Home > Uncategorized > The 2020 coup as dress rehearsal for 2024 – posted 12/19/2021

The 2020 coup as dress rehearsal for 2024 – posted 12/19/2021

So much of the discussion of Trump’s failed coup attempt against democracy is about learning its many details. It is like putting together all the pieces in a huge jigsaw puzzle. Understanding is very important but I think less attention has been paid to what the coup attempt means for the future.

On TV, I saw the historian Timothy Snyder explain that a failed coup is practice for a successful coup. The coup plotters and the Republican Party have been studying why the coup in 2020 failed. They are taking steps now to insure the next coup in 2024 will be successful.

The Democrats appear asleep at the switch. They are not recognizing or responding to the magnitude of the anti-democratic threat. In their desire to normalize and be bi-partisan, they want to believe both sides play by the Marquess of Queensberry rules.

The autocratic threat has multiple dimensions and tracks. I would mention the role of state legislatures, intimidation of poll watchers and state election officials through threats and physical pressure, replacing state election officials or stripping them of their powers and destroying faith in democracy. All these dimensions are in play.

Although Trump lost the popular vote by a wide margin of over seven million votes, the currency Republicans are more concerned about is electors. In 2020, Trump needed 38 electors to reverse Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. Much of the Trump team’s efforts between November 2020-January 2021 was directed at inducing Republican legislatures in states that Biden won to switch and appoint Trump electors. The vote in the Electoral College was 306-232 in Biden’s favor.

Under our constitution, states appoint electors. States have always respected and deferred to the will of the voters. Electors have reflected majority vote. What the Republican partisans are engineering is a plan to fire the voters and replace them with Trump acolytes in key state legislatures they control. That way even if the Republicans lose the popular vote, a state legislature can appoint electors they desire.

The theoretical underpinning to justify the legal argument is the independent state legislature doctrine, a favorite construct of far right lawyers and jurists. The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the sole authority to set all election rules. What if state legislatures believe they can throw out electors and de-certify election results?

In his article in the Atlantic, “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun”, Barton Gellman looks at strategies state legislatures are already pursuing to politicize, criminalize, and interfere in election administration. In a broad way, this is about putting in places of power and decision-making proponents of the Big Lie of election fraud so that next time ballots will not decide elections.

Gellman cites examples from Georgia, Michigan and Arizona. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State, found no fraud and was censured by the Republican Party and is being primaried by Jody Hice, a U.S. Congress member, promoted by Trump. The Georgia legislature stripped Raffensperger of power as chief election officer. Raffensperger famously would not “find” 11,780 votes for Trump.

Trump also pushed former Senator David Perdue to primary the Georgia sitting governor, Brian Kemp. Trump had urged Kemp to use nonexistent emergency powers to overturn Biden’s Georgia win. Kemp refused and Trump found him insufficiently loyal.

In Michigan, the Republican Party removed Aaron Van Langevelde, a Republican, from the Board of State Canvassers because he rejected false and unproven claims of widespread voter fraud. Van Langevelde’s crime was that he voted to certify Biden’s win.

In Arizona, Trump endorsed Kari Lake for governor over the current Republican Governor, Doug Ducey, because Ducey also certified Biden’s win. Without evidence and after multiple recounts, Lake, a former TV anchor, called the 2020 election “shady, shoddy, and corrupt”. She earned the Trump nod by saying she would not have certified Biden’s win. The Arizona legislature is currently debating a bill to strip the Democratic Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, of her ability to defend election lawsuits.

Death threats and harassment from Trump supporters have terrified U.S. election workers. There are many examples. One Republican City Commissioner on the Philadelphia Board of Elections, Al Schmidt, received this threat,

“Tell the truth or your three kids will be fatally shot”, along with names of his children, his address and a photo of his home.

Schmidt received other messages: “Cops can’t help you”, “Heads on spikes” and “perhaps cuts and bullets will soon arrive at (his address)”. Schmidt had defended the vote-counting process in the face of unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in Philadelphia by Trump.

Rick Barron, the director of voting and elections in Fulton County, Georgia has been subject to a barrage of threats including a voicemail: “you will be served lead”.

Claire Woodall-Vogg, the executive director of Milwaukee’s election commission has received email threats saying she deserved to go before a firing squad and she was called “treasonous”. Woodhall-Vogg left the state for ten days and put in extra security at her home.

According to an April 2021 survey by the Brennan Center nearly one in three election officials feel unsafe in their job. Many non-partisan election officials are choosing to leave the profession, creating openings for the inexperienced. These code red level threats are a new 2020 phenomena attributable to pro-Trump fanatics.

Law enforcement has largely failed to respond to the threats. A Reuters investigation in September found 102 threats of violence or death against election officials in key battleground states. Reuters could only document four instances in which someone was charged. In August, John Keller, a senior attorney in the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section told a meeting of secretaries of state, “The response has been inadequate”.

Instead of responding to the threats, Republican legislators have created new laws that impose tough penalties for election officials who violate rules. In Iowa and Texas, election officials who commit “technical infractions” can suffer big financial penalties.

One of the worst harassment episodes was Trump’s baseless attacks on two Georgia election workers, Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea Moss. Trump and Rudy Giuliani falsely and repeatedly accused them of pulling false ballots from suitcases hidden under tables at a ballot-counting center. Trump slanderously called Freeman “a professional vote scammer” and “a hustler”.

The two African-American women received hundreds of death threats and racist taunts. Harassing strangers showed up at Freeman’s house. Even though local and state officials definitively disproved the fraud allegations, Freeman had to go into hiding. Trump-aligned social media demonized the two women. The most recent bizarre revelation was about how Kanye West’s publicist pressed Freeman to confess to Trump’s voter fraud allegations. Freeman was told she would go to jail if she did not confess.

Make no mistake: 2020 saw a deliberate effort to overturn a fair and free election. The Republican Party has degenerated into believing, without evidence, that Biden cheated. Even worse, in key battleground states, they have put into important positions proponents of the Big Lie while purging non-believers in the fantasy. They have gotten zealous buy-in from tens of millions. The coup almost succeeded in installing Trump as a dictator.

The Trump forces are destroying public faith in democracy. In their world, if fraud won, then democracy is already dead and it doesn’t matter what you do to win.

Gellman says the next coup will rely on subversion, not violence. If state legislatures can override voters, a far right Supreme Court can put the seal of legality on that.

I wish I saw the Democrats as up to the challenge but they are failing. To say their response has been muted is generous. President Biden has not used his bully pulpit to fight aggressively and consistently for voting rights and the Democratic Party remains divided, without clarity of focus or message. They passively watch the fascist advance. Maybe there will be a voting rights bill but who knows.

At the same time, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice have showed little inclination to go after big fish in the criminal coup. That is a failure of leadership that will come back to bite all people who support democracy.

Gellman says there is a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024. The urgent response required is not happening.

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