The President of the United States and 18 Republican attorneys general, led by Ken Paxton of Texas, attempted to cast millions of votes in other states – effectively calling for a Supreme Court-ordered coup. That was insane, of course, but we should never forget that this is the end of a four year process in which abnormal behavior was tolerated and Republicans engaged in President Donald Trump’s authoritarian and corrupt behavior.
Think back to a billion message cycles. During the previous transition (and for years after) Trump extolled his election victory and showed his voting card. President-elect Joe Biden, on the other hand, said practically nothing about his profit margin. He knows he has won; He is now focused on the government. Trump’s obsession with his own personal triumphs, however exaggerated and skewed, was a tell-tale sign that he intended to develop a personality cult.
Or consider how Trump dealt with family issues and finances. He has never really built a blind trust to part with his business empire and has actually continued to earn money with his presidency (e.g. charging the Secret Service for luxury rooms in his hotels, conducting business on his real estate). He placed his daughter and son-in-law in powerful positions for which they had no experience. Biden has no business empire and does not practice nepotism.
Even when news comes that Biden’s son Hunter is being investigated on a tax matter, Biden says nothing on the matter, does not attack prosecutors, or even encourages hope that his son will be resolved. “President-elect Biden is deeply proud of his son, who has overcome difficult challenges, including the vicious personal attacks of the past few months, to come out empowered,” the campaign said throughout. Hmm, this is new.
Only when we return to normal will we fully appreciate the serial attacks on democracy, decency, and the rule of law. Unlike Trump, Biden does not:
- Decipher the media as an “enemy of the people”.
- Pick out individual legislators as “losers”.
- Raise his followers as “real” Americans.
- Pick individual companies for retaliation.
- Praise bizarre threats and insults against foreign leaders.
- Brag about the wealth of his cabinet secretaries.
- Promise to “lock up” his opponent.
- Insist on hiding his tax returns.
- Explain that millions of votes were cast by illegal immigrants living in the United States.
- Designate an oil executive to be the secretary of state.
- Insist he knows more than the generals (and everyone else about everything).
- Program to ban Muslims from the country.
- Promise Mexico will pay for a border wall.
It’s important to remember not only the height of Trump’s confused authoritarianism (which called for the election to be overthrown), but how we got here. When Trump methodically attacked democratic norms, constitutional restrictions (e.g. the remuneration clause), basic standards of courtesy, and objective reality, his Republican enablers remained silent or encouraged his wrongdoing. Not every violation is of constitutional importance, but minor violations multiply if left unaddressed. Small violations of decency lead to more serious violations. And 20,000 lies later, the MAGA crowd will buy pretty much anything, no matter how tangled and incoherent.
The lesson from the Trump years is that one party alone cannot maintain the habits of democratic self-government. The courts can do their part (as they did in dismissing more than 50 unfounded claims), the media can do their job, and officials can hold the line, but one party can, by omission or commission, make grotesque views and expectations of dozens distort millions of people. A conspiratorial, unrealistic population that rejects the basic principles of democracy will be the grim legacy of Trump and the Republicans.