Trump Dances while Rome Burns

This was written before the attack on the Capitol yesterday. I originally wrote this with the idea of exploring the motivation behind telling constituents the election was “stolen.” I hope this story helps inform people about the political motivations that ultimately allowed yesterday’s attack to happen.

The attack was a horrific consequence of the President of the United States promoting conspiracy, lies, and disinformation. Almost 4000 Americans died yesterday due to COVID-19, four people died as a result of the attack at the Capitol. Those deaths rest squarely on the shoulders of Donald Trump and the politicians that support him. These are the names of 126 of the alleged 140 House members that opposed the certification yesterday, here is the list of the 12 Senators. They should be held accountable.

What happened

This past Saturday (Jan. 2) a total of 12 GOP Senators went on record to say they will oppose the formal certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. The announcements add to the 140 GOP House members who also said they will challenge the January 6th certification.

All of the states except Wisconsin certified their election results before the December 8 safe-harbor deadline. That means each state addressed any remaining objections (audits and recounts) and has documented the accuracy of their results. The ceremony on Wednesday requires each state’s result to be read aloud in Congress. A challenge can happen during the reading of any state’s results, but federal law requires that at least one member of the House and the Senate must object in writing to a state’s results in order for the challenge to proceed.That’s only happened twice since 1887, according to the Congressional Research Service.” In order for the challenge to be successful, a majority in both the House and Senate must vote to reject a state’s electoral votes. That’s unlikely to happen given the Democrats control the House.

The pledge to oppose the certification is a direct challenge to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s and other Republican leaders’ requests to certify Biden’s win. But more importantly, these elected officials have chosen to ignore the absence of supporting evidence, the findings from all the state court challenges, the changing narrative of what made the election fraudulent, and, something that is not pointed out often enough, that somehow only the presidential results were fraudulent on a ballot including Senate and other political positions.

Why does it matter

Disenfranchise voters

So why the theater? How can people savvy enough to attain the presidency or any other political leadership role entertain such ridiculous delusions in the face of so much evidence to the contrary? Because their purpose is not to overturn the election but to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters before the next presidential election. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx) said as much yesterday just before the Capitol building was attacked. “I am not arguing for setting aside the results of this election… that we appoint an electoral commission to conduct a 10-day emergency audit, consider the evidence, and resolve the claims.” Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) had a different view of what Cruz and the other far-right Republicans had in mind. In his open letter to his constituents Sasse wrote, “All the clever arguments and rhetorical gymnastics in the world won’t change the fact that this January 6th effort is designed to disenfranchise millions of Americans simply because they voted for someone in a different party.”

Fracture the Republican party

President Trump and the politicians that support him represent a rise of the far-right in the US and the Republican party. They are not only a danger to the country (as painfully witnessed yesterday) but also to the Republican party itself.

As President Trump continues to pressure other officials to support his baseless assertions, he is forcing them to explicitly choose a side—mainstream or far-right. The one hundred fifty-two politicians that supported Trump’s electoral opposition yesterday “voted” for the far-right. While the far-right may be a minority group, they have an outsize influence on society through the media. Trump and the RNC raised almost a half-billion dollars between October and November of last year to help overturn the election.

In 2016, Joe Klein at Time magazine foresaw the “toxic” effect Trump would have on the Republican party, even if he lost (my emphasis). Klein saw best and worst-case scenarios. The best being Republicans (who didn’t want Trump to run at first) engaged in “a civil war between the Trump and “Establishment” factions of the party. The worst cases involve a clean break, a new right-wing populist party, anchored by a Trump-Breitbart-Ailes media empire.” Fox News may not be part of the new right-wing party mix but other media outlets have risen to the occasion and make no mistake represent the most dangerous part of the far-right—unfiltered access to widely distribute and promote disinformation.

Presidential behavior matters

Behavior matters in elected leaders-ironically, it was Republicans that made it so when they impeached President Clinton for having lied about an extramarital affair while under oath for a personal lawsuit. In doing so, Congress determined that behavior (lying) was an impeachable offense and therefore a threat to the country. So, what does that make calling on state officials to “find” 11,780 more votes? What about continually lying about a legitimate election outcome then inciting a mob to protest it? To be fair, Trump never explicitly called for violence. But the warm-up speakers set the tone (particularly Don Jr.) before Trump Sr. used lies and conspiracies to tell people to fight, to oppose suppression[sic], and to go to the Capitol building to “cheer” on politicians. You can watch the rally at the Ellipse for yourself.

The constitution and the law allow for politicians to contest election results. President Trump has explored all of those avenues, he lost. Using the power of his office to threaten rivals, use pardons as payments, and undermine the legitimacy of the elections is not normal, nor should he be allowed to do these things without consequence. Trump’s words and behavior go against his oath of office.

How did we get here

Trump has been claiming the elections were fraudulent before he ever ran for office. He railed against the system after President Obama was elected to his first term in office. In 2016, despite winning against Hillary Clinton, he claimed “millions” of illegal immigrants had voted in the election and caused him to lose the popular vote. As a result, he created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (Voter Fraud Commission) to investigate illegal aliens voting in elections. Essentially, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was allowed to spend tax-payer money to determine that 5 illegal aliens over the last 20 years accidentally voted. The commission’s effect however was to scare thousands of Democratic-leaning immigrants from voting. Rick Hasen of the University of California, Irvine, an expert on election law, told the Washington Post that the commission was “a pretext to pass legislation that will make it harder for people to register to vote… .”

What comes next

After the events at the Capitol, Donald Trump should be held accountable for his actions. It was his rally on the Ellipse that moved the crowd to take action at the Capitol and it was his inaction that allowed the violence to continue. Impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment are being discussed.

In the next four years, the US may see a new political party emerge. It will be a group built by Trump and his loyalists. They will be the US’ first far-right party. While Trump may be a founding member, he will only be relevant politically as long as he draws crowds and donors to the cause. Trump is 74 years old, running for president again in 2024 is unlikely. As legal action proceeds against him and his debts outweigh his contributions, he will become a burden to the far-right agenda. That’s good and bad. Trump was a chaotic cloud of destruction whose ineptitude kept him from being effective at anything other than divisiveness. A more composed politician will be an absolute threat to the country.

By Adam Ragozzino

Adam Ragozzino is a Boston-based analyst who has worked as a research and policy analyst in the US. Currently, he is an independent consultant and runs Acies Lumen, LLC, a fledgling geopolitical research firm. He writes about international affairs and conflict with a particular focus on Africa. When not chained to a desk or under lockdown, you can find him riding or skiing in the northeast US.

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