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Trump Is Stress-testing American Democracy
COMMENTARY

November 23, 2020 by Robert B. Reich
President Donald Trump walks to his motorcade on the South Lawn of the White House on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. Photo by Oliver Contreras/Pool/ABACAPRESS.COM

Financial regulators subject banks to stress tests to see if they have enough capital to withstand sharp downturns.

Now America is being subject to a stress test to see if it has enough strength to withstand Donald Trump’s treacherous campaign to discredit the 2020 presidential election.

Trump will lose because there’s no evidence of election fraud. But the integrity of thousands of people responsible for maintaining American democracy is being tested as never before.

Tragically, most elected Republicans are failing the test by refusing to stand up to Trump. Their cowardice is one of the worst betrayals of public trust in the history of our republic.

The only dissenting notes are coming from Republicans who are retiring at the end of the year or don’t have to face voters for several years, such as Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

Silent Republicans worry that speaking out could invite a primary challenge. But democracy depends on moral courage. These silent profiles in cowardice don’t deserve to be reelected.

Here’s the good news. The vast majority of lower-level Republican officeholders are passing the stress test, many with distinction.

Take for example Chris Krebs, who led the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency and on Nov. 17 refuted Trump’s claims of election fraud, saying the claims “have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent.”

Trump fired Krebs that afternoon. Krebs’ response: “Honored to serve. We did it right.”

Another example is Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state who oversaw the election there and describes himself as “a Republican through and through and never voted for a Democrat.” Raffensperger is defending Georgia’s vote for Biden, rejecting Trump’s accusations of fraud. On Nov. 20, he certified that Biden won the state.

Raffensperger spurned overtures from Trump quisling Lindsey Graham, who asked if Raffensperger could toss out all mail-in votes from counties with high rates of questionable signatures. And Raffensperger dismissed demands from Georgia’s two incumbent Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue (both facing runoffs after tougher-than-anticipated races) that he resign.

“This office runs on integrity,” Raffensperger says, “and that’s what voters want to know, that this person’s going to do his job.”

Raffensperger has received death threats from Republican voters inflamed by Trump’s allegations. He’s not the only one. Election officials in Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona are also reporting threats. But they’re not giving in to them.

While we’re at it, let’s not forget all the other public officials who have been stress-tested during Trump’s repugnant presidency and passed honorably.

I’m referring to public health officials unwilling to lie about COVID-19, military leaders unwilling to back Trump’s threats against Black Lives Matter protesters, inspectors general unwilling to cover up Trump corruption, U.S. foreign service officers unwilling to lie about Trump’s overtures to Ukraine, intelligence officials unwilling to bend their reports to suit Trump, and Justice Department attorneys refusing to participate in Trump’s obstructions of justice.

If you think it easy to do what they did, think again. Some of them lost their jobs. Many were demoted. A few have been threatened with violence. They’ve risked all this to do what’s morally right in an America poisoned by Trump, who has no idea what it means to do what’s morally right.

That’s ultimately what this Trump stress test is all about — a test of moral integrity.

Even though House and Senate Republicans have failed that test, American democracy has enough officials who are passing it that democracy will survive.

But the fact that Trump’s attempted coup won’t succeed doesn’t make it any less damaging and dangerous. A new poll from Monmouth University finds 77 percent of Trump supporters believe Biden’s win was due to fraud — a claim, I should emphasize again, backed by zero evidence.

Which means the stress test won’t be over when Joe Biden is sworn in as president on Jan. 20. In the years ahead we’ll continue to depend on the integrity of thousands of unsung heroes to do their duty in the face of threats to their livelihoods and perhaps their lives.

Meanwhile, American democracy will continue to be endangered by House and Senate Republicans who lack the moral courage to do what’s right.

©2020 Robert Reich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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