Trump’s Call to Georgia Proves We Can’t be Surprised by Anything his Enablers do Over the Next Two Weeks
Just when you thought that things couldn’t get any weirder, or that Trump couldn’t get any more transparently corrupt, we have another “perfect” Trump phone call to listen to.
There are many parts of the President’s call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that are surreal. if I had to pick a favorite, it’s when Trump said to Brad (that’s what he likes me to call him) “There’s nothing wrong with saying that you miscalculated” as an excuse to reverse the results. I guess Brad could say “I forgot to carry the 2 when I added up the votes”. Or, “My calculator was on the fritz!”. Plus, you have to admire the specificity of Trump saying, “I need you to find me 11,780 votes”. Because there would be nothing at all suspicious about coming up with a new vote total whereby Trump wins by one vote.
The problem Trump has is that he lacks the self-awareness which would stop a normal person from being so obviously crooked. Plus he’s not that bright. So his self-dealing can have an amusing quality to it. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this phone call was a crime, and a particularly insidious, anti-democratic one. The President of the United States called a state official and repeatedly threatened to criminally prosecute him unless he changed the actual results of the election. Short of going on a massive cannibalism spree, there’s not much worse a person can do.
Admittedly, I had thought that I was past the point where I could be shocked, not at what Trump did. That point passed long ago, when he made fun of the handicapped reporter. I still occasionally have naive twinges of hope that there might be some limit on what his Republican enablers are willing to tolerate. (By the way, if I ever start a ska band, “Twinges of Hope” is definitely going to be the name!). Last night was such a moment, when, upon hearing the tape, I allowed myself a moment to think “Surely, this is a bridge too far”, even for Ted Cruz. But once again, I was quickly shown the foolishness of such thoughts as Cruz and others focused on the release of the tape rather than its contents.
The take-away from the reaction to the Trump tape is this: For the next 15 days, Trump will try literally everything he can think of to stay in office. And many prominent Republicans will support literally everything he does.
Trump will be damned if he’s going to let a few million people, many of whom are not rich and could never afford the fees at Mar-a-Lago, take away his power from him. So, we can expect to see some or all of the following:
= An aggressive effort to delay and derail the counting of the Electoral Votes on Wednesday, including filibuster-like endless speeches, demands for votes on things like creating commissions, and possible acts of physical violence outside the capitol.
= Sustained acts of violence by Proud Boys, white-power folks, right-wing militias and other Trump supporters in order to provoke a violent response which would justify Trump invoking the “Insurrection Act” of 1807.
= Trump issuing all kinds of legally meaningless executive orders such as one postponing the inauguration, or literally declaring himself the winner of the election, because,…why not?
= Trump declaring Martial Law and attempting to call out troops to surround the White House and prevent Biden from taking power.
I know this all sounds a bit unhinged. But is there anything we’ve seen in the past 60 days (or 5 years) that should give us confidence that Trump considers any of this beyond the pale? None of this should surprise us. What does still surprise me, but shouldn’t is that many leading Republicans will continue to support, justify, defend, enable, rationalize and countenance all of it. This is not true of all Republican leaders. But for many, the effort to ingratiate themselves with Trump’s fanatical base has no bottom. So stop looking for one.
We must remain vigilant to any possibility, no matter how far outside of the usual norms of not only democracy but of acceptable human behavior generally. Don’t assume that anything is off the table or beyond the pale. We must also do all we can to encourage and demand that sane Republicans speak out. Just yesterday every living former Secretary of Defense, including Trump’s previous two Secretaries, and Dick Freakin’ Cheney put out a statement condemning Trump’s efforts to undermine democracy. So did former Speaker Paul Ryan. That’s great. But we need to hear from President Bush, and Bob Dole, and every other recently prominent Republican grandee. Nobody has the right to remain silent now.
The next two weeks are going to be democracy’s greatest stress test since the Civil War. We cannot assume the outcome is predetermined or inevitable. We will all have to fight for it.