Tuesday, May 24, 2022
May 24, 2022

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Rubin: Beware 2024 election coup

Trump’s big lie is taking root in ways that threaten to undermine voters’ will

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Last week laid bare the urgency of the threats to U.S. and global democracy. Yet most Americans still don’t grasp the immediacy of the danger.

The warning flashes didn’t originate from the virtual Summit of Democracies which President Joe Biden had conceived during his candidacy — long before the twin viruses of COVID-19 and Donald Trump’s big lie drove the dramatic decline of democratic norms. At this point it could provide little more than a well-meaning talk show.

More striking were China’s reaction to the summit and congressional hearings on GOP efforts to steal the election during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Piqued by Biden’s effort to align democracies, China mounted a PR blitz claiming its system is a greater democracy because it “reflects the people’s will” and out-delivers the dysfunctional American system. During the same week, House hearings laid bare the GOP’s ruthless obeisance to Trump’s lie that he reflects the will of the American people — and therefore cannot lose an election.

The lie not only feeds Chinese propaganda. It threatens to destroy the foundation of America’s democracy in 2024.

Those who decline to submit themselves to the lies and misinformation promoted by Fox News may be unaware of how deeply Trump’s lie has taken root.

It’s not just a question of Trump acolytes and lawyers gathered at a suite in Washington’s Willard Hotel and the White House in the hours before the Capitol riot, plotting how they could defy the constitution to overturn Biden’s win. And it’s not just Trump’s infamous calls to swing state GOP politicians and secretaries of state trying to convince them to find ways to reverse the people’s will.

What we are seeing now is that Trump and Fox News have instilled the utterly false claims of voter fraud into the heads of a vast majority of voters. Poll after poll has shown that around 60 percent of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. In a recent NPR/PBSNewshour/Marist poll, only one-third of Republicans said they would trust the results if their candidate lost in 2024.

The big lie legend grows — fed by Trump at his rallies, by GOP candidates who refuse to critique it, and by Fox talking heads like Tucker Carlson, who whitewashes the Jan. 6 insurgents as a crowd of peaceful patriots caught in violence by antifa. (This is absolutely untrue.)

Which is why, as the House hearings lay out the intricate details of how the Trumpers tried to subvert the last election, Pulitzer Prize winner Barton Gellman warns in The Atlantic that the GOP plans to subvert the next one. His article, “Trump’s Next Coup has Already Begun,” is a must read. “January 6 was practice,” he writes. “Donald Trump’s GOP is much better positioned to subvert the next election.”

In 2020 the Trump team tried to induce GOP legislatures in states where Biden won to overturn the votes and appoint Trump electors instead to the Electoral College. This is illegal in 32 states and probably never has been done in the rest.

Trump’s goal failed in 2020 thanks to brave election officials such as Gabriel Sterling in Georgia or Al Schmidt in Philadelphia, so Trumpers are trying to drive them out with threats or oust them from their seats. As Princeton historian Kevin Kruse told Gellman, “I think you replace those officials, those judges, with ones who are more willing to follow the party line, and you get a different set of outcomes.”

That clearly is the GOP goal.

There is little time left for small-d democrats from both parties to fight back. Nothing highlights the hypocrisy of the Trumpers better than the emails sent by Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, during the insurrection, begging him to urge Trump to stop the violence. Now they promote the big lie and undermine America at home and abroad.

If Biden wants to counter the lie that feeds Chinese propaganda and hastens democracy’s demise, the president should make strengthening voting rights his first priority, above all else. The Justice Department must challenge the attempts at hostile, partisan takeover of election authorities that would permit the fixing of elections, and are far more dangerous than voter-suppression tactics.

The key difference between China’s democracy and ours is that American voters have the right to choose their leaders freely — or at least they have until now. The day Trumpers substitute their leader’s will for the will of the American people is the day that our democracy dies.


Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial board member for The Philadelphia Inquirer. trubin@phillynews.com

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