Since Donald Trump lost the election (how sweet it is to type that!), I thankfully won’t have to keep writing this series for another four years. Alas, he’s still warming the seat until January 2021 and is doing as much damage as he can on his way out.
When all’s said and done, Joe Biden’s victory will be a resounding one. He’ll have won the popular vote by more than five million, securing the largest margin of any challenger since FDR in 1932. His margin in the Electoral College won’t be quite as overwhelming, thanks to America’s archaic and anti-democratic system, but it will be solid, secured by hundreds of thousands of votes across the battleground states, well above what any recount might overturn.
But if you’ve been in a magical enchanted slumber for the past few years and were expecting Trump to offer a gracious concession, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Instead, our toddler-in-chief responded to his defeat by launching into the biggest temper tantrum of his one-term presidency, angrily tweeting things like this:
I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2020
Because his ego can’t deal with the blow of having lost, Trump has been pushing a narrative of an election that was stolen from him, the rightful winner, through massive fraud. He’s filing a blizzard of groundless lawsuits based on rumor and fantasy, nearly all of which were immediately thrown out by the courts, and none of which have any chance of altering the results. He’s floated the idea of having state legislatures override the popular vote and order their state’s electoral votes to go to him – an idea so inflammatory and radical that conservative lawmakers in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have all said they won’t play along.
At the same time, Trump’s flunkies in the government are petulantly refusing to acknowledge Biden’s victory. They’re dragging their feet over access to federal office space and other resources that are routinely granted to a presidential transition team.
In an absurd pantomime, the Trump administration is vetting political appointees for a second term that isn’t going to happen, and instructing federal agencies to begin work on Trump’s next budget, which he’ll never present to Congress because he won’t be president by next budget season. As Anthea Butler observed, they’re acting as if they can use prosperity-gospel “name it and claim it” theology to get themselves a second term.
It’s no surprise that an entitled man-child like Donald Trump can’t cope with the sting of defeat. He has a long history of crying fraud in any contest he loses, and there was no reason to expect anything different this time.*
But what makes his delusions particularly dangerous is that, aside from a very few exceptions, Republicans aren’t encouraging him to accept reality. A majority have remained silent, and some are actively egging him on. In another sign that the GOP has become nothing but a cult of personality, many high-ranking conservative politicians are echoing his claims of fraud:
The conspiracy theory-mongering extends to the highest ranks of the party’s congressional leadership. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) claimed on Fox that the election results were corrupted by fraud and that Trump was the real victor.
“President Trump won this election,” he told Laura Ingraham. “Everyone who is listening, do not be quiet, do not be silent about this. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes. We need to unite together.”
Likewise, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went on Fox and claimed the election had been rigged and that he was making a hefty donation to the president’s legal fund to stop it. (source)
I have no doubt that these Republicans know the truth, but as long as Trump is lashing out, they’re afraid to say so lest he turn his base on them. To avoid his wrath, they’re choosing to stoke the flames of conspiracy theorizing. The predictable result of this incredibly irresponsible behavior is that 70 percent of Republicans now say that the election was fraudulent. Virtually overnight, it’s become an article of faith for Trump cultists that it was stolen from them. It’s a modern version of the Dolchstoss myth that aided the Nazi rise to power after World War I, and I use that comparison advisedly.
By their behavior, Trump and his Republican enablers have shown that they reject democracy itself. They’ve convinced themselves that the only fair elections are the ones they win, and if they lose, it must be because the other side cheated.** Or, in other words, they believe that they deserve to be in power regardless of what the votes say. This is the philosophy of dictators and autocrats, and it’s now embodied by one of the two major political parties in America.
For democracy to function, there have to be peaceful transfers of power. Both sides have to accept the result of an election, even when it’s a result they dislike. Democrats have done this time and again, such as when Al Gore conceded in 2000 after an election whose outcome was questionable at best. But Trump has shattered this norm just as he’s shattered so many others.
He’s set an expectation that Republicans should reject any election whose outcome isn’t to their liking, and should attempt to overturn it by any means available. And even if he fades away, if he goes bankrupt or goes to prison or dies, this toxic legacy will survive past him, in the form of tens of millions of conservatives who are angry, hostile, opposed to democracy, and sympathetic to conspiracy theories and insurrection. It will be a festering wound on the body of the American experiment.
* It’s not just boundless narcissism that motivates Trump’s scrabble to cling to power. He’s exploited the presidency for his own profit, but that gravy train is about to come to a screeching halt.
Trump’s companies collectively owe at least $1 billion in debt that’s coming due in the next few years, and he’s personally guaranteed about $400 million of that. It probably won’t bankrupt him, but most of his assets are in real estate, in industries like hotels and resorts that have been battered by the pandemic he didn’t do anything to stop. To pay his bills, he’ll have to sell off his assets at fire-sale prices.
Better yet, without the shield of office, Trump may face both civil and criminal prosecution in New York. These are state charges, not federal, meaning he can’t pardon himself on the way out. It’s no wonder he’s panicking.
** As a rule, whatever Republicans accuse progressives of is what they’re doing themselves. Conservative lawmakers did everything they could to steal this race: demolishing the Voting Rights Act, kicking valid voters off the rolls, passing onerous voter-ID laws, limiting ballot drop-off boxes, forcing voters to stand in line in the midst of a pandemic, and trying to cripple the Post Office to sabotage the delivery of mail-in ballots. In spite of all this, they still lost – and now they’re the ones kicking and screaming that the other guys cheated.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons