December 5, 2020

Today’s news just amplifies yesterday’s, but the stories add up to an interesting scenario.

Coronavirus continues to devastate the country, with official deaths topping 281,000 today, but it turns out that the Trump administration did not actually have a plan for distribution of vaccines. Federal officials have drastically slashed the amount of vaccine they promised to states before the election. Instead of the 300 million doses the administration had promised before the end of 2020, the plan is currently to distribute 35 to 40 million doses. Even those, though, are plagued by bottlenecks in parts of the production process, as well as manufacturing issues. This means a longer struggle with the disease than many had come to expect.

Trump continues to refuse to acknowledge his loss in the November election. This morning, before a scheduled rally in Georgia for two Republican senators facing runoffs against their Democratic challengers, Trump called Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to pressure him to overturn Biden’s win in the state. Trump asked Kemp to convince the state legislature to ignore Biden’s victory and appoint their own slate of electors who would give the president the state’s votes in the Electoral College. Biden won Georgia by about 12,000 votes, and Georgia law does not permit the legislature to submit alternative electors. When Kemp, who is a Republican, declined to do as Trump asked, Trump took to Twitter to attack him.

Trump also asked Kemp to demand an audit of the signatures on mail-in ballots, which Kemp does not have the power to do. Georgia’s governor may not interfere in elections. Instead, the state secretary of state has jurisdiction, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has defended the existing signature match process and says there is no evidence of fraud.

At tonight’s rally, Trump continued to insist he had won the election and to assure attendees they are all victims of the Democrats’ plot to steal the election. The rally was nominally about the senate candidates, but Trump treated it pretty much as he treated his rallies before the election. He is convincing his supporters that the election was rigged, and that President-Elect Biden will be an illegitimate president.

Trump loyalists at the Pentagon continue to refuse to let Pentagon officials communicate with Biden’s transition team. According to an official, the Pentagon chief of staff Kash Patel, a former staffer for California Representative Devin Nunes appointed after the election, has rewritten policy descriptions to reflect well on Trump before letting Biden’s people see them. He has also stopped communications. He “told everybody we're not going to cooperate with the transition team,” an official said, and he has "put a lot of restrictions on it." He is “controlling the information flow.” This will put the Biden camp behind on getting up to speed on sensitive foreign policy issues with Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, and North Korea, hurting national security.

Also today, the Washington Post printed the results of its query to all 249 Republicans in the House and Senate, asking them who won the 202 presidential election. Only 27 of them are willing to acknowledge that Biden won. Two Republicans insist that Trump won the election, all evidence to the contrary. The rest of them—220 of them—refuse to say who won.

This is a big deal. This was not a close election. Biden currently has over 7 million more votes than Trump, and has won by 306 to 232 in the Electoral College. And yet, Republican leadership is permitting Trump to undermine our democracy. Try to imagine any past Republican president doing what Trump is doing, and you can’t. But today’s Republican lawmakers are standing to the side, permitting Trump to poison our democracy.

To what end? Why are Republicans accepting this anti-American behavior from Trump?

It seems to me they are unwilling to risk losing Trump’s voters in the future because they are determined to regain power. They don’t much care about our democracy, so long as they have a shot at keeping Trump’s people on their side. But then, again, to what end? If Republicans regain power in 2022 or 2024, what will that look like? Do we have any reason to think they will then begin to defend our democracy? Do we have any reason to think they are interested in anything but even more legislation that moves wealth upward?

We have been in a spot much like this before. In 1884, Americans turned against the Republican Party because it had abandoned its support for ordinary Americans in favor of the industrial leaders who put money into Republican lawmakers’ political war chests, as well as into their pockets. Voters put Democrat Grover Cleveland into the White House, the first Democrat to hold the presidency since James Buchanan was elected in 1856.

Horrified, the Republicans flooded the country with stories of how Democrats were socialists who would attack the rich by ending the legislation that protected businesses. If Democrats continued to control the government, Republicans said, they would destroy America. In 1888, they suppressed Democratic votes and created modern political financing as they hit up businessmen for major donations. Despite their best efforts, voters reelected Cleveland by about 100,000 votes, but Republicans managed to eke out a win for their candidate, Benjamin Harrison, in the Electoral College. Harrison promised a “BUSINESSMAN’S ADMINISTRATION,” and indeed, in office, he and his men did all they could to cement the Republican Party into power so it could continue to defend business (among other things, they added six new states to the Union to pack the Electoral College).

But voters still didn’t like the Republicans’ platform, which seemed more and more to funnel money from hardworking Americans upward into the pockets of those men who were increasingly portrayed as robber barons. In 1892, they voted for Cleveland in such numbers they couldn’t be overridden in the Electoral College. Voters also put Democrats in charge of Congress, both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

And that is the moment I cannot help thinking about today. Faced with a legitimately elected Democratic government, Republican leaders deliberately sabotaged the country. They swamped the media with warnings that Democrats would destroy the economy and that men should pull their capital out of stocks and industries. Foreign capital should, they said, go home or face disaster. Money began to flow out of the country and stocks faltered. When financiers begged the Harrison administration to shore up the markets in the face of the growing panic, administration officials told them their job was only to keep the country afloat until the day of Cleveland’s inauguration.

They didn’t quite make it. The economy collapsed about ten days before Cleveland took the oath of office, saddling the new president with the Panic of 1893 and very few ways to combat it. Republicans had deliberately sabotaged the country in order to discredit Cleveland, then demanded he honor the demands of financiers to stabilize the economy. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Cleveland tried to work with moneyed interests to combat the depression and promptly split his own party. The country roiled as out-of-work Americans despaired, some of them marching on Washington, D.C., to demand the government do something to address their plight.

The Republicans went into the 1894 midterm elections blaming the Democrats for the crisis in the country. They won the midterms in what remains the largest seat swing in the history of the House of Representatives. Then they claimed that, with Republicans back in power, the economy was now safe. They papered the country with media announcing that the panic was over and people should reinvest. The panic was over, and a Republican president won in 1896, once again insisting the Democrats were socialists, but this time adding that the past four years had proved the Democrats could not run the economy.

There is no excuse for the silence of Republican lawmakers as their president attacks our democracy. But there might be a precedent.

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Notes:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-kemp-call-georgia/2020/12/05/fd8d677c-3721-11eb-8d38-6aea1adb3839_story.html

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/trump-loyalist-kash-patel-blocking-some-pentagon-officials-helping-biden-n1250053

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/12/05/operation-warp-speed-coronavirus-vaccine-shortfall/

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html

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