John Adams hated Thomas Jefferson with the white-hot fury of a thousand suns. He loathed everything about Jefferson and the way he won the election of 1800, ending Adams’ administration after only one term. Adams refused to attend Jefferson’s inauguration, leaving the Capital city at 4 a.m. There were intense disputes during the transition (especially over a sudden Supreme Court vacancy), but there were no deliberate attacks by Adams that directly threatened the still-delicate nature of the new republic.
If President Donald Trump would only sit and stew until leaving the Capital at 4 a.m. on Jan. 20. Instead, his very deliberate attack on the integrity of our elections is still very much in progress and opening a new chapter in Wisconsin.
Trump lost Wisconsin by some 20,000 votes. That was confirmed Tuesday in a canvass of all 72 counties. He had the option of asking for a statewide recount, which likely would have changed the margin by a couple of hundred votes—up or down. Instead, he sought, paid for, and will receive a recount in only two counties—Milwaukee and Dane—so deeply Democratic as to reaffirm that his petulant legal tactics have nothing to do with real fraud on a scale that could change an election’s outcome. The real fraud is being committed by Trump and the Wisconsin lawmakers who deliberately want to undermine confidence—in elections, in the people who live in our state’s two largest and most diverse cities, and in Joe Biden’s presidency itself.
So long as Trump can dink-and-dunk his way through courtrooms and recounts, it not only interferes with a smooth transfer of power, it puts lives at stake during a pandemic where national planning has to include a smooth hand-off to those who will fight the coronavirus outbreak. And Trump’s continued purge of honorable public servants is doing the kind of work our adversaries could scarcely dream of, much less implement.
This sad and dangerous spectacle reminds us of how we learned in Wisconsin two years ago that the phrase “lame duck” no longer applies to the period when the losing party is unable to accomplish much due to the will of the voters. You can actually accomplish quite a lot if your attitude moves from acceptance and respect to “voters be damned.” After Democratic gains in the 2018 elections, legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, and elsewhere stripped power away from election winners who had yet to take office.
Now, a defeated president has several weeks to sow mistrust and make national unity even more difficult.
No one is asking Wisconsin’s elected Republicans to hoist President-elect Biden on their shoulders and cheer. But it has never been too much to ask that they publicly respect the awesome trust our nation puts in its voters, even when they vote to essentially overthrow the government currently in power.
Instead, we have a state Assemblyman, Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis), making a case to overturn an election with the claim that an investigation that uncovered fraud should allow the legislature to “declare this past election null and void and hold a new election, or require our Electoral College Delegates to correct the injustice with their votes.”
Require the Electoral College delegates to vote a certain way?
We also have state Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie) telling the right-wing Washington Examiner newspaper that she and other Republican legislators will be reviewing possible changes to election law, again based on nothing more—it seems—than this last election led to a result they don’t like.
“Most people do not understand the electoral process and all that goes into it, including my colleagues,” said the chair of the Senate Committee on Elections, rather self-importantly.
And worst of all, we have the state’s most powerful Republican abusing power by calling for a legislative committee to investigate… what, exactly? There are still no credible claims of fraud, only a refusal to acknowledge the obvious: the same voters who elected Republican legislators also elected a new Democratic president.
They know this. They are knowingly trying to torpedo public trust in the hope that their base voters see them as victims and race back to the ballot box in 2022 while other voters stay away from what they keep hearing is a “rigged” system. And in 2024, their thinking goes, Donald Trump will be triumphantly returned to power.
It’s a mindset at least as sad as John Adams’ long carriage ride, but he was right to set a precedent for peacefully—if begrudgingly— handing the newly-built White House to his duly-elected successor.
Donald Trump is not the first politician to pout about being fired. But he’s doing more than any other to set the house on fire before leaving. And it’s past time that his enablers in Wisconsin and elsewhere stop handing him matches.
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