November 19, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Kneeling to the Republican collective
Individuals don't matter. Democracy doesn't matter. Unless they are a threat.
The president lost the election. He’s losing his legal fight. He’s now trying to get obscure local election officials to overrule the sovereignty of the citizenry. It’s a last-ditch effort on Donald Trump’s part, but also a clear sign that democracy isn’t the point for the president or the GOP. It’s an obstacle to power they must overcome.
According to the Post, the president on Tuesday called a Republican member of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers. Monica Palmer said he called after she and another Republican member changed their minds, deciding to certify votes in their jurisdiction. (They had initially refused to.) Importantly, the president’s phone call came before Palmer and William Hartmann changed their minds again. They filed affidavits Wednesday alleging they were “improperly pressured” to certify votes.
When put like this, it’s clear that Donald Trump isn’t just an electoral loser. He’s the leader of an insurgency in the making.
Bear in mind none of this matters. The president may have told Palmer and Hartmann to “rescind” their votes, but Michigan law prohibits it. The move is, moreover, part of an unprecedented effort by Trump to delay or undermine a peaceful transition of power, said University of Kentucky law professor Joshua Douglas. “It would be the end of democracy as we know it,” he told the AP. “This is just not a thing that can happen.”
What’s curious is that Michigan would go blue even if the president’s gambit succeeded. President-elect Joe Biden’s vote margin there is in the tens of thousands. What did Trump hope to accomplish by improperly pressuring obscure local election officials? If democracy isn’t the point, and winning Michigan isn’t the point, what is? I think the point can be seen in Palmer and Hartmann’s term “improperly pressured.”
True improper pressure is the president of the United States calling an obscure local election official to say she and the other guy made the wrong choice, now go out there and humiliate yourselves in my name even if there’s no chance of winning Michigan. False improper pressure is local citizens like Ned Staebler who, during a public hearing of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, said Palmer and Hartmann were choosing to disenfranchise Black Detroiters, a cardinal sin for which they will burn in Hell.
Palmer told the Post:
“Last night was heartbreaking. I sat in that chair for two hours listening to people attack me” as a racist who was attempting to disenfranchise Detroit residents. She said her intentions were the opposite—but her efforts have been lost in a sea of invective that night that included death threats against her and her family.
Free speech isn’t a threat unless it’s literal. Otherwise, it’s protected. People seeking to invalidate democracy often make free speech seem threatening, though. “I sat in that chair for two hours listening to people attack me.” That’s what Palmer and Hartmann mean by “improperly pressured.” Outrage poured down on them for refusing to certify the vote. The public pressured them. Democracy urged them. Nothing’s improper there.
Here’s the tip jar! Put something nice in it!
Then they changed their minds a second time. That’s where true improper pressure comes in. Not only did the president appear to tell them to “rescind” their decisions; Palmer received death threats after certifying votes that turn Wayne County blue. Kayla Ruble saw texts in which Palmer was threatened. Palmer told Ruble they came from the right and the left, but that’s not credible. (“Leftist” threats came from “Antifa from Grosse Pointe.”) More likely, she got death threats from Trump supporters aiming to punish her for disloyalty to Trump despite loyalty making no difference.
Like Palmer, Tricia Raffensperger, wife of the Georgia secretary of state, is also getting death threats. Fox’s Atlanta affiliate reported some of them: “You better not botch this recount. Your life depends on it.” “Your husband deserves to face a firing squad.” “The Raffenspergers should be put on trial for treason and face execution.” Back in Michigan, white vigilantes arrested in connection with a scheme to kidnap the governor had a Plan B, according to prosecutors. ABC’s Chicago affiliate reported Wednesday it “involved a takeover of the Michigan capitol building by 200 combatants who would stage a week-long series of televised executions of public officials.”
If democracy isn’t the point, and winning Michigan isn’t the point, what is? The point, I think, is simple once you think about it. It’s subordination to the collective. Palmer succumbed to democratic pressure. She betrayed the group. She must be punished. Humiliation or death, the goal is the same. The call of the tribe is so strong you’re willing to slander democracy—“I sat in that chair for two hours listening to people attack me.” Individuals don’t matter. Neither does democracy. Not till they threaten the collective. Then they justify an equal, opposite, and seditious reaction. Put like this, it’s clear Trump isn’t just a loser. He’s the leader of an insurgency in the making.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.