I drafted this piece on Tuesday, the day before the pipe-bomb story broke. On Tuesday, the “Now” in the title seemed right. But waiting seems now to be in order: changing the subject would likely be a mistake while Trump, in his reaction to these attempted assassinations by one of the people Trump has inspired, is displaying so grotesquely some of the monstrous aspects of his character.
(Trump has complained that this bomb story has hurt the Republicans’ electoral prospects. It likely has, and it certainly should. But I would wager that it is Trump’s own response to this story that is inflicting the greater damage on his political allies.)
So I am no longer recommending that the moves I propose here, below, be undertaken immediately. Let the current story play out further. But the threat, described here, to the nation’s integrity is still on the horizon, and the Democrats really should be fully prepared to preempt, to deter, and/or to counter it.
We’re hearing plausible warnings from highly reputable interpreters of our political times that President Trump may try to delegitimize the upcoming elections if the results go against him. (See here, for example, where Paul Krugman raises this alarm. I came across another such reputable warning, but cannot relocate it.)
And, unfortunately, there’s good reason to fear that Trump will do just that, that he’ll make BASELESS ACCUSATIONS to question the integrity of the election process.
It would be a big mistake – albeit a typical one – for the Democrats to wait until Trump launches his attack on our electoral process before they act to counter it. Instead, leading Democratic spokespeople should speak out now to frame the issue so as to deter Trump from trying such a gambit or, if Trump chooses to start such a fight, to seize the high ground that should control that battle.
Here’s how the Democrats should move now to seize that high ground.
First, they should alert the American people to how these warnings are –regrettably — all too plausible. Because we’ve seen Trump do this same thing before. Twice Trump has made baseless accusations against a legitimate election process in order to avoid accepting a negative judgment on him from the voters.
- First, back in the summer of 2016 when the polls were making Trump look like a loser in his match-up with Hillary, he began charging that it was all a “RIGGED SYSTEM.” He didn’t offer a shred of evidence because his accusation had no basis in reality. He just made it up.
- Then when the actual election made Trump the winner of the presidency in the Electoral College, while he was nonetheless the loser in the popular vote, Trump once again resorted to the BASELESS ACCUSATION: he declared that Hillary’s vote totals were inflated by five million illegal votes. It was a lie. There was absolutely nothing to it.
The narcissistic Trump can apparently never admit that he’s — in any way — a “loser.” And a Blue Wave election would constitute for him a particularly significant loss.
So, the Democrats should prepare the American people to hear any move by Trump to delegitimize the election – if it produces a Blue Wave – as just another False Accusation from the liar-in-chief who always puts himself and his needs ahead of the good of the nation.
Which leads to the second point the Democrats should stress:
Not only does the all-too-plausible nature of the warnings make it appropriate for the Democrats to bring this threat to public attention. They are actually obliged –by the oath of office they have taken — to confront this threat: the oath, required of all officers of the United States government, to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Elections are at the heart of our constitutional order. Elections are the tools our founders gave us as a substitute for civil war. For the American people to live in peace, it is essential for the outcomes of the fair elections be accepted by the losers as well as the winners. Any unjustified attack on the integrity of our elections is an attack on the order that underpins both our peace and our freedoms.
(That’s why Krugman fears that — even if the nation gets the Blue Wave election it so desperately needs, with Trump making baseless accusations to delegitimize a Blue Wave election — “we’ll be facing a nightmarish political scene.“)
All of which shows that any effort on Trump’s part to delegitimize an election that went against him – a Blue Wave election – by making false accusations would amount to an attack on the very constitutional order that this President took a solemn oath to protect.
(Indeed, the Constitution dictates no one can be granted the powers of the office of the President of the United States without taking that oath.)
It would be a shameful– and indeed criminal – violation of his oath and betrayal of the nation if Trump were to lie to the nation in order to
- delegitimize a fair election process, and thereby
- undermine the people’s trust in our constitutional process, and, for his own political purposes,
- foster conflict among the people.
And that, in turn, helps to frame why a Blue Wave is so important for the American people to generate on November 6th.
“The very fact, Mr. President, that your own history of making baseless accusations makes those warnings so plausible – that you might do such an un-American thing as baselessly delegitimize an election for your own purposes, undermining the order he took an oath to protect and defend – shows precisely why so many Americans are so energized right now to elect a Congress that will act as a check on such a President as you.
“You’ve turned the Republicans in Congress into your accomplices, and the American people would be right to conclude that their protection requires that they send a Blue Wave to Washington. And we believe the majority of the American people will do just that in this election.
“If we’re wrong about that, then woe to the nation. But even so, the people have a right to make their choice.
“But if we’re right, then you’re obliged to accept that the same process that made you President has also created a check against you.”
“You can’t have it both ways, Mr. President—endlessly trumpeting about the election that went your way (no other President we’ve had has so frequently pointed to his election victory to affirm himself and his right to power), while baselessly trying to delegitimize any election that goes against you.
“You’re obliged also to accept if the same electorate that made you President decides that it wants a Congress that will hold you accountable for any abuses of the powers of your office, and that will bring to light those truths that the people have a right to know.
“In so many ways and so blatantly, you’ve already shown contempt for our constitutional and legal order – like the way you’ve obstructed justice not secretly, as with Richard Nixon, but in the open, right before our eyes – that it is essential that the people’s right be honored to protect the system that has served the American people so well for more than two centuries.
“Don’t you dare, Mr. President, lie to try to delegitimize this election if it goes against you. Such a violation of your oath of office would in itself be an impeachable offense.”
[Note to readers: If you are persuaded that it would be important for Democratic spokespeople to follow this counsel, and if you have access to anyone who can get the attention of those who might implement this stratagem, I hope you’ll send this piece along.]