Maybe the voters of Georgia will surprise us and make this a week to celebrate. If Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff manage to eke out victories, then the whole story of the 2020 election changes from one in which the Democrats took the White House but got clubbed everywhere else to a story of a narrow but clear rejection of Trumpism (in which case thank you, Stacey Abrams).
But if that doesn’t happen, this will go down as one of the darkest weeks in the history of this democracy. Donald Trump’s madman rant at Brad Raffensberger was insane and impeachable and blood-curdling and all the rest, but more that that: It was a reminder that we’re just a couple of corrupt state officials away from November’s democratic outcome being overruled.
And the shocking decision by a dozen United States senators to challenge election results that each state’s election apparatus and dozens of state courts and the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer have ruled valid is a fuck you of epic, historic proportions. It will lead—not may lead, will lead—to the dissolution of democracy. It’s really only a matter of how long it will take.
Why? Because it establishes the precedent that a disgruntled faction can brush aside the verdict of state elections officials and 50-odd courts and the attorney general and a clear majority of voters, 81.3 million of them, and try to overturn a democratic result. And once that door is opened, there is no closing it.
This time it’s 12 senators (though it could be more by Wednesday). Next time it will be 24. Then 36. And so on. And, one of those times, it won’t be a matter of overturning the outcome in four states, which is hard. It might be a closer election. Say a Democratic presidential candidate wins 278 electoral votes, having won, say, Arizona (and its 11 electoral votes) by 10,000 votes. In that case, the authoritarians would need to flip just Arizona. Assuming a GOP state legislature, easy-peasy. And it won’t even be shocking. The groundwork they are laying this week will make it expected.
I have been alternately elated and depressed about the election; elated that Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump, depressed about most everything else. But I guess on balance I was mostly optimistic because we dodged the bullet. Trump was, and is, going. Even Bill Barr affirmed it.
But this Senate thing is something different. This isn’t Trump. He didn’t even hatch this. This is Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and a handful of others, including four freshman senators who are willing to make this their first act, saying that democracy doesn’t matter. They’re doing it for Trump in the current case, but they’ll do it in the future for anyone—not least themselves.
In other words, this will outlast Trump. Some of the hideous things Republicans have done in the last four years, you could tell they were doing it to placate Trump and it was the kind of thing they wouldn’t do were it not for Trump. But this isn’t that. This, as I said above, is a precedent that there’s no going back on. It’s just terrifying.
Some might say oh, it’s just cynical politics, some of them are planning on running for president, and that’s why they’re doing this. On one level, sure, that’s true. But that doesn’t nullify the larger significance of this. And anyway, it’s not “just politics” for these people. It’s partly politics. It’s also partly what they devoutly believe. They see liberals and Blacks and LGBT people and others as mortal threats to the white ethnonationalist hegemony that they will destroy democracy to maintain.
You may have seen Steve Schmidt’s Saturday evening tweets on this. He wrote: “The die is cast for the Republican Party. It will be destroyed on January 6th in much the same way the Whig party was destroyed by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.” And: “The 6th will commence a political civil war inside the GOP. The autocratic side will roll over the pro-democracy remnant of the GOP like the Wehrmacht did the Belgian Army in 1940.”
Schmidt knows these people better than I do, so I’ll take his word for it. The Republican Party will, over these next two to four years, officially become an autocratic party, nominating and electing authoritarian candidates who will be Trumpists both metaphorically and, sometimes, literally (Schmidt’s most breath-taking single sentence: “Does anybody doubt the outcome of the @IvankaTrump vs. @marcorubio primary in Florida?”).
Nancy Pelosi was narrowly re-elected speaker of the House Sunday, 216-209, in a roll call that took about three hours. Five moderates refused to vote for Pelosi: Conor Lamb, Abigail Spanberger, Elissa Slotkin, Mikie Sherrill, and Jared Golden. The two I want to hear explanations from are Lamb and Golden, who voted for other people, while the other three simply didn’t vote. For parliamentary reasons it would take too much space to explain, voting for someone else was worse. All five Squad members, counting newcomer Cori Bush as a Squadder, backed Pelosi.
It wasn’t pretty, but it means she will control the House parliamentarian, which in turn means there is no way the presidential election can be thrown to the House of Representatives, where Trump would win because each state delegation gets one vote, and the GOP controls delegations by a count of 26-22-2 (the District of Columbia doesn’t get a vote). This possibility had me freaked out for a couple days last week, and don’t think for a second they wouldn’t have tried it.
And of course, while all this is going on, they are killing people. Wouldn’t any moral and humane administration be moving heaven and earth and spending whatever it took to get the vaccines to its people as quickly as possible? I trust the Biden administration will fix this, but dearly precious time has already been lost. And of course, Biden’s ability to fix it will depend, pending Georgia, on Senate Republicans agreeing to give him the money to do so.
The virus response may seem a separate matter, but it is absolutely related to the GOP’s democracy destruction. A real and functioning democracy confronted with a crisis serves its people and cures them. It finds the money. It’s a few fighter jets, or a two-penny tax on some common transaction, or an addition of .006 percent to the deficit. Trump’s inaction in the face of our biggest public health crisis in a century is a reflection, to be sure, of his own deep inadequacies; but it’s also about his failure to grasp some key principles of democratic governance, like remembering who he works for.
Biden will prevail Wednesday, unless Mike Pence decides he is the state, which… no, let’s not even consider it. Biden will prevail. But even as we exhale, let’s be clear. We are watching democracy die. More precisely, be murdered. It will take time—two, maybe three more elections. But the funeral starts Wednesday.