The Republican Party is increasingly authoritarian

Donald Trump’s behavior after losing the election was expected. The lame-duck president signaled an unwillingness to accept the results weeks in advance, and he planted the seeds of doubt regarding mail-in ballots as far back as June.

What’s more shocking is the willingness of large chunks of the Republican Party to play along with his authoritarian power plays and repeated attempts to overturn the presidential election (and no other election). If successful in his quest to invalidate millions of votes, Trump would effectively be dismantling what’s left of American democracy.

But he’s not alone in his attacks on American democracy.

As if on cue, Republican lawmakers in Georgia are proposing the elimination of no-excuse mail-in voting, nixing secure ballot drop boxes, and instituting a voter ID requirement for absentee ballots. The proposed legislation is in response to the president’s false claims of rampant mail-in voting fraud. Instead of standing up for Georgia voters and defending the rule of law, these lawmakers are bending the knee to a would-be autocrat.

Likewise, the attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, has made a mockery of the courts with a frivolous lawsuit against the battleground states of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Paxton claims that the four battleground states – all of which President-elect Joe Biden won – improperly changed their election procedures to accommodate voters during the COVID-19 pandemic. (It’s worth noting that several subordinates recently accused Paxton of bribery and abuse of office.)

Not to be outdone, seventeen Republican state attorneys general (along with the president himself) threw their support behind the Texas lawsuit, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and throw the election to Trump. Undoubtedly the publicity-seeking attorneys general will relish their moment in the sun – but at the cost of democratic norms and the reputation of the courts in the eyes of the public.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel – who was recently the target of armed Trump supporters protesting at her home – called Paxton’s lawsuit “beneath the dignity of the office of [the] attorney general and the people of the great state of Texas.” She added that the complaint has “already been thoroughly litigated and roundly rejected in both state and federal courts — by judges appointed from both political parties.”

By the way, if it strikes you as odd that one state sues another state (let alone multiple states) regarding how they conduct their own elections (over a month after that election is already completed, no less), that’s because it is highly unusual.

Which brings us back to the title of this piece. The Republican Party is increasingly authoritarian. And it’s not just Trump that we’re talking about but his enablers in Congress and state government as well.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr


Supreme Court rejects bid to overturn Pennsylvania election results

In the latest court defeat for President Trump and his allies, the United States Supreme Court denied a request to invalidate over 2.5 million ballots in the state of Pennsylvania.

President-elect Joe Biden won the state of Pennsylvania with a margin of over 80,000 votes. However, Trump and his allies have sought to discredit Biden’s victory and overturn the results across multiple states.

According to NPR:

The lawsuit was brought by Republican Rep. Mike Kelly, who argued a 2019 state law authorizing universal mail-in voting is unconstitutional and that all ballots cast by mail in the general election in Pennsylvania should be thrown out.

“The application for injunctive relief presented to Justice Alito and by him referred to the Court is denied,” read the court’s order, which did not comment further or suggest any dissent among the court’s nine justices.

Kelly, along with several others, filed the lawsuit on Nov. 21 and requested Pennsylvania either reject the over 2.5 million ballots that were cast by mail or allow state lawmakers to select presidential electors. Republicans control Pennsylvania’s state legislature.

The state Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the lawsuit on Nov. 28, saying the GOP had waited too long to challenge the law.

Photo Credit: Wally Gobetz, Flickr


Trump’s Dangerous Attacks on Democracy

Trump continues his campaign of sabotage against democratic institutions as Inauguration Day approaches.

America’s democratic project has always been tenuous. Our past is riddled with examples of why we can’t yet lay claim to being a fully democratic republic. Women didn’t win the right to vote until 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. Black Americans didn’t win the right to vote in practice until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Both fought long and hard civil rights struggles which continue to this day.

Our institutions continue to be less-than-strong democratic pillars. Republicans continue to enjoy a significant structural advantage in a gerrymandered U.S. House, the Electoral College, and a Senate which gives disproportionate political power to small states. However, Donald Trump’s attack on democratic institutions, from the courts to our entire election system, is unprecedented in modern American history. This attack on democracy threatens to destroy already tenuous democratic institutions and norms. Social progress and civil rights rely on strong democratic institutions and that is exactly why Trump and the right-wing are attempting to destroy them.

Stephen Bannon, one of Trump’s 2016 campaign CEOs and his Chief Strategist at the White House (January  – August 2017), called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state” shortly after Trump was inaugurated in February 2017.

Bannon described part of what he had in mind in this CNN article:

If you look at these Cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason and that is the deconstruction, the way the progressive left runs, is if they can’t get it passed, they’re just gonna put in some sort of regulation in — in an agency. That’s all gonna be deconstructed and I think that that’s why this regulatory thing is so important.

The Trump presidency consisted of four tumultuous years of stacking federal agencies and institutions with loyalists, some of which had close to no knowledge of the agency they were appointed to head, with the intention of stripping these institutions and agencies of their effectiveness. 

But we now see that this deconstruction went far beyond a few agencies. The aim of Bannon and the Trump Administration was the deconstruction of Ameircan democracy, because this is the only way they can force through their unpopular, authoritarian agenda and remain in power.

So, we arrive at the 2020 election. After trailing in the polls during the entire campaign, Trump spent the last few months of the campaign delegitimizing our election system, claiming that any Democratic win would be the result of voter fraud.

After the November 3rd election, Trump lawyers launched a massive litigation campaign aimed at overturning the results of elections in numerous battleground states. Lawyer Marc Elias keeps track of Trump’s lawsuits on Twitter. Elias notes that as of Dec 5th, Trump had lost 46 out of 47 lawsuits.

While these lawsuits likely won’t overturn election results, the constant drumbeat of baseless election fraud allegations is affecting public opinion in a dangerous way. According to a Reuters poll conducted Nov 13 – 17:

Fifty-two percent of Republicans said that Trump “rightfully won,” while only 29% said that Biden had rightfully won.

Asked why, Republicans were much more concerned than others that state vote counters had tipped the result toward Biden: 68% of Republicans said they were concerned that the election was “rigged,” while only 16% of Democrats and one-third of independents were similarly worried.

It’s not unusual for the losing side to question the legitimacy of the other side’s victory, as the Washington Post notes. The difference this year is that a sitting president has not conceded defeat, claims that he won in a landslide, is calling for election results in multiple states to be overturned, and is continuing baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. These claims coming from a president have the potential to foster enormous distrust in our democratic institutions, or worse. 

Trump’s attacks aren’t aimed solely at the election system. He’s looking ahead to after he’s forced from office in January, where he aims to continue to delegitimize President-elect Biden’s administration. 

On December 1, it was revealed that Attorney General Bill Barr is putting those plans into place: According to the AP:

Attorney General William Barr has given extra protection to the prosecutor he appointed to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, granting him authority to complete the work without being easily fired.

Barr told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he had appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham as a special counsel in October under the same federal regulations that governed special counsel Robert Mueller in the original Russia probe. He said Durham’s investigation has been narrowing to focus more on the conduct of FBI agents who worked on the Russia investigation, known by the code name of Crossfire Hurricane.

How “narrow” Durham’s investigations stay once the Biden administration is sworn in remains to be seen. But should he decide to hobble the new administration with a broadening investigation, Barr has already made it more difficult to get rid of Durham. 

The AP continues:

Under the regulations, a special counsel can be fired only by the attorney general and for specific reasons such as misconduct, dereliction of duty or conflict of interest. An attorney general must document such reasons in writing.

In this situation, the Biden administration would be faced with either giving in to prolonged investigations by Durham, ignoring Durham’s legal requests and appearing as though they may have something to hide, or even attempting to fire Durham altogether, which Barr has now made more difficult. Either way, Trump’s legacy of delegitimizing and damaging our democratic institutions will last well past his last days in office.

Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images


Trump pressures Georgia governor to overturn election results

In yet another example of the lengths that Donald Trump will go to hold onto power, the Washington Post is reporting that the outgoing president pressured Georgia’s Republican governor to overturn that state’s election results. A third official count – the initial count plus two recounts – confirmed that Biden won the state with a nearly 12,000 vote lead.

According to the Washington Post:

President Trump called Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) on Saturday morning to urge him to persuade the state legislature to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state and asked the governor to order an audit of absentee ballot signatures, the latest brazen effort by the president to interfere in the 2020 election.

Hours before he was scheduled to hold a rally in Georgia on behalf of the state’s two GOP senators, Trump pressed Kemp to call a special session of the state legislature to get lawmakers to override the results and appoint electors that would back him, according to a person familiar with the conversation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private call. He also asked the governor to demand an audit of signatures on mail ballots, something Kemp has previously noted he has no power to do.

Kemp declined the entreaty from Trump, according to the person.

Trump sent out a tweet on Saturday to his millions of followers, questioning the loyalty of two of Georgia’s leading Republican state leaders, Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Trump is scheduled to appear at a campaign rally on behalf of Georgia’s two incumbent Republican senators. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue find themselves in tight races with control of the Senate on the line. It’s unclear how Georgia voters will respond to Trump’s continued attempts to subvert American democracy.

Photo Credit: Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead

Analysis News

Michael Flynn calls on Trump to declare martial law, overturn election results

Fresh off of a pardon, disgraced retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn has called on President Trump to declare martial law, suspend the Constitution, and overturn the presidential election results.

Flynn – who was forced to resign as Trump’s first National Security Adviser after serving for just 24 days – lent his support to a newspaper ad from a fringe Tea Party-affiliated group called We the People Convention. The ad reads like a screed decrying “leftists,” “socialists,” “domestic and international communists,” and other imagined enemies.

However, the most notable section from the ad calls on Trump to assume dictatorial powers:

When the legislators, courts and/or Congress fail to do their duty under the 12th Amendment, you must be ready Mr. President to immediately declare a limited form of Martial Law, and temporarily suspend the Constitution and civilian control of these federal elections, for the sole purpose of having the military oversee a national re-vote.

Needless to say, it is highly unusual for a retired lieutenant general to call on the president of the United States to declare martial law. It’s even more unusual when that person is a former National Security Adviser and campaign adviser to that very same president – a president who had granted his own former official a pardon for a crime that Flynn pleaded guilty.

While many will be tempted to write off Flynn as a kook, the man has both a large following (over 1 million followers on Twitter, to be precise) and the ear of Donald Trump. Again, despite admitting to lying to the FBI, Trump granted this man a pardon just days ago.

Retired Army officer Paul Yingling put it in starker terms: “Flynn’s anti-election propaganda is an essential precursor to violent terrorist attacks on legitimate electoral outcomes,” Yingling told The Daily Beast. “When the bombs go off, the blood is on Mike Flynn’s hands.”

Even if no violence results – which is hardly guaranteed at this rate – the damage that Trump and Flynn are inflicting on American democracy is real and will last long after this presidency ends.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr


Arizona certifies Biden win as AG Barr admits no widespread voter fraud

The state of Arizona certified President-elect Joe Biden’s win on Monday. Typically a formality, the certification process has gained attention as President Trump levies false allegations and attempts to overturn election results in states that he lost.

According to CNN:

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, certified the election results Monday morning, saying the elections process was the most secure in recent history, “despite unfounded claims to the contrary.” The state’s Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich, along with Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, witnessed the certification, as required by state law. These three officials are Republicans.

Joe Biden won Arizona with a 10,457 vote margin, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office. This is the first time that a Democratic presidential candidate has won Arizona since 1996.

The traditionally Republican state became a top target of Democrats after the party won a Senate seat in 2018. After Senator-elect Mark Kelly’s victory this year, Democrats now hold both Senate seats in Arizona.

Trump attacked Arizona’s incumbent Republican governor, Doug Ducey, who signed the certification. Trump alleged that Ducey “betrayed the people of Arizona.”

According to the Arizona Republic, Ducey defended the integrity of the election and responded to the outgoing president’s tirade:

Here’s what the law says. It requires the Secretary of State, in the presence of the Governor and the Attorney General, to canvass the election on the fourth Monday following the general election. That was today. This can ONLY be delayed if counties DECLINE to certify their results. ALL 15 counties in Arizona — counties run by both parties — certified their results. The canvass of the election triggers a 5-day window for any elector to bring a credible challenge to the election results in court. If you want to contest the results, now is the time. Bring your challenges. That’s the law. I’ve sworn an oath to uphold it, and I take my responsibility seriously.

Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr – a Trump appointee known for his fierce loyalty to the president – admitted that the election results were legitimate.

“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the Associated Press.

Last month, in an unusual directive, Barr ordered U.S. attorneys to launch federal investigations into voter fraud. The order circumvented longstanding Department of Justice precedent that prohibited launching investigations before states certified election results. The move prompted the DOJ’s top election crimes prosecutor to resign in protest.