Just when we thought we could sleep again. Just when we thought his malevolent reign was over, his poison bottled, that the sun was coming out tomorrow. Just when nearly 80 million Americans could shout the words of Dr. Seuss to Marvin K. Mooney: “Please go now!”
Then, this: a shameless attempt to reject the will of hundreds of thousands of voters in the most populous county in Michigan and ultimately hand a state that Joe Biden won by some 157,000 votes over Donald Trump.
And this: In Nevada and Pennsylvania, Trump’s campaign asked courts to thwart the choice of a majority of voters and award their states’ Electoral College votes to the only president in history to lose the popular vote twice. It promised evidence of fraud but produced none. It was a blunt, raw, purely Trumpian move. Try to stop me.
And this: Trump has invited Michigan legislators to the White House in a last-ditch — and legally dubious — effort to subvert the election.
What’s unfolding now is an attempted coup by a con. It’s a bigger political scandal than Russian interference four years ago. And yes, it is likely to fail, and the system is likely to prevail. But the American majority cannot rest, nor rely on its sense of decency, until the election hooligans are beaten back.
Failing in court, this most authoritarian of presidents is pressuring Little Trumpers everywhere to overturn an election that Trump’s own cybersecurity chief, Christopher Krebs, said was “the most secure in American history.” He’s trying to force canvassers, certifiers, election board referees and state legislators to create enough chaos so that he can steal a win.
The good news is that a decent majority of Americans think the election was conducted freely and fairly, a belief that has the added benefit of being true. Krebs, a Trump appointee who oversaw defense of the election for the Department of Homeland Security, issued a statement saying, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” That assessment got him fired by the president Tuesday.
The bad news is that an indecent majority of Trump voters think Biden won because of fraud. The Big Lie — that the election was rigged unless Trump is declared the winner — thrives in a disinformation ecosystem.
Since the election, I’ve been trying to remain open-minded about what moved more than 73 million Americans to vote for Trump, knowing that he’s an awful human being and a nation-wrecker, trying to soil every institutional value we hold sacred.
I understand the tribalism, the urge to push back against condescending libs and the suffocating ubiquity of political correctness, the sense that only Trump can save a certain way of life.
But then Trump unleashed his flying monkeys to try to take back the office he lost by nearly 6 million in the popular vote.
Consider just how openly racist and undemocratic the Michigan debacle was. Two white Republican canvassers refused to certify the results of the state’s most populous Democratic county, which contains Black-majority Detroit. Was there evidence of fraud? No. The fig leaf was the routine clerical and counting errors found throughout Michigan — and certainly not enough votes to overturn the result.
One of those canvassers, Monica Palmer, suggested that the white-majority areas of the county could be certified, while the Black-majority city of Detroit could not. The pro-Trump canvassers relented only after being buried under an avalanche of outrage and threats. But after the president called at least one of them, both Republicans again attempted to keep Wayne County’s votes from counting, although by then it was too late.
This was a racial disenfranchisement move so blatant it would make Jim Crow blush. Michigan Republican leaders applauded this, and Trump tweeted, “Flip Michigan back to TRUMP.” Among the national Republican leaders, those with a conscience, a group that could fit in a broom closet, have been quiet. Humor him, they said. He’ll eventually sulk away.
It wasn’t just the Black majority in Detroit that Republicans tried to render powerless. The votes of veterans and first-responders, the sick and disabled, first-time voters and longtime voters were headed for a garbage bin to please a loser crying for a do-over.
“American democracy cracked last night, but it didn’t break,” said Mayor Mike Duggan of Detroit, on the morning after the certification back-and-forth. “We are seeing a real threat to everything we believe in.”
One of those beliefs is the idea that honorable people will put aside partisan passions to keep the machinery of democracy moving forward.
But it’s pretty hard to do that when the routine act of ballot counting has become a life-threatening job. Arizona’s secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, described “ongoing and escalating threats of violence” against her and her family for trying to perform her duty.
This is Trump’s legacy: an attempt to blow up an election, from Wayne County, Michigan, to Maricopa County, Arizona. For Trump the failed businessman, cheating and suing were a way of life. For Trump the failed president, cheating and suing are a blueprint for his followers into the future. And I fear there’s no going back.
Timothy Egan is a Seattle-based columnist for The New York Times.