This editorial originally appeared in the
South Florida Sun Sentinel.
There is no reasonable doubt that Congress will confirm the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris when it meets Wednesday to count their electoral votes for president and vice-president. What remains to be seen is how much decency and patriotism remain in the Republican Party.
Under Abraham Lincoln, the GOP stood for government of, by and for the people. But now, does it stand for anything other than Donald Trump?
“This is Donald Trump’s party and I am a Donald Trump Republican,” says Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida’s enfant terrible, one of the Congress members who plan to challenge the Democratic electoral votes from up to five key states.
If you want to understand how democracies die, that’s how. An entire party turns into a personality cult.
No political party ever had a more noble purpose or a more glorious beginning. It was founded in 1854 to stop the expansion of slavery to the western territories. To the South, confining slavery to where it existed would result in abolishing slavery, and so it fell to Lincoln, the party’s first president, to save the Union and abolish the evil institution that had spawned secession and civil war.
But now, some of its legislators are spoiling for what even the pro-Republican New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch paper, calls an “undemocratic coup.”
That was in an editorial addressed to President Trump with the front-page headline, “STOP THE INSANITY.”
The joint session to receive and count the electoral votes for president and vice-president ought to be a purely ceremonial event, as it has almost always been. Four years ago, a couple of protests from the House about counting some of Trump’s votes fizzled when no Democratic senator was willing to endorse them. They upheld the Constitution despite their disgust that the popular vote was being negated again and that foreign interference might have influenced many voters.
There is an overwhelming absence of any evidence that the nation’s votes were not cast and counted with scrupulous honesty and fairness in 2020. President Trump’s torrents of lies and the unethical ravings of Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani and other Trump lawyers cannot change the fact that Biden and Harris won with 306 electoral votes to 232, almost precisely what Trump claimed as a landslide four years ago.
At latest count, more than 90 federal and state judges, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have ruled against Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. No judge found any actionable fact in any of the wild claims.
The latest stunt is a lawsuit by Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert and others that asks a federal judge to invalidate the 1887 law governing how Congress counts electoral votes and give Vice President Mike Pence absolute discretion to decide which slates of electors to accept. In effect, Pence alone could overturn Biden’s election.
Since Pence is the defendant, the suit puts him on the spot of either resisting it, in apparent disloyalty to Trump, or of agreeing to participate in an attempted coup against the fairly elected leadership of the United States.
The law provides that both houses of Congress must vote separately on any electoral challenge that is signed by at least one senator and one representative. The challenge fails if either chamber disapproves, as the House is certain to do and as the Senate most likely will.
The real objectives, though, are to put Republican lawmakers on record for or against keeping Trump in the White House as America’s first dictator, perpetuate the insidious myths that the election was stolen from him and that Biden’s presidency will be illegitimate, and maintain Trump’s influence over a party that sorely needs to be rid of it. The word for all this is subversion.
Republican legislators who vote to uphold the Constitution will be setting themselves up for Trump-backed challenges in party primaries. That’s why Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has been discouraging his members from signing any of the challenges. But he appears to have lost that fight, which means every Republican senator will have to go on the record for democracy or dictatorship.
As the Congress meets, Trump’s right-wing supporters, including the proto-Nazi Proud Boys, will be protesting in Washington, with his encouragement to “Be there. It will be wild.” If that’s not an incitement to violence, what else could it be?
Considering how often the government has commanded American citizens to risk and sacrifice their lives in war, it is hardly asking too much of the Congress to do the right thing on Wednesday. Indeed, most members will.
Those who do not will set a terrible example, betray the Constitution and forfeit any right to the public’s respect. It should not be coming to this.
Adversity, the ultimate test of character, brings out the best in some people and the worst in others. With Trump, his conduct after losing the presidency only confirms his profound unfitness for it. There is no help for that, but members of Congress can do better than to indulge him.