If the sword of Damocles hanging over the country’s democracy was previously invisible, President Trump’s broadsides against the country’s political norms during Tuesday night’s presidential debate brought the threat into sharp and terrifying focus.
Speaking to a national audience of some 65 million, the president of the United States essentially told a terrorist group, the Proud Boys, to stand by, supposedly, I imagine, to help him stay in office.
He told his followers to crash the polls to protect the integrity of the ballot, which is another phrase for suppressing Democratic votes; and he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
Five years ago, such presidential utterances would have triggered the implementation of the 25th Amendment, which, among other things, provides a path to replace an incapacitated president.
Clearly, no American president can be more incapacitated than one who sees himself as the Putin of the west.
David Sanger, writing for The New York Times, appears to concur.
Forget about the Russian interference in our elections, the president’s debate comments “were a stark reminder that the most direct threat to the electoral process now comes from the president of the United States himself,” Mr. Sanger wrote.
“His unwillingness to say he would abide by the result, and his disinformation campaign about the integrity of the American electoral system went far beyond anything President Vladimir V. Putin could have imagined.”
Yet, Senate Republicans, the political group most equipped to check the president’s sabotage of the American democracy, have gone rogue. In their every action, they seem to be helping the president prepare the country for authoritarian rule.
Republicans’ propensity to excuse the president’s undemocratic moves is so ingrained that the media often make heroes out those who proffer the mildest rebuke his actions.
Asked during Tuesday night debate to denounce white supremacists, Trump instead directed the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the only Black Republican senator, said the president misspoke.
“I think he misspoke; I think he should correct it,” Sen. Scott said. “If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak.”
The media is playing up these comments as one of those rare occasions of a Senate Republican pushing back against the president’s outrageous behavior.
The media is being too generous.
Sen. Scott merely offered us the Republicans’ default defense of Trump’s destabilizing tenure, which is, the president doesn’t mean the scary things he says.
The president may walk back his words, but he won’t reign in authoritarian impulses, and frankly Republicans don’t want him to. Why should they? Trump is doing their dirty work.
Republicans could have broadened their tent to embrace the country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity. They didn’t. Instead, they sought to strip millions of Americans of their franchise, their voting rights.
Rep. Ilhan Omar is the first Somali-American, the first naturalized citizen of African birth, and the first woman of color to represent Minnesota in Congress. We once held her story, and others like hers, as testimony to America’s greatness.
Now, the Somali refugee is persona non grata, according to the president.
How about Omar of Minnesota?” the president said during a rally outside Pittsburgh.
“We’re going to win the state of Minnesota because of her, they say. She’s telling us how to run our country. How did you do where you came from? How’s your country doing? She’s going to tell us — she’s telling us how to run our country.”
“The president clearly loves to prey on people’s fears,” Rep. Omar responded in a CNN interview.
“He spreads the disease of hate everywhere he goes, and these cult rallies that he’s holding across the country are now being fueled by fear, and it is no surprise that he is so fearful of winning Minnesota that he has to resort to this hate.
“Not only is he a racist, but he’s a racist xenophobic. Because he’s not against immigration, he’s just against immigrants who look like me.”
She is right.
We have a racist president, one who believes he can count on the Russians, the justice department, the postmaster general, the Supreme Court, police unions and white supremacist militias to help him retain power, one way or the other.
I’m as optimistic as anyone that the American people will put a stop to this madness. But, paraphrasing Yeats from his poem, “The Second Coming,” I can’t help but wonder, “what rough beast, its hour come round at last,” slouches toward November to be born?