For years, the Republican Party had been eroding their base’s confidence in the election system in order to justify passing state laws to restrict the opportunities of minorities to vote - primarily because they usually voted Democratic. Then, Trump came along and magnified all that a hundredfold. He started by intensifying rhetoric demeaning minorities and immigrants, famously calling Haiti and African nations “s—t hole countries” and invoking apocalyptic imagery in his inauguration to describe black and immigrant communities (“American carnage,” he called it).
He also, from the outset, made clear he would never concede any election he lost, because the only way he could lose an election is if there was fraud on the other side. This primed his followers, whom he stirred up with violent speech, to rebel if he did lose. As I described last week, at least two people in this county threatened me with violence if Trump lost in 2016. This does not even take into account the fact that Russia tried to intervene in our elections to Trump’s benefit, something which would have chilled most Americans to the bone in an earlier era.
All this combined to erode the public’s faith in democratic elections -which was Russia’s goal. Trump did not concede. Instead, he claimed fraud in practically every swing state and brought countless lawsuits to throw out the votes of American citizens. However, there has been absolutely no evidence of widespread fraud presented, and some of Trump’s lawyers are now in danger of disbarment for making claims they knew were false, in order to erode faith in the election. Trump’s hardcore base - about 30 percent of America - were enraged at, and refused to accept, his loss. Trump’s slogan, “stop the steal,” was on the lips of millions.
We now know that Trump’s inner circle devised an elaborate plan to keep him in office, despite losing the election. Alternate Trump electors illegally and secretly met in swing states he had lost, such as Wisconsin and Michigan, and filled out fraudulent slates. Trump and his cronies were convinced that VP Mike Pence had the authority to toss out electors from states that Trump claimed were fraudulent and either toss the election decision to the legislature or perhaps approve the fraudulent electors instead. Pence was advised by former VP Dan Quayle that this was illegal, and he reported to his boss that he couldn’t do it. Trump inflamed the supporters at his DC rally, calling Biden an “illegitimate president” and saying “if you don’t fight like hell you won’t have a country anymore.”
We know what happened. A violent mob, trying to stop the official count of the electoral votes, attacked the Capitol. A makeshift scaffold was erected, and people shouted “Hang Mike Pence!” Death threats were made against various Democratic legislators. Policemen were mercilessly beaten. People died. The Capitol was ransacked, with feces smeared on the wall. Legislators and police desperately called for National Guard reinforcements, but they did not come for hours -because they were not given orders to come. Trump watched it all on TV, cheering the mob.
It certainly seems Trump wanted the insurrection to intensify, with more bloodshed. We know that he and his advisers discussed declaring martial law, using the violence as an excuse, and putting the army in charge of recounting votes.
This was a clear-cut attempt to overturn a legitimate election’ and to overthrow the legitimate new government. It was the biggest attack on democracy and the Constitution in American history.
In its wake, using Trump supporters’ mistrust of the election as a reason (despite there being no evidence they are right), red states have passed even more restrictive voting laws (aimed at potential Democratic voters). Conservative politicians and media continue to repeat ‘The Big Lie,’ further eroding their base’s trust in voting… and thereby setting up, potentially, even more violence at the next election. Which might work this time.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.
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