But this is what Trump has always been: a profound threat to everything we as a country hold dear, wrapped in a package of absurdity.
It was that way from the moment he began his run for president in 2015. The ridiculous hair, the ludicrous boasting, the pathetic insecurity, the gang of dime-store thugs he collects around him — all of it made the whole thing seem unreal. “Did he just say that?” we’d ask ourselves again and again, laughing through the shock.
The show he put on was so bizarre and compellingly absurd that our fascination with it made the horror seem less threatening. We didn’t believe Republican primary voters would really vote for him. Then we didn’t believe he could really win the general election. Then we didn’t believe he’d really do so much of what he did in office.
And when it was suggested that he’d refuse to leave the White House if he lost this election, even some of us who have assiduously documented his misdeeds for four years couldn’t quite believe he’d do that, too.
So here’s where we are, as of Friday morning: The president of the United States has lost the election by a wide margin in both the popular vote and the electoral college. He and his allies have mounted legal challenges in state after state trying to get votes excluded, sometimes by the hundreds of thousands. They have made fantastical claims of voter fraud but have been unable to substantiate any of them, which is why their preposterous lawsuits keep getting tossed out of court.
And now he has decided to focus on Michigan, and specifically on Detroit, where his attempt to invalidate the results centers on the utterly predictable idea that its predominantly Black vote is illegitimate and should not count.
On Thursday, he called at least one of the Republican members of the Wayne County, Mich., canvassing board, apparently convincing her to reverse course and try to un-certify the vote there. He also summoned Republican leaders from the state legislature to the White House, where he will undoubtedly instruct them to attempt to throw out their voters’ decision (Michigan voters chose President-elect Joe Biden by a margin of more than 150,000) and hand Trump the state’s electoral votes.
Or, as one of Trump’s lawyers declared on television, “The entire election, frankly, in all the swing states should be overturned and the legislatures should make sure that the electors are selected for Trump.”
Even if Trump somehow got Michigan’s electoral votes in this way, it wouldn’t be enough for him to win the electoral college. His hope might be that if he can get one Republican legislature to do it, the dam will break and other Republican legislatures in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia will join them. As the New York Times reported, “The president has also asked aides what Republican officials he could call in other battleground states in his effort to prevent the certification of results that would formalize his loss to Mr. Biden.”
The fact that having state legislatures overrule their voters would be legally impossible — state laws do not allow legislatures to step in and reverse the voters’ decision after the fact — is beside the point. We are witnessing an attempted murder of democracy, and the fact that it won’t succeed makes it no less horrifying.
For all that divides us, every American should agree that we must not stand for this. We cannot tolerate a president seeking to have his allies simply declare him the winner of an election he lost. What is the point of having a democracy if this is possible?
And so far, Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) is the only elected Republican who has come close to calling this crime in progress what it is; he issued a statement saying, “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President.”
But that wasn’t some tremendous act of courage on Romney’s part. It’s the bare minimum of what should be expected from anyone who claims to be a patriot.
The rest of the Republican Party, with just a couple of exceptions, has not been capable of even that. They say, “Let’s let the process play out” or, “President Trump has the right to pursue all his legal options” or they duck into an elevator to avoid answering questions about what the president they’ve done so much to support is doing.
The next time any of them starts waxing rhapsodic about the glory of the Constitution and the timeless wisdom of the Framers, we should remind them of what shameless cowards they were at the moment when the system the Framers designed was tested.
Five years ago, Trump said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose the loyalty of his supporters. Like so much else he said, it was almost comical in its absurdity, so much so that it was hard to take seriously.
Now he’s doing it — but it’s not some random person he’s trying to kill; it’s the American system.
No one can be neutral any longer. Either you believe in this democracy and have loyalty to your country, or you believe in Trump and have loyalty to him. There is no more middle ground. It’s becoming clear who stands where, and what we’re seeing should make us weep for America.
This article has been updated.