The Spidery Plot to Ruin Democracy

The celebrations began Saturday morning as soon as all the networks and the Associated Press and even Fox News said it was over – Biden (and Harris) had won and Trump (and Pence) had lost. The polls had closed Tuesday. Every precinct everywhere counted their votes. Things looked good for Trump. Then they turned to counting the early votes, and then the mailed-in or dropped-off ballots. Then they turned to the provisional ballots and the ballots mailed in from overseas – expatriates and the military. Then they set aside questionable ballots – those that arrived too late and whatnot. And by Saturday morning, when it was clear that Biden had won Pennsylvania – his lead there was so large that Trump could never even catch up – and that vote was more than enough for Biden to win it all – people flooded the streets across the nation, cheering and dancing – and bells rang out all across Paris too. All our allies were happy. Actual diplomacy would replace sneering and creepy insults. Putin wasn’t happy, but no one cared. America was back. Its people have spoken. Joe Biden would be sworn in as president in January.

America voted. That’s how democracy works. And then Trump said democracy doesn’t work anymore. No one can trust the vote. It’s all rigged. Ignore the vote. Ignore the numbers. It’s all a fraud. He actually won.

Maureen Dowd had some fun with that:

The president has had all this time to hatch a spidery plot to ruin democracy on the way out the door, and this is the best he can come up with?

The election has been stolen!

What’s your proof?

Because I’m losing.

This, from the man who has been hailed as an evil genius of media manipulation?

She was not impressed:

It was the same old tired Trump routine we’ve watched for four years, right through the pandemic failure: Beat your chest and bleat that you’re king of the world. Then do nothing except screw up.

But you can’t con your way past 74 million Biden ballots any more than you can con your way past a microbe. The masked Americans counting the vote just kept on counting, impervious to the president’s evidence-free conniptions.

He wanted them to stop counting. Others said that’s how democracy work – count the votes – and he lost that argument:

As Trump howled at the moon, denizens of Trumpworld were looking over the horizon, plotting new jobs or book deals. Even the New York Post, which was game to slime Hunter Biden on the eve of the election, started sniping at the Trumps on Twitter: “Downcast Trump makes baseless election fraud claims in White House address” and “Panic-stricken Donald Trump Jr. calls for ‘total war’ in clueless tweet.”

Trump has lost:

Biden may not be the most thrilling candidate ever, but there was a real buzz watching the votes come in because our unwieldy, county-by-county system seemed to work. No one was scared by Trump’s protestation.

Perhaps so, but nothing is that simple. The Washington Post’s Toluse Olorunnipa and Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey work their sources and report what really happened:

As President-elect Joe Biden accepted congratulations from world leaders and a former president on Sunday, the man he defeated continued to deny the reality of a transition that was taking place despite his unwillingness to participate.

President Trump traveled to his Virginia golf course for a second straight day Sunday, declining to concede the presidential race more than 24 hours after Biden had been declared the victor. As Trump continued to make conspiratorial allegations of voter fraud without providing any evidence, Republican officials and allies splintered between nudging him to accept defeat and encouraging him to fight.

The president appeared fixated on doing the latter, using social media to cast doubt on the election process rather than prepare for a peaceful transition of power.

Some of them told him not to be a total jerk. Some of them told him to go for it, and he did:

“Since when does the Lamestream Media call who our next president will be?” the president wrote on Twitter. “We have all learned a lot in the last two weeks!”

It wasn’t enough:

Media companies have made projections of expected winners in presidential races for decades, including after Trump’s 2016 victory.

For the fifth consecutive day, Twitter flagged several of Trump’s tweets as potential misinformation about elections as he made specious claims of vote rigging.

The platform also flagged a viral post by Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh that used an altered photo to make the case that the media can’t be trusted to call elections.

And that was pure bullshit:

Murtaugh had posted an image of the Trump campaign headquarters plastered in what appeared to be copies of a November 2000 front page of the Washington Times newspaper. The papers featured the headline “PRESIDENT GORE” and a picture of former vice president Al Gore, who ultimately lost that election by coming up short in the Florida tally.

Murtaugh called it “a reminder that the media doesn’t select the President.” The Times said in a post of its own that the image had been “doctored” and that no such headline had been printed.

Murtaugh later deleted the tweet…

Oops. And then there was this:

In another instance, Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani solicited his Twitter followers to help him explain alleged voting irregularities in Pennsylvania.

“Tweet me your guess, while I go prove it in court,” he wrote in a tweet that was flagged by Twitter as “disputed.”

It seems that he had no proof of any fraud, or anything, nor does anyone else. He asks for “guesses” about that sort of thing. He himself has nothing, not that it matters:

Trump’s instincts to fight the election results were being fueled by his adult sons and Giuliani, according to several advisers who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Feelings have been more mixed elsewhere in the president’s orbit about whether he should continue to fight or move on, even as much of the world and country appear to be doing the latter.

Several senior aides to the Trump campaign met at its Arlington headquarters on Saturday to discuss options.

There were few options:

Advisers including Ronna McDaniel, who leads the Republican National Committee, are publicly fighting on behalf of the president but have acknowledged to others privately that the battle cannot go on for too long, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

Others said the president himself probably realized that he has limited options to turn things around and would soon accept reality.

“I think he knows in his heart of hearts where things are heading, but I think he also is of the mind that America – and especially his people – love a fighter,” said a senior administration official.

And that means they love a martyr. He’ll lose, but everyone will be in awe of the fight he put up, to the very end. It’s an Alamo thing, but not quite that noble:

Trump had called for ballot counting to stop in certain states where his position was weakening while also celebrating the ongoing vote tabulation in states where he was gaining ground. He and Giuliani have promised soon-to-come evidence of massive fraud but so far have failed to deliver it.

Giuliani is largely viewed as an albatross within the campaign and the White House, officials said. A widely panned news conference he held Saturday in front of a landscaping company in Philadelphia was described by one official as “a Rudy special.”

That was a bit of an embarrassment – the landscaping company was next door to an adult book store – but all of this was embarrassing:

At one point, Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller told surrogates to stay off television, amid confusion about what the message should be as Biden neared and then secured the 270 electoral college votes required to claim the presidency.

Trump has told others that he is never going to admit that he lost the race, according to two officials who said the president does not believe that Biden won.

He doesn’t? That complicates matters:

Some Trump aides have tried to appeal to his self-interest in urging him to protect his image and floating the prospect of another presidential run in 2024. Several officials said they expected Trump to run again, or at least tease the possibility of another bid to maintain maximum leverage within the Republican Party after leaving office.

Sure, but he’s not listening:

Neither Trump nor Vice President Pence has spoken publicly in recent days – with Pence staying completely out of the public eye since shortly after the polls closed Tuesday. Trump spent hours at his golf course on Saturday and Sunday but made no public remarks.

One campaign adviser said there had been discussion of trying to get Trump to participate in traditional presidential activities, but officials ultimately made the determination that “we need to let the legal process take place.”

Trump was expected to have no public events on his schedule for a fourth consecutive day on Monday.

That’s not good:

How Trump handles his remaining weeks in office could be pivotal for his brand and the body politic. The country continues to face a record surge of coronavirus cases even as it deals with the unprecedented circumstance of a president refusing to concede an election and commit to a peaceful transfer of power. Such a confluence of crises could be particularly dangerous, said Barbara Perry, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

“The pandemic and resulting economic catastrophe that produced Trump’s defeat now require him to relinquish power as all 44 presidents before him have done,” she said. “Yet the anti-democratic, demagogic traits that paved his way to the Oval Office will now simply not allow him to ‘stand down’ in the tradition of every president from George Washington to Barack Obama.”

Yeah, well, he’s special. Just ask him. But that’s the problem. What’s next? Robert Costa and Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey work their sources and ask the new essential question:

What becomes of Trumpism?

Since 2016, that political movement has commandeered the Republican Party and fused White grievances over the nation’s demographic changes with fierce rejection of liberal elites and global engagement.

But more than anything else, Trumpism has united millions under the impulses and ideas of one man: Donald Trump. Now that its titular head has lost the election, the movement faces volatility and a political vacuum…

“The Republican Party has seen George Wallace’s racist movement, Perot’s movement and a tea party movement, and they all faded when they lacked a leader or had a diminished leader,” said Ed Rollins, a Trump ally who co-managed Ross Perot’s 1992 independent presidential bid.

“Is Trump going to be distracted and just throw rocks at the window? Will he be busy dealing with litigation he might face out of office?” Rollins asked. “To keep something going, you need discipline.”

Don’t expect that:

Trump advisers said over the weekend that they expect him to possibly hold campaign-style rallies as he sows doubt about the election results and seeks affirmation from his voters.

Over the weekend, thousands of Trump supporters protested and chanted “stop the steal” in Atlanta, Philadelphia and other cities, attacking the integrity of the election result revealed Saturday. That rebellion was boosted on social media, where unfounded claims of fraud were widely circulated.

“The president is still loved by tens of millions of Americans, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. He can literally do whatever he wants, including running again,” said Brad Parscale, his former campaign manager.

But he will be gone soon, with no one who can replace him:

In the Senate, ambitious Republicans such as Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.), both potential 2024 hopefuls, have signaled their solidarity with much of Trump’s populism even though they lack his celebrity and bravado. Many of the party’s rising stars see Trump as a model of sorts for building a national movement in the modern GOP.

But former senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a Trump critic, said Republicans on Capitol Hill “fear Trump and his base and know that he can take just about any one of them out.”

And that means that no one knows what comes next:

The dynamics put Trumpism on the brink of a transformation – to be adopted and championed by other Republicans as Reaganism was in the decades after Ronald Reagan’s presidency ended, or to dwindle away as a historical footnote. It could also become a rebellion led by a former president, as when Teddy Roosevelt bolted the GOP and formed the Progressive, or “Bull Moose,” Party.

Like Perot and conservative Pat Buchanan in 1992, Trump has made a credo founded on his personality and the grievances of White Americans. He has built alliances with immigration hard-liners and religious conservatives, and made the media a constant foil as much as his Democratic rivals. An instinct toward non-interventionism on foreign policy and an “America First” mantra when it comes to worldwide pacts and traditional alliances are also critical parts of Trump’s approach.

Is there any future in that? It may be tied too closely to only one man:

GOP pollster Frank Luntz said Trumpism was built around a person rather than a philosophy, which makes it more difficult to sustain after Trump leaves office. Furthermore, he said, movements organized around positive emotions historically have had more longevity.

“Ronald Reagan was for freedom. Donald Trump was against the swamp,” Luntz said. “That’s why Reaganism lasted from 1976 through 2016, and that’s why I’m not convinced Trumpism will even survive until the next election. Things last longer if you’re for something than if you’re against something.”

Still, Luntz said, Trump’s false narrative that the election was stolen from him because of imaginary fraud could help bind his supporters to him.

“As far as they’re concerned, he’s a winner,” Luntz said.

He is? Ross Douthat sees this:

Trump was at his most unpopular when he behaved grotesquely and ceded policymaking to the Republican old guard, so his would-be successors need to act less like tinpot tyrants, eschew the ranting and the insults, and also make good on some of the policy promises Trump left by the wayside. A Populism 2.0 that doesn’t alienate as many people with its rhetoric, that promises more support for families and domestic industry, that accepts universal health care and attacks monopolies and keeps low-skilled immigration low, all while confronting China and avoiding Middle East entanglements and fighting elite progressivism tooth and nail – there’s your new Republican majority.

But there are other possibilities. One is that some of the voters who turned out for the GOP in the last two presidential cycles were drawn in by Trump’s celebrity charisma as much as by any of his policy arguments – that if he alienated suburban women with his finger-in-your-eye behavior, it also helped elevate his appeal with the country’s disaffected blocs. In which case you can’t just shave off the rough edges and expect a different politician to claim the same support. Rural white voters in Wisconsin who felt forgotten by both parties, or Latino men around Miami alienated by wokeness, or for that matter the rebellious grassroots conservatives who backed Trump’s 2016 primary campaign – do any of them respond the same way to a Republican who has picked up the language of populism but comes across as a stuffed shirt rather than a tough guy, a nerd rather than a tycoon, a politician rather than a star?

Here, being a jerk is a feature, not a bug, and there can be only one jerk:

Even if it were possible for another Republican to claim and expand his coalition, it’s not clear that Trump himself will let that happen. For one thing, he might run again, and he will certainly keep that possibility open – which means all his would-be successors will need to jockey for his favor, or at least avoid blasts of wrath from Mar-a-Lago. It’s always been clear that Trump would nurture a stab-in-the-back narrative should he lose…

So, Trump will exit the presidency with a complicated and uncertain legacy – as both the man who opened the way to a possible populist majority, and (for the next four years, at least) one of the biggest potential obstacles for Republicans who want to tread that path.

And that leaves what Alayna Treene reports here:

Apart from a few die-hards, most people close to President Trump know the race is over – but no one wants to be the sacrificial lamb who tells him to concede, people familiar with their thinking tell me.

Trump’s long-shot legal war, aimed at preventing him from being the first one-term president in 28 years, is being enabled by active supporters – and a lot of passive appeasement.

Top Trump advisers sat the president down at the White House on Saturday and walked him through the “options for success,” a campaign official tells me.

There were none, other than being the noble martyr, the real hero who loses everything for the greater good. But that’s just sad:

One adviser who attended Trump’s election night party at the White House tells me the president had “whiplash” watching his lead diminish over the ensuing days.

“He went to bed thinking he won. We all felt good,” the Trump adviser said. “That’s why we collectively are still confounded. But there’s only so much you can do now once a big part of the country has decided to move on.”

But that doesn’t solve everything. The spidery plot to ruin democracy lives on. Adam Serwer sees this:

Blinded by their contempt for Hillary Clinton, much of the 2016 electorate failed to see the danger Trump posed to popular sovereignty. Since taking office, the president has used the levers of government to enrich himself and his allies; purge those who resisted his schemes; turn the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies against his enemies and apply those powers to benefit his co-conspirators; socially engineer a whiter America in order to preserve the nation’s traditional aristocracy of race; and attempt to destroy the ability of the United States to hold free and fair elections. Even now, he calls for the results to be altered in his favor – a call that the majority of his supporters have refused. But just enough of them have embraced it to remind everyone of the stakes.

That Trump’s defeat came at former Vice President Joe Biden’s hands is no small thing. After all, Trump was impeached for attempting to blackmail the president of Ukraine into framing Biden for a nonexistent crime for the sole purpose of crippling Biden’s bid for the presidency.

In short, this Trump guy doesn’t like democracy, nor do those who like him:

As in 2016, tens of millions of Americans will look at the results knowing that their compatriots voted for a candidate whose campaign was premised on their mere presence in the United States being an existential threat to the country. For many of them, the sense of relief they find in a Trump defeat will be coupled with the understanding that much of the electorate does not recognize them as truly American, and that the faction that supports Trumpism has not only grown, but grown more diverse than it was in 2016. The outcome is ultimately bittersweet – not only because of the institutional obstacles to any lasting change, but because America’s rebuke of Trumpism was paired with a reminder of the ideology’s lingering potency. That the president spent the last few weeks of the campaign making his own supporters sick with a deadly disease, simply to feed his own ego, did not begin to dampen the devotion they showed him.

And that’s rather frightening:

The moral core of Trumpism is the ethnic and religious chauvinism that the president has espoused since his descent from the escalator at Trump Tower in 2015, when he announced that Mexico was sending “rapists” and “drug dealers” to America. As that campaign unfolded, Trump’s list of domestic enemies grew, as he vowed to ban Muslims from coming to the United States, and embraced police brutality against Black Americans. But what sustains Trumpism is cynicism about the workings of government and the promises of democracy. If every politician is a crook, if every program is a boondoggle, if every initiative is graft, then absolutely nothing is lost by elevating a strongman who seeks to stuff his own pockets. Perhaps, unlike the crooks currently in charge, he could get something done.

This cynicism was perhaps easier to sustain before the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis it created. The American people needed their government to be effective, responsive, and generous. The Trump administration needed to contain a deadly outbreak, communicate clearly and effectively about the risks of infection, prevent the economy from collapsing, and dispatch resources to states to keep them from being overwhelmed. Instead, after a crucial initial stimulus, the president and his party held up further aid on the grounds that it would amount to “blue-state bailouts” that would assist the enemy – that is, the Americans who live in states whose electoral votes did not go to the president in 2016.

It will not be a simple matter to purge this poison from the body politic, if it is possible at all.

And that leaves only Joe to save the day:

Biden’s success as president will depend on the willingness of his administration to recognize Trumpism as a symptom of a deeper affliction. If Biden is to restore faith that democracy can serve all people and not just the powerful, he must show that government is capable of meeting the challenges ordinary Americans face. It will not be enough to resurrect an economy in which the average American is a bill or two away from bankruptcy, and the engine of economic growth is consumption by the wealthy. That means keeping families in their homes, preventing state governments from going bankrupt, and safeguarding businesses crushed by the pandemic, but it also means ensuring that the benefits of a recovery are available to all Americans and not simply the wealthy and upper-middle classes.

That’s it? That’s all there is to it? That seems unlikely. It may be that Trump really did win this election.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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