Three days before Christmas in 2001, Richard Reid took off from Paris on a flight to Miami. He did not intend on arriving. Instead, he attempted to ignite explosives packed into one of his shoes to destroy the plane, killing everyone aboard for the cause of violent jihad.
He did not succeed. Other passengers noticed his odd behavior—most notably lighting numerous matches while wires were dangling from his pant leg. He was subdued; the flight landed safely.
The plot had failed. But that did not mean that the system which let him get onto a plane with explosives “worked.”
This is the exact position America’s democratic system finds itself in as the Trump era comes to a close. Like Richard Reid, Donald Trump is a cartoon figure and his attempt to overturn a free and fair election is nearly comical in its stupidity.
A wise observer would view the Trump experience as a near-catastrophe which became a wake-up call for just how vulnerable our democracy is.
Instead, we have a conservative establishment which—when it isn’t outright advancing Trump’s attempt to overturn the election, or averting its eyes—says that the fact that Donald Trump will (probably) leave office on January 20 is proof that the system worked and there’s no reason for concern.
Consider Holman Jenkins who, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, claims that “U.S. democracy is a faith machine that continues to reward your faith.”
Allow yourself to relax a bit, and enjoy the latest chapter of the Trump show, which will continue to enrich us with ironies and absurdities and insights to light our way in coming decades as we decode the wild and wonderful experiment known as America.
It would be hard to come up with a clearer statement of elite, late republic decadence than “enjoy the latest chapter of the Trump show.” Why burden yourself with the moral responsibilities of citizenship when you can be like Blanche DuBois and depend on the kindness of strangers performing their civic duties?
In a staff editorial, National Review musters the courage to at least call Trump’s attempt to overturn the election what it is:
Trump’s most reprehensible tactic has been to attempt, somewhat shamefacedly, to get local Republican officials to block the certification of votes and state legislatures to appoint Trump electors in clear violation of the public will. This has gone nowhere, thanks to the honesty and sense of duty of most of the Republicans involved, but it’s a profoundly undemocratic move that we hope no losing presidential candidate ever even thinks of again.
There is dark vindication for Trump’s principled critics across the political landscape in these words. But consider that it took a president promoting election fraud conspiracy theories targeting his own party—thereby jeopardizing Republican control of the Senate—to get there.
And what remedy do the National Review editors propose? How would they keep this from happening again? All they can muster is to “hope [that] no losing presidential candidate ever even thinks of [it] again.”
Hope is not a plan.
A healthy republic ought to have a strong, even a visceral response to those who would endanger its future. And it should remember the treacherous who conspire against it.
The phrase “enemy of democracy” has a sinister bearing. Saying it aloud may elicit a frisson of discomfort. That sort of language is for grubby radicals, not for us educated citizens of a consolidated and modern republic.
But how else to describe those who would use raw political power in Republican-controlled legislatures to overturn a national election? Public officials swear an oath to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” It is a mandate that responsible citizens should take seriously.
No one should try to hide behind the legalistic argument that such an outcome might be technically constitutional. Every dictator claims his hold on power is constitutional. Vladimir Putin controls Russia behind a veneer of constitutionality. Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt for 30 years under a constitutional state of emergency.
There is nothing magical about the U.S. Constitution. Unmoored from our founding principles, it can become an instrument of tyranny. For parts of our history—specifically for Americans of color—it was.
It is important, therefore, to keep score on who, exactly, democracy’s enemies are. [Continue reading…]