When Donald Trump’s liar-for-hire Rudy Giuliani proclaimed last week that the president’s election rejection was due to “a massive fraud,” it wasn’t only dark hair dye that leaked out. It was Giuliani’s last remaining trickle of credibility, assuming any still remained after several years of crooked buffoonery in service of a crooked president. Insisting that he won an election that he overwhelmingly lost, Trump has abandoned any last pretense of caring about the country he leads. And Giuliani, flailing wildly, matched The Boss grotesquerie for grotesquerie. “I know crimes. I can smell ’em,” puffed the reported subject of an FBI investigation.
Repeating over and over that the election was “stolen” from him, Trump hasn’t merely enshrined himself as the most morally bankrupt public official in American history. By refusing to honor the most fundamental feature of democracy — the cooperative transfer of power by an incumbent to his elected successor — Trump has done more damage to American democracy than Vladimir Putin ever could, other than by military attack. He has invited hostile forces, jubilant at the harm he has inflicted on America’s institutions, to seek to take advantage of us, jeopardizing our national security.
By blocking the incoming Biden team from organizing to immediately address a pandemic that has seen 3 million new cases in three weeks, Trump is consigning innumerable Americans to unnecessary sickness and, inevitably, death. History will record that the 45th president did not merely ignore COVID-19, stupidly dismiss it, refuse to mobilize to protect his countrymen from it and lie to them about it. Trump has actually prevented his elected successor from promptly acting to safeguard the American people from the raging disease that he bailed on.
Donald Trump will not enter our pantheon of shame by himself. He has been coddled and enabled by Republican politicians more disposed to cower and grovel than honor the basic civics lessons we were all taught in elementary school.
There have been rare exceptions, and they have been notable. “Having failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy before any court of law,” said Sen. Mitt Romney last week, “the president has now resorted to overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election. It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president.”
In Pennsylvania, federal judge Mathew Brann, a conservative Republican, did not permit personal politics to affect judicial review of Trump’s attempt to overthrow that state’s election by invalidating millions of properly cast ballots. Likening the president’s “strained” legal attempt to undo a fair election to “Frankenstein’s monster,” Judge Brann was blunt. Trump, he held, “ask(s) the Court to violate the rights of over 6.8 million Americans. It is not in the power of this Court to violate the Constitution.”
But the grim truth is that the fault lies with ourselves. By embracing a president who has subverted fundamental democratic norms, we have proven ourselves unworthy of the self-admiration with which we indulge ourselves. Our appreciation of what a democracy means, let alone our commitment to it, is in grave doubt.
Farah Pandith, the State Department’s former Representative to Muslim Communities, has called for a national initiative to promote democracy at home that rivals our much-ballyhooed initiatives abroad. We must, Pandith writes, “reintroduce ourselves” to democratic values.
She’s right. It is hubris to suppose that what we have will long endure if we cavalierly permit the sort of travesty we have experienced over the past four years to recur. Nearly half of American voters have evinced a willingness to do just that. Plainly, America is in a hole it needs to dig itself out of.
Jeff Robbins is a Boston lawyer and former U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.