What we know

What we know

Editor’s Note: This was written as 2023 coasted into 2024. It is now mid-February 2024. We’re editing this with an eye to making it relevant beyond the primaries. One of its characters are no longer possible candidates for US president in the 2024 race, but the basic principles should remain now and forever.

I remember an old man, considered to be pretty wise even by those who knew him well, telling me about the time he shook off the moral relativism that had bogged his most youthful philosophizing. He was I believe still a teenager, and Hitler was making trouble, but not, to my recollection, yet WWII.

This then-young man was riding his bike or walking. He was moving, probably over a dirt path, in his then more-woods-than-town town. I think.

The main point is what he was thinking about:

“I think Hitler is wrong. Why is he wrong? Because I say so? Because my teacher says so? Because my parents say so? Because my minister says so? No, Hitler is wrong because Gods says so.”

And from here he went on to build up a pleasant theology:

God was Good. God was all-powerful. God would not start what God could not finish. And so salvation would in the fulness of time reach everyone. Of course, not knowing God’s mind, he couldn’t be sure of every detail, and he wasn’t going to argue the point with God, but as far as he can figure things, that’s how they lie. The point of being a Christian for him was therefore to start living in heaven in this life, to start living in accord with God here and now, today and every day you’re lucky enough to be allowed to sing God’s praise.

In the fulness of his time, this man became a fulltime minister in his little town, a family man, a friend to all. A happy, full, rated-G life.

Hitler lost. Liberal democracy thrived. That was lucky for the world. Because moral relativism is wrong, because might does not make right, and because the best governments serve self-evident truths and the will of the governed — not backwards logics shoved through with the thuggy nihilism of “might makes right”.

So that story had a generally happy ending.

It is now almost 2024.

We know the following:

Donald Trump has shown anti-democratic tendencies before, during, and after his presidency.

Chronicling and interpreting the “before” we’ll leave to less pressing times.

For the “during”:

We had compiled a panic-stricken list of Trump’s Threat to Democracy and written desperate pleas for Biden in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

We link to many pages of many concerns on NYC Journal. Those links are a little below the 2024 update, under the heading, “The theme for Summer/Fall 2020: Save US American Democracy from Donald Trump and his GOP enablers / Step #1: Elect Joseph Biden as President of the United States of America.”

Unfortunately, Donald Trump and his GOP enablers have doubled-down on the evil. So here in 2024, things are still looking pretty dicey; and we, the citizens of the world’s largest democratic republic, are called more than ever to perform one of our primary duties in this government — which is to act as a final check on madness, corruption and evil in government.

We didn’t know in November 2020, what Donald Trump would do at the end of his term. Now we do.

Donald Trump had no good reason to believe the 2020 election had been stolen from him, but still worked to overturn the election, often resorting to unethical tactics such as:

a. Demanding the White House DOJ find evidence in support of one spurious election fraud conspiracy theory after another, and repeatedly asserting the validity of individual conspiracy theories both inside the White House and out in the public discourse — even after those individual theories had been investigated and disproven by his own DOJ.

[This is the Executive Summary of the Jan 6 Investigation. The first section “The Big Lie” has a long list of evidence and testimony about what Trump’s DOJ told Trump (their investigations show no evidence of widespread or results-altering fraud in the 2020 presidential election) and what Trump was saying (election fraudulently stolen from me!). This section also includes a chart showing example after example of the president’s own administration telling him x conspiracy theory is not valid, and then Trump, at some later date, repeating x conspiracy theory.]

b. Pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to not certify Biden’s victory on January 6, and pressuring state lawmakers to replace Biden electors with Trump electors.

The scheme was that Vice President Mike Pence would refuse to certify Biden’s victory and team Trump would then pressure individual states to replace their electors (who, since these are states in which Biden won, were going to cast their votes for Biden) with electors willing to subvert the will of the state’s voters and vote for Trump.

Even the lawyers engineering this plan did not consider it constitutional.

[See the Executive Summary of the Jan 6 Investigation. The section is “Rather than concede, Donald Trump chooses to obstruct the January 6 proceeding”. Trump began pressuring Vice President to do his part in this plan to undermine our election process on January 4, and he continued through January 6.

From “Rather than concede, Donald Trump chooses to obstruct the January 6 proceeding”:

At 8:17 a.m. on January 6th, he tweeted again: “States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

Do it Mike, this is a time for political evil!

Trump and coconspirators also created false elector slates, recruited false electors, and tried to get state officials to go along with their plan to replace the Biden electors with Trump ones.

[From the Executive Summary, in the section “Efforts to pressure states to change the election outcomes and to create fake election certificates”:

The false slates were created by fake Republican electors on December 14th, at the same time the actual, certified electors in those States were meeting to cast their States’ Electoral College votes for President Biden. By that point in time, election-related litigation was over in all or nearly all of the subject States, and Trump Campaign election lawyers realized that the fake slates could not be lawful or justifiable on any grounds.

During a January 2, 2021, call, President Trump pressured Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes.” During that call, President Trump asserted conspiracy theories about the election that Department of Justice officials had already debunked. President Trump also made a thinly veiled threat to Raffensperger and his attorney about his failure to respond to President Trump’s demands: “That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense . . . That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer . . . I’m notifying you that you’re letting it happen.”

Multiple Republicans who were persuaded to sign the fake certificates also testified that they felt misled or betrayed, and would not have done so had they known that the fake votes would be used on January 6th without an intervening court ruling. One elector told the Select Committee that he thought his vote would be strictly contingent: “[I]t was a very consistent message that we were told throughout all of that, is this is the only reason why we’re doing this, is to preserve the integrity of being able to have a challenge.

In Michigan, President Trump focused on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield. He invited them to the White House for a November 20, 2020, meeting during which President Trump and Giuliani, who joined by phone, went through a “litany” of false allegations about supposed fraud in Michigan’s election.

When President Trump couldn’t convince Shirkey and Chatfield to change the outcome of the election in Michigan during that meeting or in calls after, he or his team maliciously tweeted out Shirkey’s personal cell phone number and a number for Chatfield that turned out to be wrong.259 Shirkey received nearly 4,000 text messages after that, and another private citizen reported being inundated with calls and texts intended for Chatfield.

c. Attempting to change the head of the DOJ to someone willing to send a letter to the state legislature of Georgia stating, contrary to established facts, that the DOJ had found evidence of fraud in the Georgia election.

[This is covered in the “Efforts to Corrupt the Department of Justice” section of the Executive Summary to the January 6 Report:

In the weeks after the 2020 election, Attorney General Barr advised President Trump that the Department of Justice had not seen any evidence to support Trump’s theory that the election was stolen by fraud. Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his Deputy repeatedly reinforced to President Trump that his claims of election fraud were false when they took over in mid-December. Also in mid-December 2020, Attorney General Barr announced his plans to resign. Between that time and January 6th, Trump spoke with Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen and Acting Deputy Richard Donoghue repeatedly, attempting to persuade them and the Department of Justice to find factual support for his stolen election claims and thereby to assist his efforts to reverse election results.

At one point during the December 27th call in which Donoghue refuted President Trump’s fraud allegations, Donoghue recorded in handwritten notes a request President Trump made specifically to him and Acting Attorney General Rosen: “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.”

The Committee’s investigation has shown that Congressman Perry was working with one Department of Justice official, Jeffrey Clark, regarding the stolen election claims. Perry was working with Clark and with President Trump and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows with this goal: to enlist Clark to reverse the Department of Justice’s findings regarding the election and help overturn the election outcome.

On December 28th, Clark worked with a Department employee named Kenneth Klukowski—a political appointee who had earlier worked with John Eastman — to produce a draft letter from the Justice Department to the State legislature of Georgia. …

The letter read: “The Department of Justice is investigating various irregularities in the 2020 election for President of the United States.” Clark continued: “The Department will update you as we are able on investigatory progress, but at this time we have identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia.” This was affirmatively untrue. The Department had conducted many investigations of election fraud allegations by that point, but it absolutely did not have “significant concerns” that fraud “may have impacted the outcome of the election” in any State. Jeff Clark knew this; Donoghue confirmed it again in an email responding to Clark’s letter: “[W]e simply do not currently have a basis to make such a statement. Despite dramatic claims to the contrary, we have not seen the type of fraud that calls into question the reported (and certified) results of the election.”

Trump was unable to get either Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen or Acting Deputy Richard Donoghue to go along with sending a letter dishonestly claiming evidence of election fraud from the US DOJ to state legislatures. But Jeffrey Clark was game.

By this point, President Trump recognized that neither [acting Attorney General Jeff] Rosen nor [Acting Deputy Richard] Donoghue would sign the letter or support his false election claims. President Trump and his team then communicated further with Clark and offered him the job of Acting Attorney General. On January 2nd, Clark told Rosen that he “would turn down the President’s offer if [Rosen] reversed [his] position and signed the letter” that he and Klukowski had drafted. The next day, Clark decided to accept and informed Rosen, who then called White House Counsel to seek a meeting directly with President Trump. As Rosen put it, “I wasn’t going to accept being fired by my subordinate, so I wanted to talk to the President directly.

The leadership of the DOJ threatened to resign.

Faced with mass resignations and recognizing that the “breakage” could be too severe, Donald Trump decided to rescind his offer to Clark and drop his plans to use the Justice Department to aid in his efforts to overturn the election outcome.316 The President looked at Clark and said, “I appreciate your willingness to do it. I appreciate you being willing to suffer the abuse. But the reality is, you’re not going to get anything done. These guys are going to quit. Everyone else is going to resign. It’s going to be a disaster. The bureaucracy will eat you alive. And no matter how much you want to get things done in the next few weeks, you won’t be able to get it done, and it’s not going to be worth the breakage.” ]

What is going on with you, citizens of the United States?

You have a critical job in this government: pushing back on madness, corruption, and evil in government.

You have had years to watch, read, and digest the actions of Trump. And what is there for you to see? It was only because some people within his administration refused to conspire against the nation (i.e., all of us, those who come after us, and our shared systems and resources) that Donald Trump backed down from his attempt to create a full-on constitutional crisis in order to maintain power.

But as of February 2024, Donald Trump appears to be coasting to victory in the Republican primary, and opinion polls indicate he could also win the general election.

Part of doing your duty as citizens of a democratic republic is paying a modicum of attention and choosing plausible, well-documented arguments over puff and fluff. You’re not doing it. You are like a goalie who has gone out to buy some cigarettes at a critical point in the game. You have hung up a sign on the goalie box: “Out to Get Cigs. Back Soon”, and are totally happy with yourself for this behavior.

Or perhaps the sign says, “Game not going exactly as I would like. Going to go buy some cigarettes and a six-pack and sit around complaining about how the game is rotten and nobody gives me my due or listens to me.”

Or maybe your sign says, “Going to the field to play for the other side — to show all my teammates that they suck and they can suck it.”

You are not being asked to die face down in the mud for your country. You’re being asked to pay a little bit of attention, find a little moral center, act with a bit of sense. That’s the big favor that you just can’t come up with.

d. Holding a rally on January 6 where he incited his followers with more lies about a “stolen” election, the results of which his own federal government had repeatedly found not fraudulent, and then setting the ralliers loose to march on the Capitol with the charge that they should “take back our country”.

e. And then, while this crowd that he’d incited stormed/wandered into the US Capitol Building, sitting silently for hours while they intimidated lawmakers and held the nation hostage — until, eventually I guess it was clear they were not going to seize power for him then and there, at which point he issued a statement repeating lies about a stolen election, telling them they were great, and sending them home.

[For both (d) and (e), see “Summoning a mob to Washington, and knowing they were angry and armed, instructing them to march on the capitol” from the same Executive Summary]

And so on, by hook or by crook, any way to stay in power. As of December 2020, Trump is not a Republican, but a Trumpian, with the primary difference being that the Trumpian political party does not recognize any election victory unless they win it. That is to say, as of December 2020, Trump has decisively and obviously (with piles of documentation) chosen himself over our shared democratic republic.

As Ivanka Trump would recount to her chief of staff moments later, her father called the Vice President “the p-word” for refusing to overturn the election. [From the “Rather than concede, Donald Trump chose to obstruct the January 6 Proceedings” section.]

What is wrong with you, America? At some point you have to say “No” to bullies, even ones who pat you on the head, call you their little buddy, squish the kids who made fun of you that one time or at least who remind you of those kids or something to do with how you remember it, and promise you to pick you and you alone for captain of the team of the special friends the special loyal friends the special loved friends the friends who are worth holding and cherishing and giving dukedoms and loving and kissing.

Rather than denouncing and disavowing Trump’s antidemocratic behavior, Republicans in congress have largely either echoed his lies about the 2024 election or turned a blind eye (at least in public) to his crimes against the republic they also swore to defend. The Republican voters currently overwhelmingly favor Donald Trump as their candidate for the US Presidency. And everything moves forward as if Donald Trump were a Republican, rather than a Trumpian — as if he had not made a definitive break with the democratic process and the rule of law.

Or perhaps Donald Trump is right to think that the Republican party is now a party that only accepts election results that he and his cronies win — that the GOP as a whole (if not in yet in every nook and cranny) has now seen beyond democracy to a bright new future where autocrats like Trump and their cronies stay in power forever, with or without the consent of the governed.

Though the GOP House has not been able to find any instance of corrupt behavior from Joseph Biden, they are working to impeach him, while they have also quietly stopped investigations into the huge sums of money that flowed into Donald Trump’s coffers while he was president and as a result of his use of presidential powers. And now this sleight of hand: impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

What is this but evil? At some point partisan maneuvering slides into evil. And here again the GOP reaches that point and rushes headlong into it.

“Let us trivialize Trump’s impeachments by impeaching Biden and his Security Secretary. You see? Now our fans can think they deserved to be impeached and other people can say, ‘Well, I guess impeachments don’t mean anything, anyway’. We’ve nothing to lose. Except the dignity, authority, trustworthiness, and effectiveness of the US House Representatives. But who cares about that? Now that Trump has shown us that winning is the truth, and everything else is just loser-talk. Being in government isn’t about governing; it’s about being in government and win-win-winning no matter what, mother fuckers!, yeah, bring it!”

So in their hearts — whatever rubbish they use to keep their brains in la la land and their chest inflated like wonderful blimps of heroic pride — they muse, chortle, cluck, and swoon. And so the worm eats them from the inside out. Souls conned for a little power, a little flaunt and show ’em a little leg, a little patriotic swell oh it must be true because I feel giddy and rising up and out upon a wave of grandeur of tight-eyed moist-gazes screwed up in lip-trembling stoic duty.

Interesting. Actually, boring: the same old boring bullshit that fools always sell themselves. But now, through cracks in our shared system, enjoying something of a success.

Trump’s politics starts with lying repeatedly over and over again. The GOP goes along with this exciting new, novel politician. Except: the politics of baldfaced dishonesty is only novel in a country where everyone agrees that maintaining a functioning representative democracy is fundamental to our way of life. You can find examples of conmen-turned-petty-tyrants all over human history.

And so the rot spreads. From Trump’s impulses to his heart/mind. To his supporters. To some in the GOP. To the GOP in general. And if we don’t hold them here and push back here: perhaps to the country. Remember that not everyone in the GOP is happy with this situation. But the desire to fit in, the fear of being bashed, and confusion of echo chambers has a way of silencing dissent until the dissenters decide it’s best to believe whatever’s going round. In Putin’s Russia, people shut their mouths because they know what is good for them; and then they tell themselves that maybe this is for the best; and then before you know it, this is just the way life is: no different here than in any other country.

I’m here to tell you that is not true! It is much better to live in the US even today in this time of warble and worry than in Putin’s Russia. And it is much better in the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. Because we are led by decent people like Joseph Biden and are not serving a man dedicated to the proposition that might makes right and “true” and “false” are just tools for getting what you want.

[Assessing 6 Claims by the GOP in the Biden Impeachment Inquiry by Luke Broadwater for The NY Times on Dec. 22, 2023

House Republicans quietly halt inquiry into Trump’s finances by Luke Broadwater and Jonathon Swan for The NY Times on March 13, 2023

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts in the Trump Administration. A report from the Global Anti-Corruption Blog. First written May 2, 2017. Updated September 30, 2020.

Constitutional law scholars on the impeachment proceedings against Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. January 10, 2024 on Justsecurity.org]

While Donald Trump was attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election, current Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (then just a regular congressman from Louisiana) repeated various unfounded conspiracy theories before settling on a claim that some states’ elections were not valid under the US constitution because those states had made rule-changes with governing bodies other than the state legislatures.

This claim is based on Article I Section 4 of the US Constitution:

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators*.

*[The Seventeenth Amendment (ratified 1913) put the power to choose senators in the hands of the citizens of the state.]

In December 8, 2020, the Texas Attorney General filed a case attempting to disqualify Pennsylvania’s electors based on this clause, with the logic that only the state legislatures are allowed to make rule-changes to their state election procedures (Pennsylvania, along with many other states, had made some rule-changes in response to the pandemic). This represents a novel interpretation of the Elections Clause, which has through long-established precedent been understood as putting oversight of a state’s elections in that state’s government as a whole — with the US Congress reserving the right to step in if needed.

Mike Johnson worked to get fellow House members to sign an amicus brief supporting the suit, making it clear to them that it was Trump’s wish that they signed on. 126 House Republicans eventually signed this amicus brief [https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/12/12/list-the-126-congress-members-19-states-and-2-imaginary-states-that-backed-texas-suit-over-trump-defeat/]. On December 11, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, on the grounds that Texas lacked the legal standing to challenge another state’s election results.

However, on June 27, 2023, in Moore versus Harper, the Supreme Court did hear and reject the theory that only state legislatures have the power to make or adjudicate election rules. The court ruled 6-3 against the North Carolina Legislature’s claim that the NC courts could not keep them from gerrymandering districts. In this ruling, SCOTUS explained that the Court has routinely interpreted “Legislature” in Article I Section 4 to describe the state governments as a whole, and not just the state legislatures. As per Chief Justice Roberts, “Elections Clause does not vest exclusive and independent authority in state legislatures to set the rules regarding federal elections … [and] does not insulate state legislatures from the ordinary exercise of state judicial review.”

[“US Supreme Court Rejects Independent State Legislature Theory in Moore vs Harper”, Rachel Selzer, published 6/27/2023 in Democracy Docket.
https://www.democracydocket.com/news-alerts/u-s-supreme-court-rejects-independent-state-legislature-theory-in-moore-v-harper/ ]

And consider the following argument (originally from Paul Blumenthal for the Huffpost):

If we accept Mike Johnson’s argument that only state legislatures can legally make election rules for their states and that therefore any states who violated this constitutional rule should have their 2020 electors thrown out and thus lose their voice in the US presidential election; then almost all the state election results should be considered invalid, including many where Republicans won. Because almost all the states had made some extra-legislative election rules changes prior to the 2020 election.

Paul Blumenthal:

“If the Constitution says ― as Johnson argues ― that elections conducted under rules not explicitly set by a state legislature are unconstitutional, then House members from states whose elections were conducted under such conditions should not have taken the oath of office. But they did.”

He later notes in the same article:

“Similarly, House Republicans only objected to the seating of a handful of states ― enough to steal the election for Trump ― and Senate Republicans only joined them in objecting to two.

“If changes to election rules not done by state legislatures were such an affront to the Constitution, then why did Johnson not support objecting to every state that did so?”

[“The Supreme Court Shot Down Mike Johnson’s Argument Against Certifying the 2020 Election”, Paul Blumenthal, published 11/4/2023 in the Huffpost
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/mike-johnson-2020-election-trump_n_65454357e4b01b258583b3c0 ]

Why indeed?

And look at this little detail:

“… What’s more, the total number of ballots affected by pandemic rule changes would not have undone the results in Pennsylvania and other contested states.”

[“They Legitimized the myth of a stolen election — and Reaped the Rewards”
Subtitle: “On the day the Capitol was attacked, 139 Republicans in the House voted to dispute the Electoral College count. This is how they got there.”
October 3, 2022, updated October 23, 2022
By Steve Edger, David D. Kirkpatrick, Mike McIntyre
For the New York Times]

Mike Johnson’s “constitutional” argument is that we should throw out all the votes cast by the citizens of Pennsylvania because of rule changes the Pennsylvania state government had made in good faith and following long-standing precedent. He would have us replace long-established precedent with a novel interpretation of the constitution and then ex post facto nullify all the votes cast under the old precedent &emdash; after the votes had been cast and tallied and it is too late for either the government or voters of Pennsylvania to comply with the new interpretation. And all this &emdash; the disenfranchisement of an entire state’s electorate via an ex post facto change of long-established rules &emdash; even though the number of votes effected by the disputed rule changes would not have been enough to change Pennsylvania’s election results; and even though many other states, including those which had elected Republican members of congress, had made similar rule changes.

Let us pause here to appreciate the blunt fact that Republicans backing Mike Johnson’s argument were being evil.

Mike Johnson and his fellow signers were not seeking to uphold the US Constitution. They were seeking, and they found, a legal-sounding excuse to oblige Trump’s desire to lie about the legitimacy of and attempt to overturn the 2020 election results.

Donald Trump, Mike Johnson, and their collaborators attempted to twist a document intended to place the ultimate power of the US government with the citizens of these United States into a weapon that would allow them to overturn the 2020 presidential election results on a technicality they invented after-the-fact. Or, if many of those who signed the statement of support did not believe Texas vs Pennsylvania could succeed (and some probably didn’t even hope it would), they were at least seeking any excuse to continue supporting the lie that the 2020 presidential election was somehow dubious, and it is legitimate for Trump to question it’s outcome.

That is what they did and what they are doing: Providing legalese hocus pocus cover to justify, legitimatize, and normalize Donald Trump’s brazen attempts to defraud the US citizens out of the 2020 election results and his continued lies about that election.

And even early in January 2024, Mike Johnson claims that the 2020 election violated the US constitution, and that, Okay, the Supreme Court passed on the case, so they didn’t end up overturning the election and we’re stuck with it, but, hey, it’s still obvious to anyone who reads the constitution or googles the issue that the 2020 election is constitutionally invalid.

Transcript: House Speaker, Mike Johnson, “Face of the Nation”, January 7, 2024 (CBS News)

When does speciousness become evil?

Mike Johnson is working to reinstate a former president who attempted to overturn the democratic process to remain in power, who was prevented from taking more drastic actions by people in his administration who put faithfulness to the nation and rule of law above personal loyalty (the sort of people Trump has now learned to keep out of his next administration), and who continues to echo the foundational lie of a stolen election.

And in support of this man, Mike Johnson continues to claim that the 2020 election is constitutionally invalid, and makes out like anyone can see that — even though neither precedent nor the current right-leaning Supreme Court’s June 2023 ruling on the Election Clause supports his arguments, and even though the rule changes he objects to would not have been enough to change any state outcomes, and even though the logic of his argument would not just cast doubt on the outcomes of those states he contests but on many other states (including those where republicans won office).

All that is already a crime against our democratic republic. But the underbelly of Mike Johnson’s argument is perhaps the most putrid part of his perversion of truth, justice, and the US American way. For tucked underneath this novel interpretation of constitutional law is the fundamental proposal that election outcomes can be challenged legally not just to enforce long-established laws, rules, procedures, and norms; but elections can be overturned after the votes have been cast and counted based on exciting new, previously untested legal theories — and not just if the hypothetical ex post facto infractions would’ve effected the election outcome had they been prevented, but even if the votes gained by the contested procedures would not be enough to change the results: still, even then, if you can get the SC to go along with your legal theories, you can disenfranchise an entire state’s-worth of people. How can representative democracy survive if that approach to “safeguarding” our elections is condoned? How can representative democracy survive if such behavior can be pawned off on the citizens of the US as “safeguarding” our elections?

{assault on democracy is the decision to make rules of democracy a partisan game]

Donald Trump attempted the same old autocratic one-two democracy knock-out punch: They stole the election from me!, here, let us adjust the election so that it’s no longer stolen. And rather than repudiating this attempt to replace government of by and for the People with government of by and for the Donald, Mike Johnson and co have given him cover, worked to legitimatize and normalize Donald’s exciting new political theory (actually it is as old as it is boring; it’s just not normal for politicians in a democratic republic).

In that same CBS interview cited above, you can see Mike Johnson giving cover to and smoothing our way past Donald Trump’s bit about how immigrants are poisoning American blood.


Dishonesty in the service of a would-be authoritarian is evil.

The US constitution is old, and pretty short. Much of it can be interpreted different ways and has been over the years. This is how the US Constitution begins:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This is how the US Declaration of Independence begins:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The beginnings of these key documents in the history of the United States of America outline the project they then and we now would undertake.

No document is perfect. All documents require interpretation. The guiding light for the interpretation of the US Constitution should be whether or not the reading helps or hurts We the People to keep a healthy, stable democratic republic based on the recognition that there is something self-evidently written in all our hearts-of-hearts: We are all created equal, endowed by the Love that creates sustains and shines through everything with unalienable Rights — including but not limited to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In November 2023, Speaker Mike Johnson formally endorsed Donald Trump’s 2024 election bid.

As per the Brennan Center for Justice’s report The Election Denier’s Playbook for 2024:

“ … In Alabama, Indiana, South Dakota, and Wyoming, election deniers now control statewide offices that oversee elections. In battleground states such as Nevada, they secured victories in local election offices in key jurisdictions, including Nye and Storey counties. And at the congressional level, after the midterms, the House now has at least 180 members who questioned or denied the 2020 election results, while the Senate has 17 such individuals.”

[The Election Denier’s Playbook for 2024, Lauren Miller & Wendy R. Weiser, May 3, 2023

This is not politics as usual. This is not the little sins people sometimes commit to get things done. Nor is this people in good faith reaching their own conclusions and having every right to their own opinions. This is Trump and his collaborators attempting to replace the rule of the people with the rule of Trump and his cronies—or at least it is Trump attempting to replace the will of the people with the will of Trump, some of Trump’s allies knowingly working for that goal, and some of his allies thinking somehow that it is OK to downplay Trump’s attempts to overturn a fair election’s results and to echo or at least justify his lies about that outcome because somehow people are going to be able to control this train once it gets into the station. Whatever they tell themselves, people supporting Donald Trump here and now are supporting political evil, and pretending it is just politics as usual is cynicism and/or naive to the point of aiding and abetting evil.

Do people like Mike Johnson honestly suppose they will have no trouble keeping a returned, vengeful, and lessons-learned (lessons learned on how to not be checked by pro-democratic forces within your own administration [main lesson: don’t let them in your administration in the first place]) Donald Trump from undermining democracy? If so, what is this but criminal negligence — accepting the injection of much more risk into our shared system of government than any faithful steward would? Is this not the captain of an ocean liner getting stone faced drunk while driving through icebergs because he knows he can handle his drink?

We cannot have a stable democratic republic when one party only accepts election results in their favor.

And willfully harming our ability to work together within a functioning democratic republic is evil. Because without a stable democratic republic, we cannot work together to prevent our shared government from falling into a tyranny where the government routinely and without fear of accountability commits crimes against its citizens, where citizens are afraid to speak openly and honestly about their government, where citizens routinely have to choose between doing the right thing and protecting their loved ones.

Joe Biden is a basically decent and competent person who would like to preserve US American democracy and is trying to do just that, as well as deal with all the typical difficulties faced by a US American president.

Ronald DeSantis has a track record of confusing an ability to find a way within the existing rules to force your will onto the collective with a constitutional duty to do so. He, like Donald Trump, has advocated replacing bureaucratic functionaries with party loyalists, which only makes sense if you think that all reality is political reality, which only makes any sense to anyone nowadays because we’ve lost sight of our shared reality. Doubling down on the illusion that there is no objective reality, only political ones, is not the way to heal ourselves and our democratic republic.

While criticizing Mike Johnson’s attempt to use a novel reading of the US Constitution to ex post facto discredit only those election results that kept Trump from maintaining power, we suggested that in the case of ambiguities and especially when considering overturning precedent, the constitution should err on the side of helping rather than hindering the US constitution’s primary objective: the maintenance of a stable, healthy, democratic republic founded on the principle that we are all created equal and have inalienable rights to, among other common decencies, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

A similar logic can be used against Trump and DeSantis’s stated plans of replacing professional bureaucrats with party loyalists:

We the People are not asking our leaders to force interpretations of the constitution that allow you to consolidate power at the price of professional, objective nuts-and-bolts operations of the Federal Government! We are asking you to help us maintain a more perfect union by serving first and foremost not just those people who vote for you, but all of us together.

This is not a game of winners take all. This is a government of the people by the people and for all the people.

Some would argue that the problem here is not Trump’s desire to replace civil servant professionals with partisans, but with the US Congress’s failure to run our bureaucracies. This argument overlooks the fact that Congress is not likely to step in to run our bureaucracies any time soon, and therefore the end result of Trump, Desantis, and the Heritage Foundation’s scheme will be the systematic replacement of professional experts with partisan Yes-men and -women.

To argue that the executive branch should replace career bureaucrats with partisans because the constitution requires congress, not the executive branch, to make the nitty gritty decisions of bureaucracy is to argue that we should poison the well because the water is not completely pure.
But more on the corruption of conservative think tanks in #7.


If Donald Trump wins in 2024, it seems likely that he will surround himself this time only with Yes-men and -women, and with their support, and with the complicity of the wider Republican leadership, he has a very good chance at turning the United States of American into authoritarian nation along the lines of Putin’s Russia, where people are afraid to tell the truth about the government because bad things happen to people who speak out too loudly.

{info about Trumps plans to go after media, plans to have no more Barrs, etc}

It seems likely that if either Nikki Haley or Joseph Biden won the presidency in 2024, we would enjoy at least four more years of a functioning democratic republic. If during those four years We the People set aside our differences enough to agree on protecting democratic rules and norms, we could even reach 2028 with a stronger democracy and a renewed commitment to all of us here together.

We don’t know exactly what President Ronald DeSantis would do, but it seems like a less safe bet for the future of our republican than either Nikki Haley or Joseph Biden. Still, it must be admitted that we have never seen him actually try to reverse a fairly-lost election in his own favor. Used to be a low bar, but today it seems worthy of note.

When a very young man, I was pretty much apolitical. I said like it doesn’t matter how you vote, things end up the same always.

That notion was not really true then and that kind of cynicism is probably part of why we have our current red alert situation.

Nonetheless, there was some truth to it: No matter who won, we would still have functioning liberal democratic republic, and the leadership of the nation would know that they had to regularly answer to the citizens of the United States of America in elections the results of which they could not fix.

That luxurious safe-n-snuggly hominess now is gone. If Donald Trump gains power now, there is a very good chance we will not have a functioning liberal democratic republic by the time 2028 rolls around.

When democracy is on the line, you should not vote for a third-party candidate in a two-party system, but should choose one of the two candidates who are likely to win in our two-party system: either the candidate who wins the Democratic primary, or the candidate who wins the Republican primary.

Twentyish years ago, I read an article (if I could remember where, I would find it and cite it, but I don’t) arguing that it’s OK to have a two-party system, and it is counterproductive to pretend that we don’t:

In a two-party system, you vote for one of the candidates from the two dominant parties, and you work within your own party to try to bend that party towards your vision. That’s the way two-party systems operate, and neither two-party systems nor multi-party systems are panaceas.

What we need is not a whole new system, but to together gently push our existing system towards the better and away from the worse. That’s how democracies get healthier.

Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election was wrong, and his continued repeating of the lies of a stolen election are wrong, and Republicans supporting Trump are wrong. These things are true not because I say them, or because you say them, or because prominent Democrats say them, or because some liberal religious leaders say them. These things are true because God says so. Because what Trump is up to is political evil; and if victorious, political evil creates a land where the government commits crimes against its own citizens — including the fundamental crime of choosing suppressing dissent and consolidating power over competently governing and letting the people meaningfully assess their work —, where the people have no reliable method for bringing their government to heel, where people must choose between doing the right thing and protecting the material and physical safety of them and their loved ones; and working to bring about that kind of a situation is wrong.

Many people supporting Donald Trump appear genuinely convinced that theirs is a righteous cause. In this, they are wrong. They have chosen a lie-based reality over the real world, which is not completely knowable, but which is also not completely unknowable.

We can all easily listen to Trump trying to coerce Georgia’s Secretary of State to “find” the votes needed to reverse the outcome in that state. We can watch him egging his followers on before they march on the US Capitol, and then refusing to tell them to cool it for several hours, during which his Vice President was in danger largely because he incorrectly informed the crowd that it was within Mike Pence’s power to deny Biden’s victory that day (January 6, 2021), before finally releasing a video in which he repeated the lie that the election was stolen from him and telling his supporters to go home. We can all hear members of his administration give testimony about how many times they pushed back on his election lies (see, for example, William Barr’s comment about how if he had not constantly investigated and refuted Trump’s election conspiracies, he doesn’t know that there would’ve been a peaceful transfer of power after the election), and that he continued to repeat conspiracy theories his own administration had investigated and refuted. We can all read how close he came to forcing a constitutional crisis over such fabrications (see, for example, testimony from former members of DOJ threatening to resign en masse if Trump forced out William Barr’s replacement for Attorney General with an underqualified yes man willing to send false claims that the DOJ had found evidence of election tampering to Georgia [with letters to lawmakers in other contested states planned]).

Donald Trump’s supporters are also able to hear him talk about weaponizing the Department of Justice to go after rivals, ranting about immigrants poisoning the blood of the nation, and otherwise piling the table high with “I’m going to be an authoritarian leader and everybody who gets in my way is going to get stomped!” cards.

There is also ample information about Trump’s preelection anti-democratic behaviors [LINK]

How is it that Donald Trump’s 2024 supporters are unable to perceive the obvious? How is it that they can choose conspiracy theories and patriotic swells over an honest listen to Trump’s own words and the testimonies of longtime conservatives from within his own administration?

Are Trump’s fans able to perceive the evil of their position deep down where it counts? Do they willfully look away from what they know deep inside?

At some point and in some cases, willful ignorance becomes willing participation in political evil. How many people believing voting for Trump in 2024 have reached that point? How many have themselves that we (or at least, they) don’t need democracy? How many are willfully looking away from what they deep down know to be more plausible and fair accounts in order to indulge in never-ending conspiracy theories and lies?

How many of Trump’s followers have at some fundamental level accepted Trump’s underlying premise that concepts like “true” and “false” are meaningful only as weapons, tools for winning whatever game you tell yourself you’re playing? Accepting and acting on that proposition is evil. It amounts to trading in your own spiritual agency for the nihilism of might-makes-right.

Which of Donald Trump’s current supporters are being evil? What is the point at which willful ignorance of reality shades into evil?

What are we to say to these people? We know that God says Donald Trump is wrong, but they claim to know that God says Donald Trump is right.

We must avoid false equivalencies: We are right about Donald Trump’s behavior, and they are wrong about it. The facts about what Donald Trump has been doing are clear. And it is also clear that replacing a liberal democratic republic with an autocracy is evil. Finally, it is clear that God wants us to do good, not evil.

We must avoid false equivalencies, but we must also find a way forward for the whole nation before it is too late.

People don’t like being told they are either so incompetent that they are blindly participating in evil or that they are so evil that they are willfully participating in evil. But how does it help to lie to people about what’s going on? And look at how people are: we are always to some degree choosing out of incompetence and to some degree choosing out of evil; to some degree choosing out of competence and to some degree choosing out of goodness.

So it’s not like Trump supporters are fundamentally different from everyone else; it’s just that they have wandered far enough into political evil that they are obviously in the wrong and therefore clearly ought to head in the opposite direction. That’s all. Right now, that’s all: gently, calmly step away from the edge. Everyone, including Donald Trump, are better off if we prevent him from taking power. Because tyranny is bad for everyone, even the tyrant. Because the most important part of a human is the Love that shines through everything, including each conscious moment.

All humans are fundamentally the same: Godlight moving through feeling, thinking, and acting. That is why we can’t help but suppose that at some level Trump supporters must be aware that they are in the wrong. At some level, they see what Trump is up to, and that it is wrong.

The problem with Mike Johnson is not that he is a religious man. The problem is that he has confused his ambitions, hopes and fears with God’s will. God does not have ambitions. God does not hope, nor does God fear. God does not choose some people and reject others. God chooses everyone. God loves everyone forever with the infinite delight of Pure Love. God enjoys his creation. People who would walk with God should not belittle other people. They should not hurt other people. And they should not collaborate with those who do.

But Mike Johnson is just a person. In time he will see the error of his current ways. Let him be. Or rather, please gently rescue him, Donald Trump, and everyone else from Mike Johnson, Donald Trump, and those others who are getting this particular moment so terribly wrong.

What would you have us do, God?

Joseph Biden is not perfect, but he’s a decent person and has done a reasonably good job being president of the United States; and you try being president here and now! And if we lose our ability to decide who wins key elections, such as those for president of the United States, we hand this nation — with all her economic, political, and physical weapons — over to the tired old evil of power for power’s sake.

Power for power’s sake is ultimately as incompetent as it is cruel. Because power for the sake of power doesn’t even try to govern competently for the governed or to do what is best for all, but only to get, maintain, and increase power wealth prestige and related baubles.

If Donald Trump wins in 2024, our president will be an aspiring autocrat who has learned many lessons, including how important it is rid your administration of pesky people like William Barr and Michael Pence, pesky idealists who would keep democracy and the rule of law rather than keep Donald Trump in power for as long as he feels like being in power.

It is almost 2024. There are things that we know. What do we do with what we know?

A few years after I first heard the old gentleman’s account of how his conviction that Hitler was objectively wrong brought him out of the moral relativism of his youth, I read C.S. Lewis relating an identical story in his Mere Christianity. At first I thought, “The old guy has mixed up his life with C.S. Lewis’s!” But then I thought that probably lots of people had that kind of a moment over Adolf Hitler and his activities.

We humans have within us universal values (aware, clear, honest, accurate, competent, compassionate, loving kind, joyfully sharing) and a sense of a Love that chooses everyone. And we can only be meaningful to ourselves to the degree we follow the universal values as motivated, justified, and explicated by the Love that chooses everyone — the Pure Love that Knows that and in what way it is True to say, “We are all in this together.”

This is the faith from which we must start. This is the faith that allows us to share meaning and thus government. This is the faith that is the invitation home, the way home, and home.

Your author Bartleby Willard is a self-written story in a fictional reality. Your editor Amble Whistletown is a real character in a fictional reality. Your copyright holder Andy Watson is a broken soul washed up on the beach in a jumble of kelp, leaking detergent bottles, bits of worn-smooth drift wood, water bottles, and rotting fish. These men are not worthy of your faith. Luckily, they do not ask for it. They ask you only to start with the faith that you already start from, the one that says, “We are all in this together”.

And so your author and his crew, lost and lonely, begging for love and Love, pleading to be lifted up out of their own petty pleadings, drift away from another essay. The actions of Donald Trump and his collaborators inside and outside of public office hurt them. They feel betrayed. They are scared and hurt and angry and confused. Let them be. Let everyone be. Be gentle with yourself and everyone else — not because they or you or anyone else says so, but because the Love that chooses us all says so.

This is the problem: How do we actually make things better? Just telling the truth doesn’t seem to be enough. We need the truth to win the day. Donald Trump operates from a theory that concepts like “true” and “false” are only meaningful as weapons employed to bring about whatever results you want. We seek to refute this theory, as well as the various implementations of it that would claim justice and righteousness are on the side of Donald Trump and his cronies. We seek to stop Donald Trump and his weaponization of the tools of government and of truth itself. But how to actually help? How to write in a way that actually helps here and now? Well, this essay is done, has dropped to the floor and turned to dust before our eyes — and now a wind kicks the dust right up into our eyes, stinging and abrasing them. All we can do now — with yet another essay dead and our hearts still so tired and our minds still so worried — is ask us all to seek always for a way forward for all of us together.

Ah well,
Let it

I always said Bartleby Willard and Amble Whistletown can’t stop the evil. They just don’t know how. They’re too caught up on themselves and their own ambitions, hopes and fears — like so many others.

That is hurtful! We are doing our best.

Are you?

Isn’t that the same shit that everyone tells themselves as they slide everything to their advantage with patriotic swells in their chests and tears of religious devotion gathering in the corners of their eyes? Isn’t it?!?!?

A light touch is needed. Delicate. Gently explain to them that they are being evil and need to cut it out before they reach the logical conclusion of their evil activities. Maybe explain with humor, and with the calming backdrop of a metaphysical reality that ultimately forgives, heals, and rights us all — all together.

How do you tell people that they’re being evil? It’s super awkward. But we should say it while we still can and while we still might be able to turn the ship towards calmer, wiser, more wonderful waters.

Author: Bartleby Willard
Editor: Amble Whistletown
Copyright: Andy Watson

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