The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The danger is growing that Trump’s lies about the election will lead to violence

President Trump.
President Trump. (Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg)
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PRESIDENT TRUMP’S lying about the election has become dangerous — and not just in the sense that it damages democratic norms. It also increasingly threatens to spur physical violence against Americans who have done their duty to oversee a free and fair vote.

Officials in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin have reported receiving threats or harassment. The Arizona Republican Party asked its Twitter followers Tuesday if they were willing to give their lives to overturn the election and “die for something.”

Armed “protesters” menaced Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) and her family in their home over the weekend. “Someone’s going to get killed,” said Gabriel Sterling, a senior Georgia election official, as he detailed last week the death threats he and others have received. Yet, Mr. Trump continues to pour gasoline on the fire, tweeting Wednesday that “We will soon be learning about the word ‘courage’, and saving our Country.” Kim Ward, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania state Senate, told the New York Times that if she refused to cooperate with efforts to challenge the election result, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.”

The MAGA march on D.C. showed Trump supporters are not a monolith, but their dedication to the president is singular. (Video: The Washington Post)

A silver lining in Mr. Trump’s post-election tantrum has been witnessing mostly state-level Republicans stand up for the democratic process against extreme pressure from the president and his supporters. Yet in many of these cases, the officials involved had no legal option to do otherwise. And even some of those who did the right thing when the law demanded it have turned around and attacked others caught between official responsibilities and partisan pressure — in an attempt to pass the buck onto some other official who does not have the luxury of denying the truth.

Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R) has reportedly refused Mr. Trump’s requests to have the state legislature award Pennsylvania’s electors to the president, a move state law barred him from taking. But he sought to placate Trumpers by signing a letter demanding that Pennsylvania’s members of Congress move to reject the state’s pro-Biden electoral votes. The goal is to focus angry base voters on congressional Republicans, forcing them to cast the hard vote to accept the election results.

Passing the buck may feel costless; somewhere along the line, some other poor official who has no other choice will uphold the results. Similarly, national Republicans’ continuing silence about the election may seem to them the most prudent course, allowing passions to dissipate with time — or at least to be targeted at others.

But passions are not dissipating; they are exploding. Republicans across the country, from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) down to county GOP chairs, are inflaming them with their encouragement or their acquiescence. Violence seems ever more possible when President-elect Joe Biden’s victory becomes official — if not before. Short of that, Mr. Trump is creating a new playbook for failed candidates: Rile the base; delegitimize your opponent’s victory; pressure state officials to flip the results. This strategy could be far more potent in a closer election. It threatens the foundations of U.S. democracy.

Read more:

Max Boot: There’s no room for complacency about our post-election crisis

Danielle Allen: Incarcerated people are suffering from covid-19 more than most. They should be among the first vaccinated.

Brian Klaas: America has an authoritarian voter problem

Jennifer Rubin: Trump’s Republicans have gone around the bend

David Ignatius: Trump and his supporters are discovering how hard it is to sabotage election results

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