On the one hand, Donald Trump isn’t saying anything he didn’t say in 2016—I’ll respect the results if I win, and so on. On the other, though, there is one thing that’s very different: He’s president now. He wasn’t then. And when a sitting president refuses to commit to the peaceful transfer of power, that’s a flag that’s as red as red gets (and he gets a kick out of it, as the Beast reported). But this column isn’t aimed at Trump. It’s aimed at everyone else, especially this country’s elites, from politics to the business world to the military and beyond. Because it’s time now to ask the people at the top of this society: How much evidence do you need? What will it take for you to say “enough”?
Trump just vowed to try to end our democracy. Because that’s what not accepting a peaceful transfer of power is. It’s never happened (Andrew Johnson did not attend U.S. Grant’s inauguration, I think the only incumbent to refuse to show; but he did vacate the White House on time and of his own volition). If Trump loses and refuses to go, I guess someone, the Secret Service, will eventually drag him out. But there will be violence across the country. It could lead to a form of civil war. Maybe not with men in uniforms like the last one, but… well, with men not in uniforms, which when you think about it may be worse.
It’s 19-effing-32, America. By which I mean, there’s a certain country out there that had an election in the fall of 1932 that was its last for some time. Though I don’t expect Trump would build death camps, he would clearly like to make himself ruler for life and govern with broad emergency powers. Is this not frightening enough?
Here’s who I’m talking to. First, Republicans. I expect nothing from most of them, of course, and in fairness a few have criticized Trump’s statement. But, hey, Mitt Romney: You committed to giving Trump his new Supreme Court justice the morning of the evening that Trump made his remarks about not maybe not accepting the results if they don’t favor him.
No rethink there? You really want to hand a lifetime Supreme Court justice, whom Trump has said he needs in place as quickly as possible for an expressly corrupt purpose (so she can rule for him in an electoral dispute), to a guy who wants to end democracy? Romney, Cory Gardner, and at least three or four others should say: Sorry, those remarks change things. No new associate justice before the election for a man who says he won’t honor a contest that he doesn’t win. If that’s not Democracy 101, it’s hard to say what is.
Next up, Wall Street and corporate America. Many of these folks like Trump and, I guess, would be untroubled by him barricading himself in the White House and declaring martial law, so long as they didn’t impact their bottom lines. That’s sick and un-American, but if that’s their view, that’s their view.
I’m not talking to them, but to all the others who would be troubled. Doesn’t he now scare the bejeezus out of you? Do you not see what a threat to our country he is, what a daily threat a second term would be?
Is your tax cut really that important to you? More important than the continuity of the world’s oldest democracy? How do I begin to talk about how selfish and short-sighted that is?
Remember last November, when Bill Gates “joked” that if the Democrats seemed like they were going to raise his taxes too much, he just might vote for Trump?
It wasn’t funny then, and it’s a lot less funny now. It’s a complete abrogation of citizenship, and of any sense of responsibility to the demos that prominent members of society in particular are supposed to show, or were once upon a time, before Milton Friedman told them otherwise.
How about if Bill Gates called together 50 or 100 of his rich friends and said: “That joke I made last year? That was horrible. I apologize. Today, these friends and I implore you: Do not vote for Donald Trump.”
Military figures: I’ve been watching H.R. McMaster go around this week promoting his book and saying on television that he won’t get involved in politics. “I’ve decided I’m not going to get involved in partisan politics,” McMaster said, citing his long tenure in the military. “I decided to follow the example of George Marshall and not even vote, to studiously ensure and help reinforce the fact that our military is apolitical, that it is nonpartisan.”
Cop-out. George Marshall was operating at a time when the choices were between men, on both sides, who understood and respected democracy and the restraint it called upon leaders to exercise. Thomas Dewey wasn’t going to shred the Constitution. Donald Trump is.This is a five-alarm fire. If McMaster can’t see that, and the fact that different times demand different actions, he is blind. Willfully blind.
He surely sees the difference. He is hiding behind the epaulets of a great American who, were he around today, would well recognize what a danger Trump is, given that he’d just spent years fighting and subduing people Trump aspires to emulate in certain ways.
And Robert Mueller, who was afraid of the right-wing press! These people have lived lives of service and honor that I readily admit I have not. But this is this country’s moment of truth. We have never faced an enemy within like this. Are they really content to say nothing?
History is piled with cowards who were silent when it mattered and who later said, “Gee, I guess I should have spoken, but I really didn't think it would come to this.” Well—it’s come to this. All decent people who love democracy have a choice: Say something and help save the country, or stay silent and be part of the problem.
Maybe there’s a risk in speaking. But isn’t the far greater risk in not speaking?