A Republic, If You Can Keep It.

A cardboard protest sign, which reads "Stop asking me to forgive fascism."
Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

It should have been a landslide.

It shouldn’t have been a nail-biter.

It was, one hoped, the easiest question ever posed to the American people. After four years of a steady march towards fascism, four years of daily outrages — violations of the Constitution, literal textbook-definition Crimes Against Humanity, human rights violations, criminality and corruption — the American people should have buried Donald Trump and his enablers in the Republican Party in a massive tidal wave of repudiation. Something along the lines of the rejection of Barry Goldwater in 1964. We would stand up, together, and shout as loudly as we could, WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS.

But we’re not.

At last count, around 72 million of our fellow citizens looked at the results of the past four years — results which include a quarter million Americans dead (and counting) due to utter governmental malpractice — and said “Yeah. That’s my guy. I want more of that.”

It is only by the efforts of Black, Hispanic and Native American voters, as well as a large youth turnout, that we are not preparing for the consolidation-of-power phase of a fascist dictatorship. Democratic voters pulled us out of the dive, beating Trump’s number by 5 million votes, and narrowly squeaking out an Electoral College win (thanks to the 18th century mechanism designed to protect the interests of slave-holders, which is long past its expiration date).

Of course, Trump is claiming the election was stolen from him, and refuses to concede. He’s challenging results in court, and making moves which have many people anxious that he may be planning a coup. Fear that he may be attempting to stay in power through illegal means is rampant. Everyone is on a razor’s edge.

To which I say: Breathe. There will be no coup. The Constitution makes Joe Biden the President at noon on January 20th, whether or not Trump concedes. The lawsuits being filed are being laughed out of court, and the law firms representing him are now telling reporters off-the-record that they worry about being sanctioned or even disbarred for ethical violations for participating in these frauds. Most telling, though, are the desperate, pathetic email blasts coming from the Trump campaign, multiple times per day, hitting up donors to “carry on the fight.” If one reads the fine print, it is revealed that the money isn’t actually going towards any legal effort to overturn election results — the money is being used to pay off campaign debts (most of which have been accrued to Trump-connected businesses), and to fund Trump’s new leadership PAC, Saving America — which is leading to speculation that he’ll continue to make noises about running in 2024 to keep the money flowing in, all the while using the PAC as a slush fund to funnel money to his businesses and family members.

This isn’t a coup. It’s a grift.

Trump supporters, one man wearing a MAGA hat.
Photo by David Todd McCarty on Unsplash

Our corporate media has, of course, invited members of the pundit class to opine, and we’re hearing calls for Biden voters to “reach out” and “try to understand” the 72 million Americans who openly and willingly chose fascism. There are scolding op-eds warning against pursuing any consequences for those officials who have violated our laws and our democratic norms for the past 4 years. Overwrought pleas for “unity” and a “coming together” from talking heads who treat politics like it’s some kind of entertainment, rather than a direct impact on all our lives.

I expect this from Republicans. After all, when Democrats lose, Republicans advise that we must learn to understand their voters, to not drift so far left, to look beyond our cloistered, elitist cities and coasts… and when Democrats win, Republicans advise that we must respect and listen to their voters, to not drift so far left, etc. etc. ad nauseum. It’s their routine. It’s what they do.

It’s the calls from the so-called centrists and the self-described liberals that we should be stunned by. Unity? Reconciliation? How can one reconcile with people who don’t want forgiveness? If the past 4 years (and, if we’re being bluntly honest, the last 40) have taught us nothing, it’s that a hand reached out from the left to the right will be bitten. Obama tried unity. He cut the knees out from under a call for universal healthcare, in order to propose a Republican plan lifted from Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts. How did that work out for him?

If Trump had been crushed in a landslide? OK, sure — we could talk about moving forward with no recriminations. The American people would have clearly repudiated fascism. We could join together as a nation, and fix the problems that brought us to the brink of autocracy.

But 72 million Americans, clear-eyed, voted for 4 more years of fascism. You can’t move forward from that. That has to be dealt with. This isn’t some team sport, where we shake hands and wish them good luck with the next match. 72 million Americans rejoiced in the pain that was being inflicted on “liberal snowflakes.” They cheered every policy designed to ruin the lives of people that they hated. They said “fuck your feelings” and “lock her up” and “enemy of the people.” And then they voted for more of it.

This is not a political difference of opinion. This is a difference in MORALITY.

To take them at their word, they would gladly “cleanse” this nation of those who are not like them. What are the concentration camps on the border, the rushed adoptions of refugee children into white, Christian families, the forced sterilizations of refugee women, if not the absolutely crystal-clear definition of attempted genocide? What do you call the crushing of dissent through force, the violence and ‘disappearing’ committed against people protesting police violence, if not totalitarianism? THIS IS WHAT THEY WANT. They have told us so, repeatedly, in action and in words, and now with a vote, 72 million strong.

We have to address that. We must re-enforce the rule of law. We must state, loudly and clearly, that this is unacceptable.

There are some who would argue that prosecuting and jailing Trump and his officials would criminalize politics, leading to an endless cycle of Presidents jailing their opposition. I can understand that fear. But to do nothing would be to send a clear message that any transgression, no matter how outrageous, will be forgiven. It’s a statement that the elite can do whatever they wish, without consequence.

If we will not prosecute, then we at least must have societal consequences. President Biden should convene a Truth and Reconcilliation Commission, to investigate every crime, every Constitutional violation, every transgression during the Trump years. Appoint a steering committee of average American citizens, representative of every state, every party, every enthnicity. The investigations should be transparent, and open, and results should be publicly presented. Presidential pardons should be issued on condition of full and truthful public allocution. Let the country see what was done, in full. No redactions for national security, or to protect the Office of the President. Show it all, in all of it’s ugliness, and make the American people see and understand it. Let those who committed these crimes face public shame. The only way for wound to heal is for it first to be disinfected.

There is a probably-apocryphal story that after the Constitutional Convention, a passerby asked Ben Franklin ‘What do we have, a republic or a monarchy?’ Franklin replied, ‘A republicif you can keep it.’

That’s what’s at stake. The election is won, but that is the barest beginning of the process that we need to undergo if we are to stay a democratic republic. Because what if the next would-be autocrat is smarter than Trump? What if he’s more charming, more personable, less volatile, and less open about his nature?

For us to maintain a republic, we have to get it right, every time. We cannot fail, ever. Because the fascists? They only need to get it right ONCE.

This column first appeared at Medium on Wednesday, November 11, 2020.

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