If Donald Trump wins next Tuesday – God forbid! – then it goes without saying that American politics are in for a time of profound ugliness.
But it is becoming increasingly clear that even if Donald Trump is defeated, a time of ugliness lies ahead.
That forecast now goes well beyond the issue of Trump’s telegraphing of a refusal to accept the outcome. The ugliness may well begin with that violation of the American norms – such as a concession speech – that are part of that essential aspect of our constitutional system: the peaceful transfer of power. (Dousing Trump’s Insurrectionary Fire) But Republicans in recent days have announced that it will not end there.
These Republicans are declaring that they will never confirm any Hillary Clinton nominee to the Supreme Court. There has even been talk of beginning impeachment hearings against the new president even before she has had a chance to begin her presidency.
With the ugliness of the Trump-wins scenario, there is nothing much that we can do. Such an outcome would signify that we have lost a battle of essential importance that we have been fighting for more than a year.
But with the ugliness of the Trump-loses scenario, it is important that we see it not only as the American tragedy that it is, but also as an opportunity. There is much that we not only can, but must do.
It is an opportunity to destroy the Republican Party—or rather, to destroy that part of the Republican Party that insists on such ugliness. (Which means that it might be possible to join forces with another part of the GOP to free that party of the destructive element that has already done so much damage to the nation.)
A Trump refusal to concede gracefully is part and parcel of the same thing that leads Republicans to refuse to concede to the legitimate role of a duly elected president to name a Supreme Court justice to fill a vacancy. And for that matter, that same thing also produced the general obstructionism of the GOP since President Obama took office.
The people – through the constitutionally mandated system – have hired someone to perform the vital job of President of the United States. But these Republicans — not accepting that the people have had the gall to hire their opponents — have chosen (since 2009, and apparently again in the coming year) to thwart the people’s will.
Here’s what all this ugliness adds up to: It is a rejection of the norms of constitutional democracy in favor of politics as all-out war. It is an assault on a system of laws and norms in favor of politics as only about power.
It is by wielding that basic truth about what they are up to that these Republicans can be attacked and, if it is done well enough, brought down.
So if Trump and the Republicans make good on the threats they have lately voiced, it should not be impossible to show the American people how clearly disgraceful — how clearly contrary to the spirit of the system our founders gave us — their conduct is. The effort should be made with some intensity to convince the majority of the American people that the Republicans are assaulting the foundations of American democracy.
How that battle might best we waged is not self-evident. But that question should be front and center, and now is not too soon to get to work on it. (It is good that Harry Reid has already indicated that a Democratic-controlled Senate could eliminate the 60-vote cloture requirement for the confirmation of justices.)
The Republican Party of our times has been an increasingly monstrous force in American politics for a generation. The nomination of Trump has put that monstrousness on more blatant display– and this has gone some distance in bringing about the crack-up of the GOP. Now, the promise of yet another effort to delegitimize and thwart a Democratic president will hand the Democrats another opportunity to discredit the GOP and compel it either to change its ways or to be driven into oblivion.
This is not a time to quake or cower before these Republican threats. Nor to think about this ugly future purely in terms of playing defense. It is a time to counter-attack with determination to win, and with whatever level of ferocity that good strategic judgment calls for.