with the election of 2016 have been exceeded. But they have been. A president with the blood of tens of thousands on his hands, a man plausibly accused of serial corruption, of crimes against humanity, of being a traitor… along with all those who enabled, supported, and protected him. None of them has been repudiated. Rather they have retained power.
In addition, Trump aside, think of the message being sent by returning Mitch McConnell and his mob to the Senate majority. Think about how they will take it. Think of what they will read into Tuesday’s results. They will feel again elevated above the law. They will be further intoxicated by their sense of their own impunity. And they will be right if they draw the conclusion that a major, unwavering bloc of Americans do not care about democracy or the rule of law or fairness or decency or even about human life, that they are motivated only by cheap populism, by racism, and by greed and twisted ideologies.
You cannot and must not see this election—even if it results as it appears it may in a welcome victory for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris—as anything other than indisputable proof that our system is, at its heart and in many ways, broken, that much of our society, twisted by racism and greed, have lost their way, that we’re on a path that unreversed could lead to the end of democracy, greatness, and even goodness in the United States.
But even for all that, do not lose sight of this week’s paramount crime: that of Trump himself. Here is a serial betrayer of country and oath doing his corrosive worst, a cancer not only on the presidency but on our entire democratic system: weakening it, threatening its viability, and doing damage from which it will take generations to recover.
No, do not be calm. Do not accept it. Do not count on cooler heads to prevail. Push back. Demand accountability. Resist via every means at your disposal and recognize that the most powerful of all those means, the ballot box, has now been compromised and, at very least, was at real risk of being stolen by a thief.
And should Trump ultimately accept his loss, as he should, beyond the accountability that the law demands of him and his co-conspirators, we must demand that he and they and their enablers and what they are doing are condemned for all time as what they are, are characterized as they should be.
He is a would-be dictator. He is a criminal. He is a traitor. He is a friend to our enemies and an enemy of our country and our system. He must never be granted the deference past holders of his office have been given. He has disqualified himself.
His legacy is one of death and pain and debasement. His reward should be ignominy and such punishments as the law and justice demand. Not because what he had done is merely outrageous, but because our system and our country will, in fact, never recover unless we acknowledge the unprecedented severity of the crimes he is now seeking to commit before our very eyes.