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Stopping the coming steal

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Barton Gellman has a very detailed and compelling essay on exactly why Donald Trump is in a better position now to steal the 2024 presidential election than he was last year at this time to steal the election that had just taken place. He emphasizes the enormous level of denial regarding this situation which afflicts Democrats and democrats, starting with Joe Biden and his DOJ:

There is a clear and present danger that American democracy will not withstand the destructive forces that are now converging upon it. Our two-party system has only one party left that is willing to lose an election. The other is willing to win at the cost of breaking things that a democracy cannot live without.

Democracies have fallen before under stresses like these, when the people who might have defended them were transfixed by disbelief. If ours is to stand, its defenders have to rouse themselves.

Joe Biden looked as though he might do that on the afternoon of July 13. He traveled to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, which features on its facade an immense reproduction of the Preamble in 18th-century script, to deliver what was billed as a major address on democracy.

What followed was incongruous. Biden began well enough, laying out how the core problem of voting rights had changed. It was “no longer just about who gets to vote” but “who gets to count the vote.” There were “partisan actors” seizing power from independent election authorities. “To me, this is simple: This is election subversion,” he said. “They want the ability to reject the final count and ignore the will of the people if their preferred candidate loses.”

He described the means by which the next election might be stolen, though vaguely: “You vote for certain electors to vote for somebody for president” and then a “state legislator comes along … and they say, ‘No, we don’t like those electors. We’re going to appoint other electors who are going to vote for the other guy or other woman.’ ”

And he laid down a strong marker as he reached his rhetorical peak.

“We’re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War. That’s not hyperbole,” he said. “I’m not saying this to alarm you. I’m saying this because you should be alarmed.”Donald Trump came closer than anyone thought he could to toppling a free election a year ago. He is preparing in plain view to do it again.

But then, having looked directly toward the threat on the horizon, Biden seemed to turn away, as if he doubted the evidence before his eyes. There was no appreciable call to action, save for the bare words themselves: “We’ve got to act.” Biden’s list of remedies was short and grossly incommensurate with the challenge. He expressed support for two bills—the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—that were dead on arrival in the Senate because Democrats had no answer to the Republican filibuster. He said the attorney general would double the Department of Justice staff devoted to voting-rights enforcement. Civil-rights groups would “stay vigilant.” Vice President Kamala Harris would lead “an all-out effort to educate voters about the changing laws, register them to vote, and then get the vote out.”

And then he mentioned one last plan that proved he did not accept the nature of the threat: “We will be asking my Republican friends—in Congress, in states, in cities, in counties—to stand up, for God’s sake, and help prevent this concerted effort to undermine our elections and the sacred right to vote.”

So: enforcement of inadequate laws, wishful thinking about new laws, vigilance, voter education, and a friendly request that Republicans stand athwart their own electoral schemes.

Conspicuously missing from Biden’s speech was any mention even of filibuster reform, without which voting-rights legislation is doomed. Nor was there any mention of holding Trump and his minions accountable, legally, for plotting a coup. Patterson, the retired firefighter, was right to say that nobody has been charged with insurrection; the question is, why not? The Justice Department and the FBI are chasing down the foot soldiers of January 6, but there is no public sign that they are building cases against the men and women who sent them. Absent consequences, they will certainly try again. An unpunished plot is practice for the next.

Donald Trump came closer than anyone thought he could to toppling a free election a year ago. He is preparing in plain view to do it again, and his position is growing stronger. Republican acolytes have identified the weak points in our electoral apparatus and are methodically exploiting them. They have set loose and now are driven by the animus of tens of millions of aggrieved Trump supporters who are prone to conspiracy thinking, embrace violence, and reject democratic defeat. Those supporters, Robert Pape’s “committed insurrectionists,” are armed and single-minded and will know what to do the next time Trump calls upon them to act.

Democracy will be on trial in 2024. A strong and clear-eyed president, faced with such a test, would devote his presidency to meeting it. Biden knows better than I do what it looks like when a president fully marshals his power and resources to face a challenge. It doesn’t look like this.

The midterms, marked by gerrymandering, will more than likely tighten the GOP’s grip on the legislatures in swing states. The Supreme Court may be ready to give those legislatures near-absolute control over the choice of presidential electors. And if Republicans take back the House and Senate, as oddsmakers seem to believe they will, the GOP will be firmly in charge of counting the electoral votes.

Against Biden or another Democratic nominee, Donald Trump may be capable of winning a fair election in 2024. He does not intend to take that chance.

Of course some people continue to argue that the lack of evidence that there’s ever going to be even a basic legal response from Biden’s DOJ to Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election is actually evidence of how carefully that response is being crafted even now.

But Gellman’s article highlights with evidence too rich to summarize how far things have already gone beyond the January 6 attempted autogolpe.

We are facing a mass political movement, that has already enlisted tens of millions of Americans, who believe that the current version of the United States government is fundamentally illegitimate, and needs to be overthrown, by violence if necessary. Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign is going to be based pretty much solely on this message, and he is going to have the entire apparatus of the Republican party at the national, state, and local level enthusiastically aiding his attempt to end liberal democracy in America.

The hour is getting late.

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