The Best Chance to Protect and Preserve U.S. Democracy Might Be Closing Fast

Since the congressional Republicans decided to acquit Trump, instead of removing him (aside: There’s little doubt that Hamilton and Madison would have removed him), the voting Trump out was the next best chance to protect and preserve our republic. But Trump has been working hard to undermine the legitimacy of the election; he’s attempted to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service to hamper mail-in ballots, and he and congressional Republicans have been willing to use Russian assistance to win the election. He’s suggested sending federal forces to polling stations. Basically, he’ll cheat, subvert the elections to win. The question is not what he will do, but what he won’t do. (Prediction: From here on out, Trump will either follow through on his rhetoric and/or do more shocking things to win.)Because of this, I feel the election may not be the best chance to protect our republic–or to be more precise, in order to protect the elections, actions must be taken now. I’ll briefly go over each step in this post.

Let me say right off the bat that I’m not optimistic about any of this–primarily because all of this depends on congressional Republicans, conservative media, and other prominent conservatives/Republicans. However, the critical point is that they have a window of opportunity that is closing fast. I’ll go over the scenarios that I think could play out if they don’t take this opportunity now. OK, on to the first step.

Option 1: Congressional Republicans will give Trump an ultimatum to stop attacking the election

Congressional Republicans could warn Trump that if he keeps attacking the elections–by making false claims about mail-in ballots, thwarting the USPS, also suggesting he won’t accept the results, etc.–they will consider impeaching and removing him. Now, I know this is unlikely, and this option seems less viable the closer we get to the Election Day. But I want to say that this ultimatum would be totally appropriate and justified. Some congressional Republicans argued against impeachment, saying voters should decide. Well, in order for them to decide, Trump should ensure fair and secure process. By they way, if congressional Republicans did this, I think Trump would stop and the elections could be protected, or he’d be removed. In this scenario, Trump could still win the elections. But it would be a much better process for removing Trump versus letting him attack the electoral process

Option 2: Congressional Republicans strongly speak out against Trump’s interference

This may seem like an ineffective approach, but Republicans pushing back on Trump’s false claims can do a to ensure trust in the process. They can also countermand Trump’s attempts to incite violence, which is also critical. Even a small group pushing back hard on Trump in theses matters can make a big difference in my view. It can not only prevent chaos, but it can help dispel confusion of the inattentive voter, something I think is a big deal. Conservative media, like Fox News, pushing back would have a huge impact, too, in my opinion.

If these options are not taken, then the fate of the republic will rest on a huge, hard-to-dispute electoral victory by Biden. The thing is, I would be shocked if Trump and his minions don’t attempt to do and say whatever they can to contest this. In that case, our country will again depend on congressional Republicans from speaking up and taking action–pushing back against these efforts.

If the race is closer, the problem will be a lot worse, more complicated–including for congressional Republicans. A clear way out of this mess is not something I can envision. It’s for this reason that I point to the moment before the election. What one can reasonable see now is a huge mess during and after the election. The best solution is to actually take steps now to avoid or mitigate that mess. For congressional Republicans to largely remain silent or only provide tepid push back is to forgo the best chance they have at protecting an and saving democracy in the U.S.

10 thoughts on “The Best Chance to Protect and Preserve U.S. Democracy Might Be Closing Fast

  1. What’s at Stake in This Election? The American Democratic Experiment op-ed from Dan Coats, former Director of National Intelligence for the Trump administration in NYT.

    A former Trump administration officials and long-time Republican is concerned that our democracy is at stake.

    Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.

    If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome.

    I totally agree, an it’s important to note that Trump’s actively working to achieve these disastrous results, which is insane.

    The most urgent task American leaders face is to ensure that the election’s results are accepted as legitimate. Electoral legitimacy is the essential linchpin of our entire political culture. We should see the challenge clearly in advance and take immediate action to respond.

    Yes–this is something else congressional Republicans could push for, and I’m sure Democrats would agree. At this point, I feel foolish even suggesting the possibility of the former, but these are actions that could be pushed right now, if they wanted the election results to be legitimate.

    And here’s the concrete suggestion, which I believe Norm Ornstein suggested as well, an I totally agree with them:

    I propose that Congress creates a new mechanism to help accomplish this purpose. It should create a supremely high-level bipartisan and nonpartisan commission to oversee the election. This commission would not circumvent existing electoral reporting systems or those that tabulate, evaluate or certify the results. But it would monitor those mechanisms and confirm for the public that the laws and regulations governing them have been scrupulously and expeditiously followed — or that violations have been exposed and dealt with — without political prejudice and without regard to political interests of either party.

    This is further evidence Trump and congressional Republicans don’t care about ensuring the legitimacy of the elections–besides the fact that Trump is actively attacking the legitimacy, and congressional Republicans and Fox News pundits not opposing him.

    1. Email that William Kristol got from former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Charles T. Wells. He alludes to the flaws in the system (which he calls outdated) that can be exploited.

      1. I was among those who received an e-mail this morning from the former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Charles T. Wells. I asked Justice Wells for permission to quote from his e-mail, and he agreed. I do so in this thread.
      2. Background: Justice Wells was appointed by Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles to the Florida Supreme Court in 1994, and served until he retired in 2009. He served as Chief Justice from July 1, 2000, until June 30, 2002, and presided over the appeals in Bush v. Gore in 2000.
      3. Here are excerpts from his e-mail to friends:
      “I have never in the past written a letter or email to you about a preference in an election. I do so now with hesitancy because I know that you have concerns and interests which differ from mine.
      4. “However, I set out my thoughts here because I am compelled to believe that our Country, and thus our children and grandchildren, face a grave threat to keeping the kind of representative democracy that we have experienced in our life.
      5. “I do not believe that we have had as serious a threat during our lives.
      I have worked hard at separating my thoughts about this from partisanship. As you know I had a unique experience in 2000. In that experience I had to separate my decision from partisanship.
      6. “I was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by a Democrat, but in Bush v Gore my objective analysis of the legal issues required me to write a dissenting opinion which…was cited in the majority and C.J. Rehnquist’s concurring opinion which decided the case.
      7. “From my work in Bush v Gore I learned a great deal about the laws that control the election of the President. The law in respect to ‘contested’ elections is very confusing, outdated and fragile.
      8. “I will not get into the details here. Suffice it though to say that President Trump’s threat to not accept the outcome of the election is a grave and real threat to our democracy.
      9. “I have other reasons that I will not vote for Trump…But, those are not the reason I write to you. The reason I write is because the threat to this Country’s democracy is in my judgment grave and real.
      10. “The only way that I can see that this threat can be eliminated is to vote for Biden. It will not be enough to just not vote for Trump. Any basis for a contested election can only really be eliminated by the election not being close.
      11. “Again this year as in 2000 Florida will be a key and likely decisive state. I urge you to vote early and if by mail ensure that your vote gets to the Supervisor of Elections in your county.
      Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts.”
      END

      He’s not urging the ultimatum I am. His solution is to getting everyone to vote–in hopes that Biden will win decisively. This is the next best hope. What we can do is vote, vote early, and get others to vote for Biden.

    2. Listen to the deep concern, almost desperation, in Bob Woodward’s voice, as he urges Congress to do something now:

      Jon Meacham, presidential historian–“Donald Trump declared war on decency and democracy…in a way that is utterly unmistakable”

  2. At Pentagon, Fears Grow That Trump Will Pull Military Into Election Unrest from NYT

    People in the Pentagon seriously considering the possibility that Trump will use the military to “put the thumb on the scales” is another piece of evidence that Trump poses a threat to our democracy.

    But senior leaders at the Pentagon, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that they were talking among themselves about what to do if Mr. Trump, who will still be president from Election Day to Inauguration Day, invokes the Insurrection Act and tries to send troops into the streets, as he repeatedly threatened to do during the protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Both General Milley and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper opposed the move then, and Mr. Trump backed down.

    Defense Department officials have privately discussed the possibility of Mr. Trump trying to use any civil unrest around the elections to put his thumb on the scales. Several Pentagon officials said that such a move could prompt resignations among many of Mr. Trump’s senior generals, starting at the top with General Milley.

  3. I finally read theAtlantic’s What If Trump Refuses to Concede?, which I strongly recommend.

    The article makes me feel even more convinced that Congress must give Trump the ultimatum I describe above, with the press, especially conservative media, supporting this. I’m convinced Trump would not be able to meet the ultimatum, which would trigger impeachment and removal. I know this is far-fetched as it depends on a handful of Republican Senators joining Democrats.

    But if Trump is not removed before Election Day, I believe we will have a debacle that could end our democracy. What do I say something so hyperbolic? First, the article lays out the structural flaws in the Constitution, and the state and local electoral process. These flaws have always existed, but previous presidents and members of the other two branches have respected the Constitution and adhered to critical democratic norms not to exploit these flaws. That is, if an authoritarian incumbent president wanted to win at all costs they could use their power to exploit these flaws to maintain their power. (The articles lays out the various ways this could occur.)

    Second, on Election Day and the time between the election and inauguration (the Interregnum), the fate of our democracy will largely depend on two things: 1) Trump’s ability to put the well-being of our democratic system above his own interests, which includes the willingness to concede defeat, and/or 2) Key congressional Republicans and key members of his administration (and maybe key figures in the conservative media and Republican party) to act to stop Trump’s authoritarian tactics.

    I think that’s it.

    Based on everything I’ve seen, the first option is a fantasy. Trump will not accept that he lost–I would be shocked if he ever made this concession. And I would be shocked if he doesn’t use whatever means he can to stay in power.

    That leaves the congressional Republicans and key members of his administration. I do believe many know Trump is a danger. The potential for the proverbial camel’s back to break is there. But so many “straws” that should have done the trick have failed that it seems dangerous and foolish to pin one’s hopes on this.

    That leads back to removing him before the election. The article points to this as the remedy, depending on the election doesn’t seem wise, given the systemic features that Trump will almost certainly exploit and exhaust. In such scenarios, there is not clear path for the survival of the democracy.

    10/5/2020

    This AP News article chronicles some of Trump’s/GOP’s specific shenanigans that are hinted at or explicitly discussing in the article above.

  4. Counterpoint?

    Ignore the strongman fantasies. If Trump loses the election, he’ll lose his job. Period. op-ed from USA Today

    and

    Trump can’t avoid a transfer of power. He just wants us to think he can. from WaPo

    The question mark is there because I’m not sure if these op-eds rebut the concerns in theAtlantic article, an believe me, I’d want them to.

    The second one does directly address the possibility that state legislatures could override voters by appointing their electors. On the other hand, the op-ed doesn’t really address Trump’s ability to raises doubts about the results of the election. That alone can cause havoc–even moreso since there may be no clear solution to this problem.

    I almost get the sense that both authors underestimate the people congressional Republicans. I wouldn’t worry if congressional Republicans showed an ability and willingness to stand up and stop Trump. But the opposite is closer to the truth. Trump can’t tear down democracy by himself. He needs members of Congress, key members of his administration, GOP party leaders, the conservative press, and significant number of citizens supporting him. It seems like he has these elements, which is why I’m worried.

  5. Headlines like this from the NYT are critical in the next coming weeks: Tuesday’s Debate Made Clear the Gravest Threat to the Election: The President Himself (The article itself is worth reading.)

    I suspect many people form their overall impression of what’s going on in politics from headlines. If this is correct, the headlines needs to convey who Trump is and what’s at stake. Any headline or overall coverage that creates the impression that Trump is essentially embraces liberal-democratic values in a similar way to Biden would journalistic malpractice in my opinion.

    On a side note,

    But what worried American intelligence and homeland security officials, who have been assuring the public for months now that an accurate, secure vote could happen, was that Mr. Trump’s rant about a fraudulent vote may have been intended for more than just a domestic audience.

    They have been worried for some time that his warnings are a signal to outside powers — chiefly the Russians — for their disinformation campaigns, which have seized on his baseless theme that the mail-in ballots are ridden with fraud. But what concerns them the most is that over the next 34 days, the country may begin to see disruptive cyberoperations, especially ransomware, intended to create just enough chaos to prove the president’s point.

    Dang it.

  6. I’m not a big fan of Steve Schmidt, a Republican campaign strategist (I think), however this thread contains a plea that I think should be made to congressional Republicans in addition to those who work in the White House.

    .@ProjectLincoln We are hearing from many sources within the Trump campaign about the fear and panic in the ranks. Staffers are scared. Some are terrified. They know the walls are crumbling. Some like Miller and Meadows are irredeemable and will face history’s brutal judgement.
    Trump is losing. He is failing. The campaign is out of money. The former campaign manager allegedly stole $40 million and is reported to have beaten his wife and waived a gun at her. 5-0 took him down like he was on COPS. Guilfoye is disgraced and going down.
    Don jr is clearly distressed. It’s Everyman and woman for themselves now. @ProjectLincoln. Old friends, you came to Washington, most of you with idealism in your hearts and a love of country and her people. Look what’s happened. It’s not too late. We will protect your
    Confidentiality. What is happening inside? Is there talk of inciting fascist militia’s like the proud boys? Is there talk of proclaiming illegitimate victory? Is there talk of illegal voter suppression? It is not too late to do right. Remember all you had to do, once upon
    a time was be in the Resistance by midnight on June 6, 1944. The time to act is now. Reach out. We will protect you. What are you seeing in the inside. We know about the mutiny tonight. So many of you are working from home now. No one is watching. Slow it down. Do no more
    Damage. Incite no more racial animus. Incite no more violence and insanity. Be complicit in no more lies. Look at the monuments in Washington. Remember what they stand for. We are your friends. The American people are your friends. Hurt us all no more. Help us end this. Reach out
    @mentions
    let us help you help all of us. Be Patriots in this hour of crisis. It is your next act that will be remembered. Trump will ask more of you. If you do as he asks there will be no place to return from. Infamy will linger forever around
    Your names. It is America or Trump in the final analysis. It is time to come home. The sickness is spreading among you because Trump doesn’t care about you. His recklessness has put your families in danger as he has put all Americans in danger. Help us end this nightmare.
    What is happening on the inside? What gears and machinery can you throw sand in ? Fight back at long last. Vote him out.

    If a group of congressional Republicans–e.g., Romney, Rubio, Sasse, Collins, Cruz, et al.–now begin to vigorously oppose Trump’s undermining of the election, inciting violence, and welcoming Russian interference, do they have a chance to redeem themselves? As mad as I am with them, if they strongly opposed him–like the Project Lincoln guys–I think the could redeem themselves–even people like McConnell and Graham. I’m kinda amazed that I would feel this way, but I think I would. But their opportunity for this is closing fast, though.

  7. Republicans, it’s time to choose between autocracy and a republic WaPo op-ed by Lincoln Project founders

    Never before in U.S. history has an incumbent president refused in advance to accept the outcome of an election. In the days ahead, your party may call upon you to support efforts by a White House that refuses to transfer power after a loss at the polls. The weapons won’t be tanks but thousands of lawyers backed by an attorney general who works for the president, not the people.
    This effort will succeed only if a Republican Party power structure offers blind allegiance to one man instead of the republic. Every Republican elected official, staffer, consultant, operative and sympathizer will face a choice: my party or my country?
    To do nothing is a choice. Passivity may seem easy at first. Soon, though, what you’ll be asked to do to remain in favor will surpass your moral boundaries. By then, it will be too late.

    The following was unnerving to read:

    Some of you have chosen. You are already at work on this lawless and amoral project, litigating in the states to suppress the vote. Many of you are planning to replace slates of electors to win another term for Trump. Many of you are planning to snatch an election victory from the people by any means necessary.

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