Three cheers for the Founding Fathers. The structure of our democracy and its constitutional institutions have thus far been able to withstand the seditious acts and attempted coup by Donald Trump and his sycophantic supporters.
Since the day of his inauguration, Trump has expressed unabashed admiration for authoritarian leaders, and has increasingly embraced their ideology and behavior. He covets the absolute authority accorded Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Fortunately, our Constitution thwarted his dreams by restraining him from the actions these dictators are free to take.
Not that the Constitution has any meaning for him. I doubt he’s ever read the document himself, although it’s likely he learned about the first sentence in Article ll Section 1 from someone else. “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” He expressed his understanding of that clause in a speech at Turning Point USA’s Teen Action Summit in July 2019. “Then I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” he said. In other words, he feels empowered to run the government, and use the many branches of government in any way that strikes his fancy. Like any bully, Trump feels entitled to disregard the rules and customs we take for granted in a civilized society until a stronger force objects and pushes back.
Interest in Fascism
There should be no misunderstanding. No discounting of facts. We’re now engaged in a struggle to remain a constitutional republic, the United States of America as we know it. Trump and his Republican echo chamber are doing everything they can conjure up, using actual and perceived powers, to destroy our democracy. We have come to the zenith, the culmination of four years of attempts to strengthen and broaden the President’s authoritarian powers. If someone had written an instruction manual, “The Fascist’s Guide to Power,” Trump’s performance would suggest he read it. But we know he doesn’t read.
Reading isn’t necessary, however. There are many historical archetypes for him to follow. We know, by way of his first wife, Ivana, that Trump kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside. I imagine it was a touchstone, an aspirational how-to manual, meant to inspire and make him feel part of a brotherhood that corroborated his own beliefs on power. But he really didn’t have to read it. Trump’s father, Fred, taught him a lot about wielding power and using people to gratify his own needs. And he’s very, very good at it.
The Road to Fascism
In any event, if you trace Trump’s actual and attempted actions over the last four years, you can readily see how they track with those authoritarians cited above. For example, consider the words of Adolph Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, on how to gain and retain power.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
The Consequence of Repeated Lies
As we all know, Trump lies. He lies with ease. Truth has no value to him unless it’s shoring up his image. He is the embodiment of a lie, from his hair, teeth, and skin color, to his achievements, plans, feelings about others and irrefutable facts. He accepts nothing but his version of reality, and insists his followers do the same. And they do, witness the 74 million who voted for him. However, his mismanagement in addressing the Covid 19 pandemic, which has already cost the lives of more than 310,000 people, along with the related negative economic impact, has finally caught up with him.
Just as Goebbels wrote, Trump could no longer “shield the people” from the political and economic consequences of his lies and gross incompetence. So, on November 3, 2020, a majority of 81 million voters rejected him. The message was loud and clear: it’s time to go.
But this fragile narcissist, this loser and his kowtowing supporters, could not and cannot accept the results of the election, particularly to so unworthy an opponent as Joe Biden. Unwilling and unable to admit defeat, Trump concocted the big lie to avoid the worst label possible, a loser. He didn’t really lose, he won, he won big, and the results as reported are fraudulent. His supporters not only swallowed the lie, but have taken up the cause. Out came a rash of lawsuits contesting the election results.
Totally lacking any credible evidence of fraud, courts routinely denied or dismissed the cases, or saw them settled or withdrawn. It should be noted that in light of the enormity of Biden’s victory, both by popular and Electoral College votes, Trump revealed himself as a whiny sore loser, but completely within his rights.
But then, demonstrating his disdain for the Constitution, Trump resorted to pressuring swing state governors, legislators and election officials to violate the law and reverse election results in his favor. His sycophantic supporters went along with him. And that is the point where they and Trump crossed the line, possibly violating Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and committing an act of seditious conspiracy as outlined in Title 18. Crimes and Criminal Procedure § 2384. Seditious conspiracy.
The relevant section of the Criminal Code states, “If two or more persons in any State . . . . . conspire . . . . . by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, . . . . . they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.” This unholy cabal has certainly tried to prevent, hinder and delay execution of relevant election laws. But the issue is how we define “force,” and the extent to which it was used.
You will find the same punishment in Title 18. Crimes and Criminal Procedure § 2385. Advocating overthrow of Government, which in broad terms proscribes individuals from advocating, organizing or abetting the overthrow of the government of the United States, any state or any subdivision thereof by force or violence. But here, as in Section 3 cited above, if found guilty of any of its provisions, the individual is also ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.
A Democrat Strikes Back
Long time U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell (from my hometown, Paterson, New Jersey) has asked Democratic House leaders to block the 126 Republicans, who have been trying to overturn the presidential election results, from serving in Congress. He cited the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, Section 3, barring individuals from being members of Congress if they have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion.” If such actions are ultimately upheld, that poses a potential dilemma for Trump himself, who has certainly been more egregious in trampling on the Constitution. He would be barred from becoming President in 2025.
The Continuing Assault on Democracy
But aside from the pleasure that would give millions, it will not stop Trump and his obsequious minions from their continuing and irresponsible assault on democracy once he’s actually out of office on January 20th. We can expect that Trump will continue to incite his followers with cries of the fabricated, terrible injustice of his stolen second term. He will rail against the illegitimacy of the Biden Presidency for the rest of his life. Most dangerous is the implicit call to arms for his white supremacist supporters, which can readily result in violence and death.
Though Trump’s actions are tantamount to yelling fire in a crowded theater, he’s never overtly called for the violence that often occurs when these groups gather in support. For example, he never specifically instructed the White supremacist group, Proud Boys, to commit violence at a large pro Trump rally in downtown Washington last weekend, but violence erupted, nonetheless. Four people were stabbed, eight officers were injured, one with multiple facial fractures, and four churches were vandalized, including two historic Black churches where Black Lives Matter’s banners were burned.
I do not expect Trump to refrain from similar incitement in the future. It apparently gives him a sense of power, reinforced by the unwillingness of many Republican Senators, Representatives and Governors to challenge him. These Republican legislators are complicit in Trump’s assault, making a mockery of our norms, our basic rights and established laws. They are continuing to tear at the scaffolding that supports our country and that, if unchecked, will lead to the collapse of democracy itself.
The Terrorist Threat of White Supremacists
In October 2020 the Department of Homeland Security released its first-ever “Homeland Threat Assessment.” It identified White supremacist groups as the largest threat out of any domestic extremist group in the US, which, since 2018 have been responsible for more deaths than any other domestic extremist group. In the near future they and other right wing militias are the most likely to conduct an armed assault on our democracy.
I am a firm supporter of President-elect Biden’s attempt to reach out to Republicans, lower the temperature on partisan politics and foster unity among Americans. But once he becomes President, he must concurrently work to have Congress enact Domestic Terrorism Prevention Laws that will allow the FBI and DHS to crack down on these subversive groups and send them back to hiding in gutters where they belong. They will continue to exist, but without Trump to give them license, we may be able to neutralize the danger they present.
Will the Delusion Continue?
Recent news reports suggest that far from accepting the reality that he lost the election, cheered on by Rudy Giuliani, Fox News and others, Trump apparently now believes the election was, in actuality, stolen from him. He also expects there is a good chance he can have the results reversed. While he deludes himself this way, he’ll continue to foment chaos and violence, and feel justified in doing it.
However, if it comes to pass that he accepts the reality of his loss, here’s a wild idea that pains me even to suggest, but I believe it’s worth a shot. The two issues where Trump’s position has a significant negative impact on sustaining democracy and everyone’s health are his false claims that he won the election, and his unwillingness to promote CDC guidelines to control and eradicate Covid 19. A public turnaround in these positions could have a profound, positive impact on the country.
A Plan to Mollify Trump
Trump’s ego has sustained a massive hit by his election loss and “loser” label. He needs something to make him a hero, if not a winner. At the same time, he’s aware he faces future legal challenges at both federal and state levels. He desperately needs something to fill that void of “loser” while also protecting himself legally, at least at the federal level. So, Joe Biden, in your words, here’s the deal.
First, Trump makes, in substance, the following statements and does not subsequently retract them:
“While I believe there was fraud in the election, there is no evidence to present to the courts, so as a patriotic American, I accept the results and will peacefully leave office on January 20th.”
“As I’ve said many times, relief from the Covid 19 Pandemic is just around the corner and we are now there. We can rid our country of this terrible disease and save lives if we follow the advice my Administration has consistently endorsed:
Wear masks, social distance, wash hands frequently and continue to follow CDC recommendations to contain the virus;
When the vaccine, which my Administration developed in record time, is available for you personally, you must take it. It is safe because it was developed under my leadership, has been critically evaluated by independent medical experts and now taken by Dr. Fauci, former Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton as well as President-elect Biden and me.”
Of course these statements are departures from reality, but then, so are most of Trump’s statements. That’s what makes them believable by his followers. True, the statement about the vaccine will have the opposite effect on those already unwilling to take it, but that problem has always required alternative messaging.
In exchange for those statements Biden promises to issue an executive Order naming the Covid 19 vaccine, the “Trump Vaccine” and to pardon him for crimes committed at the federal level (shades of Richard Nixon).
I doubt that Trump would take this kind of deal since he’s routinely demonstrated a failure to take actions or express empathy on issues that would benefit him politically, but not personally enrich him. However, these are dangerous times that require unorthodox solutions. As distasteful as this proposal is, if taken and maintained, it would ameliorate the two most contentious issues affecting the country: election results and Covid 19. That’s what makes it worthwhile to pursue.