Trying to Overturn an Election is an Extraordinary Crime

Trying to Overturn an Election is an Extraordinary Crime August 25, 2023

It’s disgraceful that a former President of the United States has been arrested and booked like a common criminal.

In case you’re unclear where the responsibility for that disgrace lies, it’s totally with said former President, who behaved in a disgraceful and criminal manner. My only complaint with this process is that it took too long. “I just want to find 11,780 votes” should have had him indicted on January 21, 2021.

He tried to overturn the election. That he failed is no more of an excuse than missing when you try to shoot someone keeps you from being charged with attempted murder. He must be held accountable, if only because the next time someone doesn’t want to accept losing an election they may be more competent at running an autocoup.

photo by John Beckett
Alcatraz hasn’t been an active prison since 1963, but we have more

Donald Trump is not only the first U.S. President to ever be criminally indicted, he’s been indicted four times.

Paying hush money isn’t illegal. Falsifying business records – the actual charge in the Stormy Daniels case – is a felony. I had a distant relative (now dead) who went to Federal prison for doing it, and I see no reason why Trump should be treated any differently. Still, this is an ordinary crime.

I’m more concerned about his indictment for mishandling classified documents. Now, it seems to be a common thing – with both Democratic and Republican Presidents – for former Presidents to hang on to records they shouldn’t have, in violation of the law. That suggests that the whole record keeping process needs some serious improvement. But when that’s been noticed, other Presidents’ responses – again, both Democrats and Republicans – have been “oops – sorry” and they sent them back.

Trump was given that opportunity. He refused.

I’ll give Trump the benefit of the doubt and assume he wanted to sell them in a book deal and not to his friend Vladimir in Moscow. But that doesn’t matter – keeping them is illegal, whatever he did or didn’t intend to do with them. My friends who served in Intelligence (both civilian and military) tell me these laws are strictly enforced, and I see no reason Trump should be treated any differently. Still, this is an ordinary crime.

Trying to overturn an election is an extraordinary crime.

I think by now anyone who isn’t in the Cult of Trump understands what happened. He laid the groundwork for the Big Lie before the election: “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.”

The margin of his defeat in 2020 was far greater than the margin of his victory in 2016, which he called a landslide. But his massive ego wouldn’t let him accept it. And so he continued with his baseless claims that the election was “rigged” and tried to overturn it.

There are legal avenues to challenge election results, and Trump was entitled to use them. He filed at least 63 lawsuits – he lost all but one. Most were dismissed due to lack of evidence. Federal Appeals Court Judge Stephanos Bibas – who was appointed by Trump – had this to say when his court confirmed a lower court’s dismissal of one of Trump’s lawsuits.

“Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

You know what happened after that: the January 6 insurrection and the attempt to get Mike Pence to unilaterally overturn the election. Pence is a theocrat who should never be in any public office again, but at least he had the integrity to side with the country and the Constitution and not with Trump.

That Trump failed to overturn the election speaks to the integrity of the majority of people in the government, including many Republicans. That doesn’t mean what Trump tried to do isn’t a crime, because it is.

If you want to read the specific charges, here’s a link to the Federal indictment and to the Georgia indictment.

Here’s why this is so important.

Our democracy (or republic, if you prefer) depends on faith and trust. The system may not be fair – it isn’t – but it is predictable. It’s reliable. We participate in it – a necessity for a democracy in any sense of the term – because we trust that when we vote, our votes will be counted. We know that human error is a real thing (something those who argue for hand-counting ballots ignore) and that some people will try to cheat (here’s a story from 2020 of a man who tried to have his dead mother vote – for Trump, of course). But we expect that such errors and crimes are very small and they do not change the results of  elections.

Year after year, in place after place, these assumptions are shown to be true. Our elections aren’t perfect, but they are reliable. We can trust them.

When Donald Trump claims that the election was rigged he chips away at the faith and trust we have in our democracy. He tells people their votes don’t count, that there’s no sense in voting because somebody else has already decided who should win.

If this were true it would be cause for great alarm, or even for violent rebellion.

But there is no evidence this is true.

Conspiracy theories are not evidence. You have to have evidence that what you say “must have happened” actually took place. Otherwise it’s just the ravings of someone who can’t bring himself to admit that he lost.

Donald Trump knows he lost. He’s promoted the Big Lie that the election was “rigged” since before the election even took place. He encouraged the January 6 insurrectionists and tried to get Mike Pence to violate the Electoral Count Act.

He was entitled to challenge the results through legal means, even though he knew he lost and he had no evidence of material fraud.

He was not entitled to overturn the election through illegal means.

In doing so, he attacked our faith and trust in elections, the very foundation of our democracy.

That he is running for President is no exemption from the law.

He must be held accountable.

These indictments are the next step in that process.

Note to commenters: if you disagree, you’re welcome to make your case. If you engage in whataboutism your comment will be deleted without warning.

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