When Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) brazenly obstructed President Obama during all eight years of his administration, I wondered why he seemed oblivious to payback when Democrats again took control of both the White House and Congress. Could it be, I thought, that McConnell believed that one day the Republican Party would take total control of the government and Democratic retribution would be impossible. Well, the Republican reaction to the 2020 election indicates that my musings weren’t unreasonable.
Just consider the ominous scenario described in September 23 article by neoconservative scholar and columnist Robert Kagan entitled Our constitutional crisis is already here. It’s a heads up for all Americans who cherish democracy. Kagan believes that former president Donald Trump will be the GOP’s standard bearer in 2024 and that there’s a “reasonable chance over the next three to four years …. of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves.” That’s heavy stuff.
Kagan is concerned – and I agree – that many Americans and some members of both parties are too sanguine about the ability of our democratic institutions to prevent this type of chaos. Yet, just consider what has transpired since last November. Trump stonewalled a smooth transition to the Biden administration, while claiming the election was stolen from him and plotting a coup that nearly succeeded when his supporters attacked the Capitol on January 6. But for a few ethical Republicans at both the state and federal level, the 2020 election could have been thrown into the House of Representatives where GOP-controlled states could have voted to keep Trump in office.
But here’s the frightening thing. It’s obvious that the radical, Trump-supporting element of the GOP has more control over state party organizations now than last November. Since then, numerous Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed laws that give them partisan control of the election processes. In a typically close presidential election, they could alter the results in a few swing states and make the Republican candidate the winner in the archaic Electoral College, even if the Democrat wins the popular vote by a wide margin.
What is equally alarming is the number of voters who are being misled by conspiracy theories and lies. Republican vilification of the mainstream media and Trump’s relentless fake news attacks on CNN, and the like, have no doubt caused many conservatives to migrate to Fox News, social media and other right-wing outlets that suppress negative stories about Republicans and feed misinformation to their audiences. As a result, a large majority of Republicans actually believe the 2020 election was rigged.
This is just part of the cynical public relations playbook the right-wing has been following for several decades; attack the media as biased against conservatives, then denigrate Democrats as dangerous radicals and socialist policy makers. Rhetoric like this no doubt helped motivate Trump supporting insurrectionists to storm the Capitol on January 6. One who has been arrested for her activities on that day allegedly admitted, “We were looking for Nancy [Pelosi] to shoot her in the friggin’ brain,” according to a government affidavit filed on Friday.
To make matters worse, Senate Republicans are now blocking Democratic efforts to increase the debt limit and threatening a catastrophic default on the nation’s debt. Default would certainly cause the U.S. credit rating to be significantly lowered and dramatically raise the cost of interest on the federal debt. They don’t seem to care.
Is this part of their plan to derail the Democrats $3.5 trillion infrastructure legislation? I believe they view Biden’s popular New Deal-like agenda as an existential threat to their chances in future elections. They know the resulting spending programs will add millions of new jobs and be very popular with voters. Or, perhaps Republicans are attempting to create chaos during a Democratic administration that would help them regain control of Congress in 2022 and set the stage for a Trump victory in 2024.
Regardless, why are most Republican politicians supporting a second presidency for this incompetent demagogue? Well, I believe it’s because they truly don’t have anything or anybody else. Their policies aren’t supported by a majority of voters and they have no other star comparable to Trump. So, they’ve sold their soul to this psychopathic narcissist and would-be autocrat. And now they must support him because they believe their only option to regaining power is to follow Trump’s pathway to authoritarianism.
For several decades after the 1940s, the federal government was able to operate without a serious constitutional crisis, mainly because members of both political parties basically operated in good faith and were bounded by the “norms” of civility and ethics that are democracy’s guardrails. They respected each another, the rule of law and the results of elections; they battled furiously over tax issues and the size of government but more or less put country and the good of the American people above party loyalty. Unfortunately, the Republican Party has been steadily abandoning these democracy protecting principles since the 1980s. The result was Donald Trump’s inauguration as president in 2017.
Perhaps Mr. Kagan’s “constitutional crisis” is premature hyperbole. But this much is crystal clear to me, Democrats are trying to preserve our democracy; Trump-supporting Republicans are planning a coup that would destroy it. And if concerned Americans who love this democratic republic don’t fight like hell, they just might succeed.