America’s fascist moment has not passed, and will not pass while any of the current crop of Republican elected officials remain in office. The Republican Party continues to attempt to nullify the results of the presidential election—a longshot bid, to be sure—using conspiracy theories designed to do damage to democracy itself.
Surely it cannot be that bad, you may think to yourself. Surely Republicans are operating from a position of rank cowardice, and have only accidentally stumbled from that into strategies that accidentally undermine this nation’s democratic ideals. It is that bad, and they are not cowards. They are attempting a power play—a new authority to nullify whatever elections their now thoroughly corrupt party cannot win. We are in a new era of voter manipulation and suppression characterized by party-sponsored lies intended to propagandize the public into believing not only that non-Republican governance is illegitimate, but that non-Republican election results are as well. The Republican Party is now fascist in both method and intent. Every senator and House member is, as we have seen, complicit.
It was an inevitable point, after the party witnessed impeachable crimes from the party’s leader and instead voted to adopt those crimes as new valid policy. If crimes themselves are valid, if undertaken to boost Republican power, then lying to the public about the bones of democracy itself must be equally justifiable.
On the Sunday shows, multiple Republicans yet again pushed the false notion that Joe Biden may not have truly won the next presidency. To give audience to such malignant lies, whether in service to both sides-ing democracy or not, is contemptible, and the networks and hosts bear responsibility. It is not easy to simply end interviews with public figures when it is clear they are using the media to disseminate malevolent propaganda, but it is necessary. If the networks cannot do that much, their “news” programs are themselves public frauds.
Republican Sen. Mike Braun from Indiana was one of those figures pushing forward false propaganda for the sake of misleading the public. Ostensibly booked to discuss COVID-19 stimulus options—itself a sham booking, since there has proven to be no possibility that Braun will ever put forward a competent opinion on any subject, much less one so dire—Braun instead blustered to enabling ABC host George Stephanopoulos at length with conspiracy theories of voter fraud and other known-false, Trump-pushed claims.
On the ever-execrable Fox News, the ever-execrable Trump Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe called the election into question, saying “We’ll see” if “there is a Biden administration.” (Ratcliffe and the now thoroughly feral conspiracy wolverine Maria Bartiromo followed that up by puzzling over “Who got to Bill Barr?”—for the sin of not proving multiple conservative conspiracy theories that proved, even for Barr, too ephemeral to coax into faux-existence.)
It is important to note that John Ratcliffe is a frothing ex-House Republican seen as so conspiracy-minded and single-mindedly devoted to Republican power over the national good that even the Republican Senate balked, long and hard, before eventually confirming him to his current post. It is because of that past status as House propagandist and absurd Trump provocateur that he was elevated to the Republican administration to begin with. Ratcliffe is yet another fringe Republican figure elevated to higher power specifically due to his corruptions.
The Sunday show performances, of course, came on the heels of yet another week in which Donald Trump himself promoted crazed theories that the election that saw him get a shockingly high number of pro-incompetence, pro-white-nationalism votes but still millions less than challenger Biden must, by virtue of his loss, have been fraudulent. Trump is promoting those falsehoods obsessively, suspending nearly all presidential duties to instead weave nonsensical tales claiming the presidency was stolen from him. He did so at length this weekend in Georgia, during a campaign appearance ostensibly on behalf of scandal-wracked Republican senators Kelly Loeffler and David Purdue.
Both of those Republican senators have called for the state’s secretary of state, Republican Brad Raffensperger, to resign for his refusals to endorse the theory that massive voter fraud landed them in runoff elections. Though Raffensperger has been receiving plaudits for not furthering his party’s conspiracy claims that the election was rigged against them, and for going farther still and condemning those claims, Raffensperger said on Sunday that he still supports both of their candidacies.
This, then, is an illuminating look at where even the most “heroic” and democracy-abiding Republicans now reside. He is not willing to himself endanger the republic merely to boost two Republicans seeking reelection. He is, however, still willing to endorse the candidates doing exactly that damage. Because, says Raffensperger, “I’m a Republican.”
It is said as if it is obvious. It is natural to Raffensperger that he would still support the Republicans, even if they were engaged in corrosive, anti-democratic propagandizing that he himself could not stomach. However devoted to his nation Raffensperger may be, his devotion to even his party’s worst actors remains higher.
Trump, in the meantime, has made the blunt request to the state’s Republican governor that Georgia simply nullify the results of their presidential election. He asks that the vote counts be thrown out, and for the state’s Republican-held legislature to appoint him the state’s electoral winner.
It is (again) an explicitly corrupt request. Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp has no authority to nullify the election. There is no scheme by which such an attempt would not be inherently un-democratic, whether successful or not. Trump is both ignorant enough and criminal enough to request it anyway.
Surrounded by less inept aides, there is no telling how much damage a similarly corruption-minded Republican president could do.
The attempts to dismantle democracy itself, rather than abide by election losses, are the newest arrived-at spot for the Republican Party after a litany of fascistic actions and proclamations. It is Jim Crow writ even larger, a new anti-democratic theory that not only sought the votes of non-white Americans be treated as illegitimate, but those of every voter who refuses to support the party.
After years of promoting the theory that Republican lawmakers were slavishly defending and promoting each of Trump’s most corrupt actions due to a party-wide and all-encompassing cowardice, pundits are still attempting to pin current lawmaker silence, in the face of these Trump-led lies and blatantly fraudulent conspiracy claims, on the same. But this is wrong.
Or, as The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent puts it, it “badly undersells the bottomless bad faith and dishonorable instrumentalism that Republicans are employing here.”
The Republican Party is embracing claims of massive but invisible election conspiracies for the same reason they remained stubbornly, supremely silent on Trump’s proven act of extorting election favors from a foreign nation: While the actions involved are absolutely corrosive to democracy, all of them of authoritarian vintage and used here for authoritarian ends, it is possible those actions could end up working. It is not so much that the McConnells of the party are remaining silent to avoid a lame duck’s impotent wrath, and more that Republican lawmakers are almost all loyal to a person not willing to close the door on the very small but still real chance that Trump’s obsessive attempts to overturn an American election could succeed.
They are playing a part considerably less nuanced than Brad Raffensperger’s own decision to speak out against anti-democratic conspiracy propaganda while still endorsing the party leaders most directly responsible for promoting them. They are refusing to speak out against the claims so long as Trump’s team of rancid legal pretenders, his administration propagandists, and the fringe elements of their conservative base still pursues them. If there is even a 10% chance of success, Republican lawmakers will not be speaking out to thwart it.
They defended Trump’s impeachable act of election extortion with a similar silence. They pretended they could not see the evidence; they demanded they not be shown the evidence. If the Rudy Giuliani-led attempts to concoct Ukraine-based propaganda against Joe Biden had borne fruit, and at the time of impeachment there were still good reasons to believe the fabricated evidence could still be sold to the public, Republican lawmakers would benefit equally from the hoax discrediting their most visible opponent.
The decision to nullify impeachment proceedings, allowing Trump and an assortment of top officials to continue pursuing corrupt means to power, was an affirmative act by Republican senators. Their calculated silence here is for identical reasons. The acts may be criminal—but judgment on that will be withheld until the spoils can be divvied.
It is not likely that Trump will succeed in his own narcissism-fueled quest to claim that he could not have failed, in anything, unless subterfuge was involved. There are too many moving parts, the figures involved are still too ridiculous, and there are simply too many states involved this time around. But the eagerness of the party’s base to adopt such rhetoric, the Republican Party leadership’s embrace and furtherance of the moves, Republican lawmakers’ calculated wait-and-see silence and, especially, their refusal to speak out to condemn election conspiracies all have firmly established Trump’s propagandistic claims as acceptable tools for the party going forward.
Whether or not individual Republican actors like Raffensperger themselves act on such claims, there will be no penalties for simply declaring, upon losing an election, that the election was somehow invalid, and therefore illegitimate, and therefore the winner will be whoever a state’s Republican officials choose to appoint. It is in the realm of the debatable, because Republicans on the Sunday shows are debating it. It is plausible that a future president may not be seated, if his predecessor has the backing of this crop of Republican-elected figures and can put forward claims that are even fractionally less ridiculous.
The attempt to delegitimize American elections en masse rather than admit defeat is not a mere product of Trump’s narcissistic delusions. It has the backing of top Republicans. It has the endorsement of an increasingly fascist-minded conservative media universe. It does not come from a vacuum; Trump is not the one filing the lawsuits to overturn results, and is only one of numerous Republican elites making the same outlandish assertions of “thousands” or “millions” of faked ballots, claims that near-unanimously target cities with large non-white populations.
It is a fascist movement, one based on the theory that party power must be preserved even if it requires the production of hoaxes and propaganda to accomplish. One that shows gaudy public contempt for expertise, and which invariably declares that any factual evidence that does not comport with the party’s own oft-buffoonish claims must necessarily be a hoax perpetrated against Dear Leader, launched by remnant groups in government or outside it that seek to damage Dear Leader.
The party continually tests which democratic norms can be dispensed with, and have been successful at dismantling many or most. The push to overturn the results of a presidential election, and specifically to do so by nullifying the actual votes and tasking loyalist state elected officials create new ones, has very little chance of being successful this time, based on these states and these claims.
That does not mean that the party will not lend its weight to similar calls to overturn a future election. It does not mean that, in a Republican Party that continues to aggressively purge itself of the insufficiently sycophantic, it will with certainty run afoul of local officials unwilling to lend their own names to the effort. It does not mean that every collection of party lawyers and provocateurs will be as incompetent. There will be those that analyze these fraud claims not to discredit them, but to determine how they can best be made more compelling. And the movement of out-and-out imbeciles, Americans who pride themselves on believing hoaxes while condemning expertise, only continues to grow.
America remains at the same fascist moment, and Republican lawmakers and ex-lawmakers are going on the Sunday shows pushing false claims meant to suggest that our democracy itself is unreliable or compromised, having turned in results that the party’s leader does not like. They are not turning the moment back, but pushing it forward. Again. Still.