RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

writing for godot

Trump, Republicans and Equivalence

Written by Jeff Kotnik   
Tuesday, 23 March 2021 14:27

It is staggering to think it took the sacking of the U.S. Capitol for Republicans – or some of them, at least – to lose patience with Donald Trump.  And even then nothing really changed.  Many finally had enough, but a dominant Republican theme endured:  that Trump’s project to overthrow American democracy was entirely reasonable, or at least understandable, given what Republicans saw as a Democratic crusade, lasting four years, to “overturn” Trump’s election in 2016.

The Democrats, they say, were so traumatized by Trump’s win that from the beginning they were fanatically intent on undoing it.  The measures they employed – the Russia investigation and impeachment (#1) – were nakedly partisan, wholly illegitimate attempts to nullify the democratic will of the people who gave Trump the presidency.  Trump loyalists call it a “four-year coup.”  And many or most Republicans, officeholders and voters alike, see Trump’s defiance of the 2020 result as payment in kind, as the legitimate taking of an eye for an eye.

Thus the doctrine of equivalence.  Democrats are hypocrites (and scoundrels) to accuse Trump of assaulting democracy when they let democracy be damned during their assault on his presidency.  Today they invoke principles to which yesterday they were flatly indifferent.  Such runs the argument, with most versions adding an exculpatory provision for Trump.  After the election he huffed and puffed with rightful anger, but despite the cries of doom, look, he left everything intact.  Maybe his behavior was excessive at times.  But it is the Democrats, not Trump, who are a menace to democracy.

Such reasoning is of course nonsensical.  The things being compared not only lack equivalence but exist in entirely different galaxies, and the argument holds only if facts are not taken into account.  But that is exactly the problem.  After four years of Trump it is time for an unbending of reality and a return to the authority of facts.  After four years of lies and misinformation, deception, obfuscation, and willful chaos – on the part not just of Trump but also his party – it is time to lower the curtain, permanently, on hustlers who preach that up is down and day is night.  Our future as a democracy depends on it.

There is no equivalence.  On one side of the ledger – the fairytale of a stolen election – are allegations of fraud within a near perfect vacuum of evidence.  On the other side – Russia and impeachment – are strong indications of misconduct, and misconduct not of a minor sort but harboring potentially grave consequences for our democratic institutions and the rule of law.  Between one side and the other the difference is vast, and it can be shown with but a brief review of straightforward facts.  That review is worth our while:

First, with respect to the 2020 election, the validity of the result was attested by Republicans and Democrats alike: governors, secretaries of state, state and local election officials, and state and federal judges.  Trump’s Department of Homeland Security pronounced the election secure, finding “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”  Trump’s Attorney General and key loyalist William Barr, after directing the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s claims, stated that fraud had not occurred on any appreciable scale.  And then there were the lawsuits.  Of 62 filed by January 6, including in state supreme courts and the U.S. Supreme Court with three Trump-appointees, precisely one met with success – a minor procedural challenge in Pennsylvania – while 61 were rejected.  Trump and his allies’ legal strategy amounted to throwing spaghetti against the wall, contesting any part of any process where something might stick.  Yet even this sweeping approach yielded not the tiniest shred of material to validate Trump’s accusations.

With respect to the Russia investigation, in contrast, it was shown that members of the Trump Campaign, over many months, had frequent dealings with persons connected to the Russian government, even as the Russian government was engaged in a far-reaching effort to help Trump get elected.  These points are documented in the 448 pages of the Mueller report, and then once again – insofar as Trump and his allies spared no effort to paint Mueller as corrupt – in the 952 pages of the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russian election interference.  Released in 2020 after a three-year investigation, the report and its Republican lead authors confirmed the bulk of Mueller’s findings, and in many ways went beyond him in detailing the often close proximity of Trump’s people to the Russian interference, and the multiplicity of contacts between the Trump Campaign and Russia, including some characterized by the Committee as a “grave intelligence threat.”

Finally with respect to the case behind impeachment #1, the essential facts are equally clear and incriminating.  There was a memorandum (“the transcript”) of a phone call in which, by every appearance, Trump used U.S. military aid and other official leverage in an attempt to extort political favors from the Ukrainian president.  There was a brief yet extremely meticulous whistleblower report describing the alleged months-long effort by Trump to wield, in the whistleblower’s words, “the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”  And there was a parade of highly credible witnesses – including million-dollar Trump donor Gordon Sondland, then ambassador to the EU – deposed individually and under oath, who offered a broadly consistent narrative substantiating the whistleblower’s account almost to the letter.  Trump was acquitted by a Republican-majority Senate whose leader, Mitch McConnell, declared openly that he was coordinating with Trump’s defense team.

Such are the three components of the doctrine of equivalence.  And while Republicans condemn the Russia investigation and impeachment as blatantly partisan exercises, pursued with the blatantly partisan end of destroying Trump, it takes little effort to demonstrate the very substantial premises at the foundation of each.  Only a complete renunciation of facts makes them a “witch hunt” or “hoax,” as Trump calls them, just as pure invention is the only way to make the 2020 election “stolen.”

Democrats obviously have a partisan outlook.  One need not pretend otherwise, or that they are above acting on partisan motives, or that that they were fond of Trump and would have been sorry to see him undone.  But what was truly and offensively partisan during four years of Trump was near unqualified Republican backing even as, on multiple occasions, he appeared to disregard ethical standards and laws in pursuit of his private interests.  If we must extract but one truth from these four years:  the investigations of Trump were not merely justified and legitimate but absolutely necessary for the sake of democracy and the rule of law.  If our country considers these precepts important, the investigations were not optional.  Though partisan by definition, Democrats and Republicans are both obliged by the power of their office to safeguard our institutions.  The Republican Party, far from exercising this obligation or even merely respecting it when exercised, opposed and obstructed it at every turn.

There is no equivalence.  There is not even remote similarity between the investigations, on the one hand, and Trump’s outrageous effort to break American democracy following the 2020 election.

And the point is far from academic.  Trump attempted a coup – there is no other word for it – and his actions should be regarded as criminal.  But what of his party?  Republicans had kept the faith with Trump through four years of questionable conduct.  Then, right before their eyes, he commits the most flagrant act of treachery in presidential history:  attempting to overthrow democracy and keep himself in power despite losing an election.  At this moment of truth, what can be said of the Republican Party?  What can be said of its commitment to democracy as so many Republicans rushed to embrace Trump’s mutinous project, so many more raised their voices in its defense, and almost all the rest empowered it with their silence?

On January 6 McConnell and many of his colleagues waxed indignant and condemned not just the storming of the Capitol but, over the following weeks, the claims of fraud peddled by Trump and his staunchest allies.  But the ugly reality is that, until that day, they were willing to let it happen – “it” being the coup – if it could be accomplished “legally,” which is to say by means of state legislatures, lawsuits, and any other machinations capable of swinging electoral votes in Trump’s favor.  The door for such “legal” action closed upon the January 6 session of Congress, and as it happened, it closed very loudly given the horde of Trump supporters who arrived on the scene.  But for two entire months the Republican Party was fully complicit.

It is chilling to imagine where we might be if things had played out just a bit differently.  What if democracy’s defenses had begun to crack?  Perhaps a state official yields to Trump’s hounding.  Or a court ruling, though minor, opens the door to a new and even more aggressive round of litigation.  Or a legislature asserts itself in opposition to its state’s electors.   What if there were some such favorable development – not in itself enough to change the outcome but serving to rally the faithful and create momentum?  With a “legal” toehold beneath Trump’s claims of fraud, what would the Republicans have done?  How much further might they have gone – including supposedly “responsible” players like McConnell – if they came to believe they could help Trump remain in power despite losing an election?  Such questions can never be more than speculation.  But one confronts an inarguable reality:  the Republicans, including McConnell and his Senate colleagues, gave Trump all the time and space possible to set the wheels in motion.

The 2020 election was not fraudulent.  It was in fact a mighty effort on the part of voters and election personnel alike, and a stupendous success for democracy.  That Trump and his Republicans turned it into a farce, and a blow to democratic values here and around the world, is perhaps surprising only because it was so brazen.  For the Republican Party had soured on democracy long before the appearance of Trump.  2020 was but a vivid manifestation of the often more mundane work to which it has devoted decades:  inventing measures, commonly grounded on false claims about fraud, to keep certain sorts of people away from the ballot box.  And while some part of Trump may actually believe he won the election, it is inconceivable that the Republicans did not understand the game for the lie it was.  Then on January 6 they offered final proof of the party’s anti-democratic orientation when, on the basis of that lie, two-thirds of House Republicans signed on to Trump’s desperate gambit to overrule the Electoral College.

There is no equivalence.  There is not even resemblance.  And the danger we face extends far beyond the single figure of Trump.  With or without him, the Republican Party has become a rogue actor to which elections – and democracy – are an impediment to power. your social media marketing partner
Email This Page


THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.