It increasingly appears that it will be up to the Republican Party to save America from a would-be dictator. President Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear in recent weeks that he has no …
It increasingly appears that it will be up to the Republican Party to save America from a would-be dictator. President Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear in recent weeks that he has no intention of honoring the will of the voters this election, and he could well get away with dismantling the American system of governance unless Republicans take a stand.
There is no doubt about Trump’s intent. He has made false allegations suggesting widespread voter fraud from mail-in ballots, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And he repeated that false claim during his embarrassing performance at this week’s presidential debate. When asked recently if he would accept a peaceful transfer of power, Trump refused and complained that “ballots” were the problem.
Clearly, President Trump is reading the polls like most other Americans and he recognizes that the ballots cast by voters may, in fact, be a problem (for him) when the polls suggest he’s headed for defeat.
Because we have experienced a peaceful transfer of power in the United States for 230-plus years, it’s easy to assume that the Constitution has the mechanisms in place to prevent an unpopular president from holding power after losing an election. While the Constitution is masterful in many ways, it assumes that a president would act honorably in defeat, an assumption that is not possible with the current president.
As letters from George Washington and others of his time reveal, what the founders feared most was the ascendance of what they termed a “demagogue” who would place his own power and glorification above the Constitution and the interests of the country. Washington and others of his era used the term demagogue, derived from Greek, to indicate a type of leader who gains power through emotional appeals to prejudice, distrust, and fear. This is a virtual definition of the Trump presidency.
Our founders feared the demagogue because they recognized that the Constitution, even with its checks and balances, could not contain such an individual’s lust for power or his willingness to upend the American experiment.
We know that President Trump will not respect the will of the voters, because he reminds the world of it every day. But Trump can only achieve his plans for an undemocratic takeover with the willing collusion of the Republican Party, a party that at least used to contain men and women of honor. Unfortunately, those of honor have mostly left the party, which today appears populated by shameless, unprincipled political operatives guided only by political expediency or the latest Trump tweet.
As was reported this past week in The Atlantic magazine, GOP leaders in Pennsylvania are already plotting with the Trump campaign to disavow the will of the voters in that must-win state for Trump, where polls show Joe Biden holding steady to a roughly six-point lead. Instead, they are making plans to have the Republican-dominated Legislature handpick its own slate of pro-Trump electors, regardless of the will of its electorate.
Such a move would almost certainly wind up in court, but the Republicans have a plan for that as well, which is why Trump is so eager to stack the courts, particularly the U.S. Supreme Court, with jurists personally loyal to him. He hopes they will disregard the Constitution and hand him the White House for at least another four years, whatever the voters decide.
While Trump’s strategy may be audacious, he has reason to believe that it could work, because similar jaw-dropping actions by this president have already worked many times before. The list of Trump’s affronts to the Constitution and our political norms is long and, with the exception of an occasional voice in the wilderness, the Republican Party has done nothing but facilitate a man who clearly wants to be America’s Putin. The Republican Party that existed as recently as four years ago had more honor than that. Much has changed in 1,350 days.
We understand that the full U.S. Senate, last week, unanimously approved a resolution stating its commitment to a peaceful transition of power— itself an unusual response to a deeply authoritarian president. Yet, as we’ve seen with the Constitution, it will take more than words on paper to stop Trump from his excesses. It will take political courage from a party that has shown virtually none of it for the past four years. Democrats won’t be able to contain Trump on their own. It may well ultimately require bipartisan congressional action to stop Trump from bringing an end to the America we knew. And only Republicans can make that happen.