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‘Stop the steal’ turned into ‘stop me from losing’

On Dec. 8, 2020, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced his lawsuit against Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin for “exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to justify ignoring federal and state election laws.” While Paxton’s announcement received a large amount of media attention, his filing was only one of 60 different lawsuits challenging the results of the presidential election and alleging widespread voter fraud.

Both sides affirmed the legal right of Trump and his allies to legally contest the 2020 electoral results, but the outcome of the lawsuits was overwhelmingly decisive. Almost every case was dismissed or dropped due to lack of evidence, with many of Trump’s own judicial appointees casting votes to reject Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

Trump’s legal woes were unsurprising, given that even his lawyers refused to make many of their public allegations when facing judges. In several instances, Trump lawyers, concerned about the penalties associated with making demonstrably false claims in court, avoided questions about widespread voter fraud or admitted under oath that they had no evidence of such a claim.

Even though Trump never came close to legally overturning the election results in any of his targeted states, he didn’t concede, and no one expected him to. The debate about Trump’s ability to challenge alleged election fraud in court was never in question. Rather, Trump’s lawsuits were a veneer to spread a subversive and undemocratic message: that he “deserved” to win and that he should serve a second term regardless of the incontrovertible facts that Republican election officials and his own judicial nominees affirmed again and again.

When Trump called on Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” the necessary 11,780 votes needed for him to win re-election in the state, it gave the game away. “Stop the steal” became “Stop me from losing” and “Keep America Great” added the disclaimer “as long as I’m in charge.” After Vice President (Mike) Pence made clear that he did not have the authority to unilaterally reject state electors and state election officials refused Trump’s demands to rescind their certifications, there was only one way to ensure Trump got what he wanted – an attempted coup on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

What happened in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 was truly unprecedented. Crowds of people arrayed in MAGA gear clashed with Capitol Police as they tried and eventually succeeded to break inside the building. Protesters then proceeded to roam the halls of the Capitol, breaking into offices … One man proudly flew a Confederate battle flag as he roamed around the Capitol of the country that defeated the Confederacy. Four people were reported dead by Washington, D.C., police at the end of the day.

In a letter to John Taylor in 1814, President John Adams famously observed, “… Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. … It is in vain to Say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious or less avaricious than Aristocracy or Monarchy. It is not true in Fact and no where appears in history. Those Passions are the same in all Men under all forms of Simple Government, and when unchecked, produce the same Effects of Fraud Violence and Cruelty.”

Adams’ quote underscores a core truth about democratic governance – it doesn’t matter how many checks and balances exist or how long a constitution has lasted if the people living in a country allow themselves to be ruled by passion rather than principle. America’s system of government works, but our republic only exists “if we can keep it.”

For all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, the United States cannot be considered a democracy if it lacks the most fundamental democratic principle of all, peaceful transfer of power.

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