It is now democracy vs. authoritarianism. There can be no compromise
Last Wednesday evening marked the unofficial start of Donald Trump’s campaign to be reelected president of the United States.
He spent over an hour of prime-time television before an adoring crowd — courtesy of CNN — suggesting America should default on its debts (the crowd applauded) and that we should not defend Ukraine from Russia (cheers).
He defended his infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” comments, called E. Jean Carroll, against whom a Manhattan jury had just found him liable for sexual abuse and defamation, a “whack job,” and said her trial was “a rigged deal” (cheers and applause).
All of this was bad enough.
We are no longer dealing with politics as we have come to understand it.
But what really got my attention was his attempt to rewrite the history of his attempted coup: He asserted that January 6, 2021, was “a beautiful day” (more cheers), that the Capitol rioters had “love in their heart,” and that if elected, he’d pardon those who have been convicted (big applause). He denied moderator Kaitlan Collins’s factual assertion that he took three hours to tell the January 6 rioters to go home (more cheers).
He claimed that he never asked Georgia election officials to “find” him the exact number of votes needed to defeat Biden in Georgia. (He did, and it’s on tape.) He claimed that ex-Vice President Mike Pence had the power to overturn the election. (He didn’t.) He called Michael Byrd — the Black Capitol Police lieutenant who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt while protecting lawmakers during the storming of the Capitol — a “thug.” (He isn’t.)
And he reiterated that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and — menacingly — refused to commit to the results of the 2024 presidential election (more applause).
What’s been the reaction to this prime-time squalor?
No Republican lawmaker has condemned it — except for Utah’s Mitt Romney (remember him? He was the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2012, as amazing as that now seems).
From the rest of the Republican Party — Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, other Republican leaders in Congress, Republican governors? Nothing.
It is now democracy versus authoritarianism. There can be no compromise. And there must not be silence.
What about Democratic lawmakers?
Besides questioning CNN’s judgment in giving Trump the platform, remarkably little.
My sources in the Biden administration say they were “delighted” with the CNN event because it gave Biden even “more ammo” against Trump and will “drive more Dems and independents to the polls to vote for Biden next year.”
Maybe. But what if it convinced more Americans of Trump’s lies? Of his “strength?” Of his baseless convictions?
CNN has gone into overdrive defending itself (and its CEO, Chris Licht) for giving Trump the platform. After all, said CNN repeatedly, Trump is the leading Republican in the race for president and the public has a right to see and hear him. Others in the media claimed it would be irresponsible to “ignore” Trump and “keep him under a bushel basket.”
As if that were the issue.
The issue was CNN’s decision to give Trump exactly what he wanted — more than an hour by himself, with a hand-picked audience, and a single reporter who couldn’t possibly correct his torrent of lies (after Kaitlan Collins repeatedly asked him about his handling of classified documents,he called her a “nasty person,” eliciting audience cheers).
But the problem we face is larger than the silence of Republican lawmakers, the smug tactical response of Democrats, and the blinkered defense of CNN by the media.
Two and a half years after Trump summoned supporters to Washington, rallied them outside the White House, and, knowing they were armed and dangerous, sent them to “stop the steal” on Capitol Hill — where they rioted, threatened the lives of Congress, and caused five deaths — he has still not been held legally accountable.
Yes, he has been found liable in a civil trial for sexually harassing and defaming one woman and indicted for making hush-money payments to another.
But he instigated an attempted coup of the United States in plain sight. Where is the attorney general? The special counsel? The law?
Wake up, America!
Those who stood up to Trump have now been purged.
We are no longer dealing with politics as we have come to understand it — as I have seen and practiced it over the last half century: Democrats versus Republicans, liberals versus conservatives, left versus right. In this old form of politics, compromise was expected and often necessary.
It is now democracy versus authoritarianism.
There can be no compromise. And there must not be silence.
In 2016, Trump was a joke. He is no longer a joke. He has taken over the Republican Party, turning it into an anti-democracy party containing many officials who have bought into and magnified his big lie about winning the 2020 election.
Those who stood up to Trump have now been purged. Most Republican lawmakers who remain have made it clear that they will bend or disregard any rule that gets in their way.
Trump’s racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia have fueled a dramatic rise in hate crimes across America.
His grievances and calls for vengeance are causing the nation to become ever more bitterly divided, paranoid, and suspicious.
He is less constrained than he was before. His lies are even larger. He is even more self-assured in telling them.
We do not have the luxury of waiting 18 months until the 2024 election. The danger is now.
His rhetoric is even more menacing. “In 2016, I declared I am your voice,” Trump said at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference. “Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”
Yet if the tepid silence from the rest of America continues, he has a fair shot at becoming president again in 2024.
Friends, we do not have the luxury of waiting 18 months until the 2024 election. The danger is now.
We must speak out against Trumpian fascism.
Demand that Trump be held fully accountable for what he has done.
Condemn the media for allowing him to set the terms for appearing, and for magnifying and legitimizing his lies.
Urge secretaries of state and other state election officials to refuse to put him on the ballot — under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars anyone from holding office who, having taken an oath to support the Constitution, has engaged in an insurrection against the United States.
And we must make good trouble, as John Lewis put it: Mobilize to protect equal rights and preserve the rule of law. Call out haters and bigots. Take to the streets, if necessary, to defend our democracy.