The Coming Crackup
Four years ago, Republicans made a Faustian bargain. Now, the rest of us are stuck with it.
|Nov 22, 2020|
Originally published Nov. 16.
This won’t end well.
Ignore, for the moment, the fact that 171 million people voted for an authoritarian nihilist whose casual indifference to the COVID-19 pandemic and general incompetence have already contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths and will almost certainly contribute to tens of thousands more before his term ends.
Ignore, too, the flashing neon signs warning about our undemocratic democracy: Four years ago, Donald Trump won 306 electoral votes while earning 2.9 million fewer popular votes than his opponent; two weeks ago, Joe Biden had to beat Trump by 5 million votes to match that total, and Trump still came within 110,000 or so well-placed votes of pulling another Electoral College inside straight.
Focus on what’s happened since the election.
What’s unnerving isn’t that Trump has spent the last two weeks venting a nonstop stream of paranoid delusions about a vast plot to deprive him of a second term. That much could be explained by any shrink.
When malignant narcissists fail, Psychology Today told us in July, “they become metastable, placing us as family, friends, co-workers, corporations, the public, or a nation in greatest danger. … If evidence is presented, they will seek to have it invalidated or claim that it is false, fake, or a product of vague conspiracies, but most certainly not true. Any evidence presented, and those that present it will be attacked aggressively and vindictively. … The narcissist will engage supporters or enablers to simultaneously attack those who offer proof or evidence, even if it embarrassingly exposes their poodle-like behavior as that of spineless sycophants. … Expect lies to increase and to be repeated exponentially. They will, even in light of factual evidence to the contrary, lie more profusely and adamantly.”
I don’t know whether Trump believes his own bullshit. To be honest, I don’t really care.
I care about this: People are dying, and Trump no longer even pretends to bother with his day job. Instead, he’s attacking the legitimacy of the election and the incoming administration, sabotaging the transition during a crisis, and spending every waking hour telling his followers there’s a conspiracy to steal the election.
He is the victim. They should be angry. They need to fight back.
“If Republicans don’t challenge and change the U.S. election system, there will never be another Republican president elected again,” Senator Lindsey Graham, who left his last shred of dignity in John McCain’s coffin, told Fox News Sunday. “President Trump should not concede.”
It’s hardly worth pointing out that none of this exists in real life. Republicans can’t find fraud. Trump’s lawsuits are a joke. His own government admits everything ran smoothly. He’s too far behind for recounts to matter. The election is over.
Yet the charade has taken a toll. Only 26% of Republicans believe the election was fair, according to a Morning Consult poll. Just 34% trust the democratic process—half the amount that did so before the election. No matter how decisive Biden’s win, a significant proportion of the public will always believe the fix was in.
Trump might not be able to help himself. But his Republican enablers know better.
Had they denounced the fusillade of lies and conspiracies—or even ignored it—they might not have stopped Trump’s base from believing him, but they wouldn’t have reinforced him, either. “There is no evidence of fraud” wouldn’t have become a partisan statement.
But given the choice of coddling Trump’s tantrum or protecting democratic institutions, Republicans chose Trump.
Only four of 53 Republican senators have bothered to congratulate the president-elect. Two said there was nothing to congratulate Biden for. The 2024 wannabes—Senators Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley—snapped to attention when Don Jr. accused the party of “cower[ing] to the media mob.” The two Republican senators from Georgia, who face runoff elections in January, demanded that Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to resign after Trump whined about losing the state.
Trump’s Cabinet has gotten in on the action, too. Attorney General William Barr appeased the Boss by green-lighting his prosecutors to investigate “voting irregularities”; the head of the DOJ’s Election Crimes Branch resigned in protest. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised reporters there would be a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” then berated a reporter who asked about the hypocrisy of lecturing other countries’ leaders on accepting defeat while Trump refuses to do the same.
To the degree there’s an end game, it’s to convince Republican state legislatures to circumvent voters and appoint their own slates of electors—a dubious legal strategy that has nonetheless spread throughout the conservative media ecosystem, endorsed by the likes of Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Don Jr., and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The fact that major right-wing figures—allies of the president—are talking out loud about what can only be described as a coup, based solely on hallucinations about fraud, without fear of marginalization or recrimination, tells you everything you need to know about the modern Republican Party.
The truth is, Republicans made a Faustian bargain: Defend Trump’s racism, corruption, and demagoguery; get tax cuts and judges. Republicans can say they don’t want to antagonize Trump and risk demoralizing the party’s base ahead of the Georgia runoffs—as if cowardice and political calculation are acceptable excuses for crapping on democratic institutions—but for four years, they sat back and watched the monster of cultural grievance Trump created become a powerful political force.
So long as it benefited them, they said nothing. Now they’re stuck with it. The rest of us are, too.