It’s happening now.
Donald Trump is demonstrating that to hold on to his presidential power he will resort to illegal means appropriate to a dictator, not a president. For Trump, the Constitution and the law are merely hurdles to defy and evade.
Until now, our institutions have held the line. The courts and election officials have pushed back Trump’s attempts to nullify the election and overturn Biden’s victory. But five weeks after his loss is manifestly undeniable, he doggedly perseveres.
Eighty-eight percent of the Republicans in the House and Senate — 222 elected representatives of the people — have yet to acknowledge Biden’s win. They are silent, not daring to contradict the President, but rather enabling him. Trump is bullying election officials to rescind their confirmations of the vote tally in favor of Biden and pressuring state legislatures to toss out majority votes for Biden and send slates of pro-Trump electors to anoint him in the Electoral College.
Trump showed his willingness, even enthusiasm, to gas protestors and send armed military troops to (Democratic) American cities to tamp down their demonstrations. He fired his defense secretary for opposing the deployment of active-duty troops against American citizens. He purged the Pentagon leadership, replacing three top officials with Trump loyalists. It’s hard to see these acts as anything but preparation for a coup.
Almost one third of the judges on the federal bench are Trump appointees. Trump expects that at least some of them will switch their allegiance from the Constitution to the President. With Mitch McConnell leading the way, Trump had his third conservative justice on the Supreme Court confirmed days before the election. Trump had already announced that if the election did not return him to the White House, it had to be fraudulent and he would have the Supreme Court step in and rule in his favor. Yet again, he revealed his ignorance of how government works. Or, since he had ignored subpoenas and scoffed at the law with impunity, he assumed he could bend the Supreme Court to his will.
Think back to the time when Trump was a buffoon we didn’t take seriously. We ridiculed his braggadocio, scorned his garishness, denounced his school-yard tactic of name-calling. Until the Republican convention selected him as their standard-bearer, the idea of a President Trump was the fantasy of fools.
Remember the shock, despite his climb in the polls, when he achieved the impossible. Democrats were stunned and Republicans dizzy with joy. Gallons of ink were spilled by pundits trying to understand how the political neophyte, vulgar misogynist, racist bigot and unscrupulous wheeler-dealer could have captured the ultimate prize.
Yet here we are.
Republicans enabled him to defy the law and flout convention as he demonstrated that he had never read the Constitution he had sworn to preserve, protect and defend. Eventually, however, he discovered Article II, Section 2, and the awesome power entrusted to the chief executive. It “allows me to do anything I want,” he affirmed several times. Well, of course it doesn’t, but that didn’t stop Trump from using any means to achieve his ends.
Today Trump refuses to concede his loss to Joe Biden and is trying to overturn the election he insists was stolen from him. Despite his infantile behavior, a man as desperate as Trump to retain his hold on power can’t be easily dismissed. Though his incompetence may save the Republic this time, a future despot, far smarter than Trump, will have observed the tactics with which Trump undermined democratic institutions and circumvented the law. He will exploit weaknesses in the system revealed by Trump and may well succeed where Trump has failed.
Pay attention and take nothing for granted. The triumph of democracy depends on its citizens to protect it.