The Crisis in American Democracy Gerry OShea
William Shakespeare, widely regarded as the world’s greatest dramatist, frequently focuses on how the unbridled aspiration for power and aggrandizement leads to tragic consequences. Lord Acton’s famous dictum that all power corrupts is confirmed in many of his plays with an abundance of shady deals and compromised principles.
Of course, democracy, the concept that political power resides with the people, didn’t come to the fore for nearly two hundred years after Shakespeare’s time. However, the overwhelming drive to get to the top remains a vibrant theme of modern politics. Shakespeare’s tragic character, Macbeth, makes no bones about his motivation in words that still resonate today, “I have no spur to prick the side of my intent only vaulting ambition.”
Donald Trump can’t abide being a loser. He must win to salve the insatiable demands of his ego. In a Commencement address in the Naval Academy in 2018 he declared that, “Winning is such a great thing. Nothing like winning. Victory, winning, that’s what it is all about.”
When he stated unequivocally before a vote was cast that there could only be one victor in the November 2020 presidential election, he was openly repudiating 250 years of democracy in the United States. The clear and unquestioned understanding of all previous presidential candidates affirmed that the winner is declared based on who gets the most votes in the Electoral College.
Joe Biden won a clear majority in the November election, but Mr. Trump, true to his pre-election emanations, did not accept the results, asserting that all kinds of skullduggery caused him to lose. His lawyers claimed various corrupt practices in the vote-counting protocols, including the alleged importation of millions of fake Biden ballots from China and Venezuela.
They submitted their “proof” of Democratic malfeasance to over sixty judges who rejected their claims out of hand, refusing even to hear their cases because of the lack of any real evidence.
Vice-president Pence was asked by his boss and other top White House leaders not to rubber stamp the election results which is part of his Constitutional role. To his great credit, he rejected these persistent demands from the Oval Office and certified Mr. Biden as the winner. His recommendation was upheld by a clear majority of the House of Representatives, although, significantly, 147 Republicans voted against confirmation.
This vote was preceded by a riot in the Capitol Building where the insurrectionists singled out Mike Pence for hanging and Nancy Pelosi for similarly harsh treatment as they bludgeoned their way into the halls where many legislators were working. This chaotic and violent behavior on January 6th has ushered in a surreal and frightening chapter in the American story.
Donald Trump still claims that he won the November contest, and anyone in his party who says otherwise is pilloried as somehow colluding in treachery. Amazingly, repeated surveys of Republican voters reveal that two out of three continue to believe that the Democrats stole the election. That is close to fifty million Americans.
The story gets worse because around twenty million of these voters condone using violence to reverse the result.
Almost half of all Republicans express admiration for the thugs who invaded the Capitol, killing some people and terrorizing the rest, while chasing a scared Mr. Pence and other leaders into hiding in the building that is seen as a symbol of democracy throughout the world.
Republicans, led by the former president, have devised a strategy to make sure that the next time the secretaries of state and governors in swing states will refuse to sign off if the Democrat candidate wins. They are openly engaging in widespread voter suppression.
In Georgia, for instance, Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, two loyal conservative Republicans, are being primaried because they rejected calls to change the results in that state.
Trump pleaded with Raffensperger to find him a mere 11,780 votes – “you could always say, you know, that you miscalculated” - that would edge him ahead in the Georgia count. The Secretary of State refused, explaining that his job was to affirm the voters’ decision. Astonishingly, this principled Republican is still being excoriated by the former president and his followers who have prodded Assemblyman Jody Dice to run against him for the Republican nomination for that job.
Trump has also persuaded former Senator David Perdue to challenge Governor Kemp because he stood with Raffensperger during the November election fracas. Perdue, a former United States senator, is running on a platform that Kemp should have refused to sign the document that affirmed Biden’s victory. If a similar circumstance arises in 2024, and Perdue is elected governor he will refuse to certify the results.
Is this really where our Republic finds itself? These men are being fiercely opposed by well-funded opponents promoted by the former president because they confirmed the official results of the presidential election in their state. Are Americans awake to the implications of what is going on? Many leading Republicans are effectively asserting that victory for their party is the only acceptable outcome of an election.
And similar shenanigans are happening in ten other states where this party has local majorities. Last November, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and some Republican state lawmakers proposed a hostile takeover of election management in the swing state of Wisconsin.
Johnson brazenly told the New York Times, “Unfortunately, I don’t expect Democrats to follow the rules and other people don’t either and that’s the problem.” And Johnson’s conclusion: The current system of bipartisan oversight should be abolished leaving Republican legislators in control of the elections.
Commenting on these negative trends, evident in most states where Republicans have a majority, Laura Thornton, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, issued an ominous warning, “This contempt for past standards creates myriad opportunities for malign actors, foreign and domestic, to drive our democracy into a death spiral.”
There is another ugly dimension to this dismantling of democratic procedures which is exemplified by Congressman Peter Meijer from Michigan who was elected to congress in January 2021 at the age of 33. After a few days in his new job, he voted with nine other Republican congressmen to impeach President Trump for his leadership of the riot in the Capitol.
This action resulted in vituperative phone messages and threats of physical revenge for his conscientious vote. He reported that he took these warnings seriously and started wearing body armor and changing his routines in and around his new workplace.
Other Republican members of Congress who have defied the Trump line receive similar threats. Mr. Meijer has spoken publicly about many of his colleagues agreeing with his critical perspective on the actions of the armed mob that attempted to overthrow the election, but they dare not speak out because they fear for their own and their families’ safety.
Donald Trump’s ambition, unchecked and bereft of any moral mooring, largely accounts for this sorry state. He seems to be riding high, but he should heed Shakespeare’s warning that there are dire consequences of a leader caving to blind ambition, “bloody instructions, which being taught, return to plague the inventor.”
Gerry OShea blogs at wemustbetalking.com