Amy Fried is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views are her own and do not represent those of any group with which she is affiliated.
Donald Trump’s attempt to stay in office after losing at the polls, with the Electoral College and in 59 court cases, demonstrate his continued disdain for the law, the Constitution and democracy.
A year ago, the Senate was considering whether to remove Trump from the presidency. Evidence showed that Trump engaged in a months-long effort to use government resources to create a false story to sully Joe Biden.
Back then Sen. Susan Collins, who voted against removing Trump, expressed mixed views. On the one hand, she said what Trump did was “improper,” “wrong” and “demonstrated very poor judgment.” Collins also claimed that Trump “learned a pretty big lesson” from impeachment.
But predictably Trump did not stop breaking ethical standards and the law to try to hold onto power.
Just look at what Trump did this weekend. After losing Georgia’s electoral votes, Trump called Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to pressure him “to find 11,780 votes” to change the result of the Nov. 3 election. Trump could be prosecuted for the call both under federal and Georgia laws against election fraud and election tampering.
In a recording obtained and released by The Washington Post, Trump threatened Raffensperger, claiming the Georgian could face criminal charges. As Trump repeated unsupported, debunked fraud claims, the secretary of state calmly explained that Trump’s information was incorrect.
Meanwhile Trump and his supporters keep pursuing avenues that make a mockery of the Constitution. These are particularly weird from people who often label themselves “constitutionalists” and claim they sincerely revere the document.
Republicans long backed states’ rights, pointing to relevant constitutional provisions. But last month multiple GOP state attorneys general filed a lawsuit, backed by numerous Republican members of the House of Representatives, criticizing how other states carried out their elections. The plaintiffs wanted to determine if other states’ electoral votes would be included or disregarded, a power they don’t have under the Constitution. The Supreme Court swiftly refused to even hear the suit.
Also opposing states’ rights, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said he’d challenge Pennsylvania’s electoral votes because, he said, their absentee ballot system is unconstitutional under Pennsylvania state law. Pennsylvania courts don’t agree and Hawley was rebuked by fellow Republican, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey.
Another bizarre claim, at odds with the Constitution, came from Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro. He said Congress could delay the start of the next presidential term. However, the 20th Amendment clearly states the president’s and vice-president’s term ends “at noon on the 20th day of January” and “the terms of their successors shall then begin.” You can put this date on calendars for decades to come and, as long as the United States survives and doesn’t change the Constitution, you would know what day of the week presidential terms begin.
Yet another absurd lawsuit was filed by Rep. Louie Gohmert, who wanted Vice President Pence to toss out some states’ electoral votes and claimed Pence had the constitutional power to do so. But the 12th Amendment explains that states send their electoral votes to Congress and stipulates that the vice-president “shall” open the certificates, not do anything more.
While Trump tries to coerce election officials and his allies pursue illegitimate schemes, danger lurks.
As Sen. Angus King observed, “None of [Trump’s] challenges have resulted in any finding of fraud or miscounting of ballots. None. And yet, with each passing day, the allegations grow more shrill, the misinformation more intense, the threats more explicit.”
Indeed, Trump gleefully tweeted about the Proud Boys coming to Washington the day electoral votes are counted. After his lawsuit failed, Gohmert said Trump backers could get violent “in the streets.”
And, it was chilling that all living defense secretaries, including Mainer Bill Cohen, thought it necessary to warn that “Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”
As the oldest operating democracy in the world, one of our nation’s hallmarks is the peaceful transfer of power, with disputes about elections decided not in the streets but in the courts. Now we can see who endangers democracy and who stands up for our precious traditions.