Watching a proud American president debase himself before a worldwide television audience Thursday night was … well, heartbreaking. Rarely have I witnessed such a sad spectacle. Faced with the prospect of losing the election, the president of the United States attacked the very institution that put him in power in the first place. Our commander in chief became the whiner in chief.
Among the things he said were these: “I won by historic numbers.” “They’re trying to steal the election.” “Rig an election.” “Fraud.” “They cheated.” “Secret count rooms.” “Unfair process.” “Corrupt system.” “Don’t want us to have any observers.” “Finding ballots all over the place.” “Unprecedented.” “Democrats never thought they could win this election honestly.” “Refused to verify signatures.” “A lot of shenanigans.” “Can’t have an election stolen.”
As if that’s not enough, Trump’s son later tweeted that his father would “go to war” over this.
Specifically, the president is complaining about the massive number of mail-in ballots, though he and the first lady both used mail-in ballots. Of course, the record number of mail-in ballots occurred for good reason, and it was not some vast interstate political conspiracy. It was the global pandemic. The one that has killed nearly a quarter of a million Americans already, set a new record for infections just Thursday and killed the wife of a dear friend of mine earlier this week.
That’s why it’s taking so long to count the votes. These people — many of whom are elderly and didn’t want to risk infection by voting in person — didn’t vote after Election Day. They voted before! They’re just being counted last.
One obvious problem with the president’s voter-fraud theory is that two states that pushed Biden over the top — Arizona and Georgia — are run by Republicans. He didn’t even need Pennsylvania. And, of course, the election as a whole was good for Republicans. Very good. The so-called Blue Wave never materialized. Democrats failed to turn a single state legislature blue. They did not flip the U.S. Senate. They did not flip a single House seat. They lost seats instead.
The only Republican who had a bad election night was the president. And who could be surprised? His job approval rating never got above 45%. In a country as closely divided as ours, that’s not going to get you reelected.
If incidents of fraud or misconduct actually occurred, rest assured we will get to the bottom of it. Team Trump has filed lawsuits all over the country. Some already have been dismissed for lack of evidence. One resulted in Trump supporters getting to have more observers and in closer proximity to the actual vote-counting process. Fair enough.
What those observers are likely to see is what most of us have been seeing. Republicans and Democrats — nearly all of whom are unpaid — working side by side to ensure the integrity of our electoral process. To make certain that every single person is heard. That every lawful ballot is counted. It is as near a sacred act as anything that goes on in our republic.
Though the president’s actions on Thursday were predictable (he said as early as 2016 that he would only accept the results of the 2020 election if he won), they are dangerous. Millions of Americans revere our president and take his words as their marching orders. Some already have taken to the streets, shouting at poll workers and banging on windows and doors. Armed militias are standing by. The head of elections in Clark County, Nevada, admitted that his wife and mother are worried about him going in to work.
That’s why some Republican congressmen like Adam Kinzinger and Will Hurd are calling on the president and his inner circle to dial it back. But others should do the same.
During the worst days of Watergate, it was Republican statesmen like Howard Baker and Barry Goldwater who prevailed upon the president to step down. Today, we have Mitch McConnell and Lamar Alexander. Men who have shown they have one set of rules for their political friends, another for their enemies. Will such men stand up to a president who is threatening to go off the rails? I don’t know.
Here‘s what I do know. What’s going on in the White House is no different than what goes on in parks and playgrounds the world over. A kid loses a game and, rather than accept defeat, turns the board over or takes his ball and goes home.
If prominent Republicans will make their voices heard, the legal process will run its course and what went on Thursday night will be little more than an embarrassing moment in American history.
Should they fail to speak up, history may not be so kind.