Our republic faces a crisis of confidence in itself

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Back in my more naive days — that would be a few months ago — I would worry that supporters of Donald Trump didn’t fully appreciate the harm that his election and campaign might do to the country and to our system of government.

Since then, I’ve come to realize that I had been foolish: Many of those who avidly support Trump don’t back him in spite of the damage he might do; the damage that he would do has become the whole point. In the final throes of his presidential campaign, Trump is appealing to and validating a significant number of Americans who have lost faith in the Constitution, in Congress and the presidency and the Supreme Court and Washington and the mainstream media and just about every institution in the land. As a result they want to rip it all down.

That includes the Republican Party itself, which many Trump voters have come to see as an instrument of their own betrayal. They have even lost faith in the most basic institution of all, the ballot box, with significant numbers believing that the election victory that is theirs by right and numbers is being stolen from them by the media and through massive voting fraud.

According to a recent AP poll, 58 percent of Trump voters now believe that there’s a great deal of fraud in the voting process; just 29 percent said they had quite a bit or a great deal of confidence that their votes would be counted accurately. That belief equips them with a mental mechanism by which they can reject Hillary Clinton as a legitimate president, with potentially serious consequences.

“If she’s in office, I hope we can start a coup. She should be in prison or shot. That’s how I feel about it,” as Dan Bowman, a 50-year-old contractor, told The Boston Globe at a Trump rally in Ohio last week. “We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes. There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed. But that’s what it’s going to take. . . . I would do whatever I can for my country.”

That is dangerous talk, and responsible leadership would try to squelch it immediately. But within today’s Republican Party, those leaders who feel a sense of national responsibility have lost the confidence of their  base, while those who have the backing of the base show no sense of responsibility. So Trump and many of his backers — Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, for example — have chosen to feed that sentiment. As Trump told a rally Friday in Greensboro , N.C., “It’s one big fix. This whole election is being rigged.’’

And after Mike Pence, playing Jiminy Cricket to Trump’s Pinocchio, tried to insist that the Republican nominee would “absolutely” accept the verdict of the voters on Nov. 8 as legitimate, Trump pointedly refuted the claim:

Of course, the belief among the Republican base that elections can be and have been stolen in recent years is not something that Trump created. For a decade or longer, Republican leaders and conservative media have invested heavily in the myth of widespread voter fraud, despite the fact that every single academic and nonpartisan study has concluded that the notion of in-person voting fraud is itself a fraud. They did so because the myth of widespread voter fraud allowed them to justify voter ID laws that they hoped would depress minority turnout.

In short, they were willing to undermine confidence in the very foundation of self-governance just to gain a small tactical advantage, and in time the myth outgrew their ability to control it. In fact, Trump is living proof that their entire project has gotten away from them, creating a crisis of credibility for our system of government that may be unmatched since the Civil War.

You can trace the antecedents of this crisis a long way back. In its modern incarnation, it might begin with Gingrich, who back in the late ’80s fully embraced the notion that government is the enemy of conservatives. Unlike Ronald Reagan, however, Gingrich pushed it a radical step farther, arguing that conservatives had nothing to lose by attacking government’s legitimacy and by refusing to allow the system to function unless they could fully control it. More and more, they began to treat the government as if it were a foreign occupying force, rather than the legitimately elected expression of the American people.

But to make that approach work, they first had to wage an all-out war against the notion of compromise. They needed to drive home the argument that if government was the enemy of the people, if liberals were also the enemy, then by definition a compromise with the enemies of the people was tantamount to treason.

They have largely succeeded. From that reasoning has flowed the concept of the RINO, the Republican who was willing to compromise across the aisle and thus was not really a Republican at all. It brought us government shutdowns, and a reluctance to perform even basic government functions.

During the ’08 financial meltdown, when leaders of both parties warned that failure to pass a Wall Street bailout plan would bring a total  economic collapse, an overwhelming majority of House Republicans voted to let the collapse happen rather than compromise. Later, when experts warned that failure to raise the debt ceiling would bring about systemic failure, many Republicans were again eager to see that happen.

That sentiment dictated the GOP refusal to compromise in any way with Barack Obama, to make it their single overriding goal to ensure that his presidency was a failure. It brought us the so-called Hastert Rule, which dictates that the only measures that are allowed to come to vote in the GOP House are those with majority support within the GOP caucus.

Over time, that no-compromise ethos became so engrained in the GOP mindset that Republican factions became unwilling to compromise even with each other, so that even when they do control the House and the Senate by significant margins, they are incapable of governing.

It’s important to recognize how radical that approach has been, and how thoroughly it undermines the constitutional order. In a European parliamentary system, the party that wins an election is given largely unchecked power to implement its platform. Compromise in such a system is unnecessary. Our Founders, however, looked at the example of the British Parliament and chose another course. The various checks and balances that they built into the American system constitute an elaborate machine that is designed to force compromise upon the various factions and interests.

But if you treat compromise as illegitimate and even treasonous, as Republicans now do, then you render the Founders’ mechanism of government inoperable. It has gotten to the point that Americans 45 and younger no longer have a memory of a time when Congress functioned as it was designed, which also explains why Congress as an institution has a job approval rating of 12 percent. That is not an accident. It is the logical, almost inevitable outcome of a concerted, conscious effort to break the faith of the American people in the legitimacy of their own government.

You see that same sentiment percolating up in a lot of different ways these days. You saw it in birtherism, the concept that Barack Obama was never a legitimate president because he was somehow born overseas. The theory had no basis in fact, and was dispelled by considerable documentary evidence. Even if Obama had been born overseas to his American mother, he still would have been considered every bit a natural-born citizen as Sen. Ted Cruz is.

But birtherism offered an outlet, an excuse, for those who refused to grant Obama the status of a legitimately elected president. It offered them a means to argue that the results of the election didn’t matter and could and should be overturned.

You saw that same sentiment in the recent insurrectionary statements by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who warned an audience of evangelicals that if Clinton wins this election, the threat to freedom may have grown so great that Jefferson’s famous “tree of liberty” would have to be refreshed with the blood of tyrants and patriots. And you can see it in the muttering in the conservative media about preparing articles of impeachment against Clinton so that they’re waiting for her the moment that she takes office.

Last month, conservative state legislators even met in Williamsburg, Va., for what they called a “simulated convention of the states,” in which they proposed and voted upon ways to rewrite the Constitution. They are part of a movement to invoke the Constitution’s Article V, which allows for such a constitutional rewrite if two-thirds of the states’ legislatures choose to demand it. Already, Georgia and several other conservative states have quietly passed resolutions demanding just such a convention.

You also get nonsense such as this, from Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr., a Trump backer and surrogate:

 

As I mentioned above, today’s conservative rhetoric contains echoes of the kind of rhetoric heard back in 1860, when the South was trying to come to grips with the election of Abraham Lincoln as president. As Southern leaders saw it, the Constitution was being ignored, the will of the people was being subverted and remaining within the system was no longer a viable option for them.

“I do not think we should wait for any further violation of the Constitution. The Constitution has already been violated and even defied. The violations are repeated every day,” as U.S. Sen. Benjamin Hill put it to his fellow Georgians. “We must resist, and to attempt to resist and not do so effectively — even to the full extent of the evil — will be to bring shame on ourselves, and our state and our cause.”

The curative pursued by Hill and his contemporaries — secession from the Union — is of course not on the table. But through our growing geographic and cultural concentration of like-minded people, we are seeing the rise of a different form of separatism, a kind of virtual confederacy.

In one sense, you could argue that our Founders would be shocked by what we’re seeing today. The idea that you could discredit government, render it inoperable through extreme partisanship and then leverage the resulting anger and discontent to elevate yourself to power —  you might think that such a thing would have been unthinkable.

To the contrary, it was predicted with perfect accuracy by Alexander Hamilton in 1792:

” … the only enemy which republicanism has to fear in this country is in the spirit of faction and anarchy. If this will not permit the ends of government to be attained under it — if it engenders disorders in the community — all regular and orderly minds will wish for a change and the demagogues who have produced the disorder will make it for their own aggrandizement. This is the old story.”

This is the old story made new again.

Reader Comments 0

1959 comments
Darken-Rahl
Darken-Rahl

What a load of HS Kookman, you idiots better think twice before electing another student of Alinsky as POTUS. See the check has finally come due, the American people are here to collect and take out the trash. The double standard is about to come to an abrupt end in the form of a cold hard slap across the face and a swift kick in the rear. Answer to voter suppression and voter fraud? An index finger and thumb print, everybody already has one. No more of the MSM being nothing more than a propaganda piece for the liberal left. Immediate campaign finance reform and overturning citizens united. Accountability for actions and the like, Oh My! SO, go ahead and vote to make the Clintons the first husband and wife to be president and tried for IMPEACHMENT, the paper trail is just too long and she's already under investigation for perjury before a congressional committee, etc., etc., etc.

honested
honested

@Darken-Rahl 

So nice to see the "3%" has learned how to use a computer.

Now if they could learn how to behave in the 21st Century.

Kamchak
Kamchak

@Darken-Rahl 

 under investigation 

If. Only. We. Could. Have. Just. One. More. Investigation.

#GameChanger

Rick Stewart
Rick Stewart

@Darken-Rahl -- WOW....take your med dude..  This is exactly why I vote Democratic....you people are crazy shits.

dawgfacedboy
dawgfacedboy

Wide spread oppression of blacks??? Again, just because a handful of people stand up and shout "oppression' does not mean there is an epidemic facing this country. Wanna know how I know?? The stats back it up. Wanna know what is an epidemic??? The single motherhood rate in the black community (70%). Let that soak in. Black are dropping out of high school at a considerably higher rate than whites. That's white oppression of blacks????


#1 preventable form of death for black men aged 16-35; murder, by another black male.


You have black leaders (surely not Jesse and Al) within the communities calling BLM and all of this nonsense exactly that; nonsense. Stop having kids our of wedlock and stop killing yourselves and start graduating high school and then you will see a dramatic change. 


More whites were killed by cops last year than blacks. Must've missed those riots. Less police in black neighborhoods?!?!?!?!?HAHAHAHAHAH!! Great idea!! That will surely clean things up!!!!

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@dawgfacedboy


"Stop having kids our of wedlock and stop killing yourselves and start graduating high school and then you will see a dramatic change. "


Wow. Very insightful. Tell us more.

dawgfacedboy
dawgfacedboy

@JamVet @dawgfacedboy I don't hate black people because I expect them to solve their own problems. White hatred is not making black males impregnate black women and then leave. 


I hate whiners though, I can tell you that. Waaaaaaaaaaaaa, it's not my fault i have a 9th grade education and 3 kids with no dad!!!! Waaaaaaaaaa!!!! White oppression made me do it!! Waaaaaa!!!

dawgfacedboy
dawgfacedboy

@McGarnagle @dawgfacedboy Would any of those things have anything but a positive impact???? Not my insight though, black leaders within their own community are saying that. I'll take their word for it. 

td1234
td1234

I am wondering if this will be the day that Matt Drudge drops the sexual bombshell on Hillary? 

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@td1234

That's the best ya got, tiny dancer?

Have you seen Nate Silver's latest forecasts for POTUS and Senate? 

MUWAHAHAHAHAHA

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

@Kamchak @td1234 Last year Drudge visited the Infowars studio and questioned why media outlets were suppressing rumors of Hillary’s lesbian affairs.

OldEngineer
OldEngineer

@td1234 I sure hope so. Thus far all those "bombshells" they've dropped on Trump's behalf have helped Hillary immensely.

Darken-Rahl
Darken-Rahl

@BuckeyeGa Well it has been rumored that Hillary has eaten more carpet than Bill ever has!

Kamchak
Kamchak

@Darken-Rahl

It has been rumored that I will be a starting pitcher in game one of The World Series. 

dawgfacedboy
dawgfacedboy

Just because Meryl Streep stands up at an awards ceremony and declares women aren't being paid the same doesn't make it true. Look it up.There is no wage gap. 

JamVet
JamVet

@dawgfacedboy 

You are completely illiterate.

Take that dip money and buy some books.

Peachs
Peachs

@OldEngineer @dawgfacedboy reality is what you make it!  Until Trump gets in office and they miscalculated reality. Have you ever seen this new GOP not complain about something and they think Trump is the answer, no wonder they can't get happy..

dawgfacedboy
dawgfacedboy

@OldEngineer @dawgfacedboy I can find 3 articles refuting that claim. So what? If that were true then why not fire the male employees and hire all women?? I just saved myself a bunch of money. 

dawgfacedboy
dawgfacedboy

You need an id to get into any school in this country to see your own kid. You need an id to rent a car. To get on an airplane. I'm 40 years old and get carded for dip; but I shouldn't be required to show my id to vote for the president of the United States???


Dems haven't won the white vote in 50 years so they don't want anything hindering minority turnout.


Trump is a bigot, sexist, homophobe???? If that's what you call someone who expects people to work and not rely on government handouts to bail you out of your own stupid decisions, tells you that the wage gap of men and women is complete horse $*** and that transgender people are mentally ill and that calling someone who is born a girl but wants to have surgery while you call them "Bob" is f'd up then you might want to look at the definitions again.


How is it that Republican/Conservatives can back up their arguments with stats and facts while the Left relies solely on feelings and emotion but we are the ones who are whacked?!?!?!

StraightNoChaser
StraightNoChaser

@dawgfacedboy Why is it that Republicans can state their case in a sane manner but when it comes to your candidate, Donald Trump, he fails to even put together one rationale sentence?  Republicans picked that stupid POS so now you have to live with the fact that the rest of the country does not want him, he's unqualifed and dumb as hell.

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

@dawgfacedboy You did a good job admitting that the voter id law is nothing more they a ploy to suppress the minority vote..

dawgfacedboy
dawgfacedboy

@StraightNoChaser @dawgfacedboy Why is it that despite the fact that your candidate is under federal investigation for mishandling classified documents, is a proven liar, etc. you still support her? It will be so fun living in a country where you don't have to show id to vote, where there are no borders, the government takes over half your paycheck and gives it to the lazy, men can have surgery and wear dresses and be called normal women. When the left tells me the sky is red and I have evidence saying it's blue then they can call me a weather hater, too!!!

OldEngineer
OldEngineer

"A GOP candidate running for the NY state Senate has just jumped into it deep after telling reporters at NBC New York that he was going to be giving out “Koolaid, KFC and watermelons” to wow the primarily black community at a campaign event. Girodes is making his second (and/or last) run for the 30th District Senate seat. Ironically, he headlined his campaign website with an image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., yet doubles down on his blatantly racist slur."


http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/10/13/1582104/-GOP-candidate-for-NY-state-Senate-to-offer-Watermelon-KFC-Kool-Aid-at-Harlem-campaign-event