A few days ago I was talking with a sales agent in a local establishment about the election. He said: “I’m scared.” I did not have much to say by way of convincing comfort. Here is why.
Paul Waldman (Washington Post/Plum Line) reports how Republicans are now vowing Total War. And the consequences could be immense. (_h/t AZBlueMeanie_)
The election is just five days away, and something truly frightening is happening, something with far-reaching implications for the immediate future of American politics. Republicans, led by Donald Trump but by no means limited to him, are engaging in kind of termite-level assault on American democracy, one that looks on the surface as though it’s just aimed at Hillary Clinton, but in fact is undermining our entire system.
I know, my conservative friends will say that this kind of talk is just fear-mongering and exaggeration. But there is something deeply troubling happening right now, and it goes beyond the ordinary trading of blows in a campaign season. Consider these recent developments:
Here is a streamlined version of Waldman’s list.
- A war inside the FBI, with the result that “Pro-Trump FBI agents now seem to be coordinating with Trump surrogates to do maximal possible damage to Clinton. ”
- “The Republican nominee has explicitly asked a hostile foreign power to hack into his opponent’s electronic systems.”
- “High-ranking Republican officeholders are now suggesting that they may impeach Clinton as soon as she takes office.” These are people with “genuine power.”
- “There is a growing movement among Republicans in the Senate to simply refuse to approve any nominee appointed by a Democratic president to the Supreme Court, leaving open any and all vacancies until a Republican can be elected to fill them.” I might add: and thereby crippling our constitutionally based government.
- “State and local Republican officials are engaged in widespread and systematic efforts to suppress the votes of African-Americans and other groups likely to vote disproportionately Democratic …”
- “Republican elected officials increasingly feel emboldened to openly suggest violence against Clinton should she be elected.” Perhaps they are emboldened by Trump’s incendiary rhetoric.
It is important to understand that is not normal. This is not just bare-knuckle politics. Something extraordinary is happening.
Let’s take the FBI case as just one example. You have a situation where a group of FBI agents is in direct conflict with prosecutors who believe the agents have a weak case in their attempt to find evidence of corruption that can be used against Clinton. The agents, in an atrocious violation of FBI policy against injecting the Bureau into an election, begin leaking dark innuendo to reporters. That convinces the FBI director that he has no choice but to go public with the fact that the Bureau is looking at some emails that might or might not have something to do with Clinton, though no one has actually read them. That news lands like a bombshell, despite its complete lack of substance.
And then it turns out that these agents are basing their investigation on a book called “Clinton Cash” by Peter Schweizer. Schweizer is the president of the Government Accountability Institute, an organization co-founded and chaired by Steve Bannon. Who is the CEO of the Trump campaign. [Scriber: Rachel Maddow had a similar report last night.]
It’s important to understand that strong institutions are what separate strong democracies from weak ones. In a strong democracy, one party can’t come into power and just lock up its opponents. It can’t turn the country’s law enforcement agencies into a partisan tool to destroy the other party. It can’t say that the courts will function only at its pleasure. We have the world’s most stable system not just because there aren’t tanks in the streets on election day, but because we have institutions that are strong enough to restrain the venality of individual men and women. And now, Republicans are not even pretending that those institutions should be impartial and transcend partisanship. They’re saying, if we can use them to destroy our opponents, we will. Something is seriously breaking down.
And please, spare me any explanations for this phenomenon that rely on how “divided” Americans are. Are we divided? Sure. But there’s only one party that is so vigorously undermining core democratic institutions in this way. You may not like what Democrats stand for, but they aren’t engaging in widespread official vote suppression, chanting that should their candidate win her opponent should be tossed in jail, promising to prevent any Republican president from filling vacancies on the Supreme Court, suggesting that they’ll try to impeach their opponent as soon as he takes office, cheering when a hostile foreign power hacks into American electronic systems, and trying to use the FBI to win the election.
Only one party is doing all of that. And we should all be very worried about what Republicans will do after November 8, whether they win or lose.
That’s my November Ninth Nightmare. Will we be spared Waldman’s list of horrors if Trump wins? Not at all. For one thing, some of what he writes about is happening now. For another, remember that there is mounting evidence that Trump has close connections with Russian entities both in and out of the Russian government including, for example, the secret internet communications link between the Trump Tower and the Russian Alfa Bank.
The election may not be just about (Democratic vs. Republican) competing visions of our future. It may not be just about Clinton vs. Trump. The decision may actually be whether we face a right-wing insurrection at home or a hostile takeover attempt from abroad.
We could, I suppose, take solace in the ability of our institutions to survive assaults such as those of the Nixon years in the 70s. But, as Waldman says, the current events are “something extraordinary”. Never I think has there been political assaults directed at America on such a broad front.
If you think that I (along with Waldman) am being hysterical or even just over-reactive I invite you to make a spirited case discounting at least most of Waldman’s list. And tell that to the guy who said “I’m scared.”