Editorial: Trumpism: An existential threat to our republic

“Is the American experiment in democracy equipped to survive a Trump presidency?”

The question, posed as the opening sentence in an editorial published in this space four years ago, on Nov. 9, 2016, was followed with an optimistic “Of course it will.”

There are now less than two weeks to go before the final day of balloting in 2020, and that answer must be amended to read: “It can, but only with an extended struggle that will test our resolve and our courage in unprecedented and frightening ways.”

Trump’s narrow victory in 2016 was greased by a form of ignorance far more insidious than a mere “not-knowing.” Aside from someone casting an actual vote for him, the candidate counted on the sins of omission by millions of others who did not actively seek to block his victory by voting. They were animated, in turn, by an aversion to an accomplished woman who would have been the first to hold the highest office; the churlishness of those disaffected by a primary loss of a preferred progressive; and the sophomoric simple-mindedness of those amused by the rants of a reality TV con man.

Whether they sat on their hands or actually filled in an oval for Trump, many did so with the full expectation that he would lose. These were acts of political vandalism, like throwing an orange brick through the republic’s front window for the thrill of it.

This time around, there’s no excuse. The impossible is not only possible. He can win. There is no rational alternative other than to vote for those who would unseat him: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Also evident: Even if Trump loses, he intends to dispute the results and wage a third campaign to retain the power of the Oval Office. His allies — most of them his vanquished Republican foes— are so complicit and cowardly that they can be counted on to aid and abet the crime.

There will be no gracious concession speech, no heartfelt note left behind on the Resolute Desk. Quite the opposite: The interregnum is likely to be fraught with danger to the republic unlike any seen since the 1860s.

President Barack Obama had this to say on the day after Trump’s 2016 triumph: “That’s the way politics works sometimes. If we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we do some reflections, we lick our wounds, we get back in the arena.” He advised those demoralized by Hillary Clinton’s loss to adhere to the “presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens…a respect for our institutions, our way of life, of the rule of law.”

It is nearly impossible to conjure a scenario in which this president, if defeated, will offer anything close to this wise counsel to his cult-like followers.

In 2016, I wrote in this space: “Our republic has weathered numerous constitutional crises, including a secessionist movement leading to a four-year-long armed conflict to restore the Union; invasion by a foreign army; obscene acts of terrorism both homegrown and imported, including chattel slavery; and economic depressions so grave that they many times threatened to engulf much of the nation in abject poverty.”

Four years on, we can now write-thru our national narrative to include the twin terrors of a deadly pandemic and a brazen assault on our democracy mounted from within. Not just an insurgency from fringe fanatics, but a betrayal from the top down: the threat of outright treason from a commander-in-chief.

Electing and seating Joe Biden and Kamala Harris must be viewed as just the start of unraveling the outrages of the last four years. Trumpism will not slink quietly back into the swamp from which it emerged five years ago to choke out the once Grand Old Party. It will need to be confronted at all turns.

– Bill Forry