Trump test­ing a democ­racy’s tenets

GOP stands by as he claims fraud, re­fuses re­sults of election

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Tack­ett and Calvin Wood­ward

WASH­ING­TON — Winston Churchill was not known for leav­ing his thoughts un­spo­ken. One of themwas this: “It has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of gov­ern­ment, ex­cept for all those other forms that have been tried.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has pro­fessed ad­mi­ra­tion for, if not deep knowl­edge of, the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter, is putting Churchill’s ob­ser­va­tion to one of its great­est tests by re­fus­ing to ac­cept the re­sults of an election that de­liv­ered vic­tory for Demo­crat Joe Bi­den. Trump’s pre­de­ces­sor, Barack Obama, calls this a “dan­ger­ous path” for theUnited States.

Trump has forced a dust­ing off of the ar­cana of the pro­ce­dures for the Elec­toral College, which for almost the en­tirety of the na­tion’s his­tory has been a for­mal­ity and not an in­stru­ment to over­turn peo­ple’s votes.

A sit­ting Amer­i­can pres­i­dent is, for the first time, try­ing to con

vince the peo­ple that they should not be­lieve the num­bers that clearly demon­strate his ri­val’s win. Rather, Trump is mak­ing base­less claims of mas­sive fraud, de­mand­ing re­counts and call­ing for au­dits in an ef­fort to dis­credit the out­come and, in the process, put democ­racy it­self on trial.

It’s pos­si­ble that the mercurial pres­i­dent is onetweet away from a change of heart, but so far that is not the case. And the sweep­ing ma­jor­ity of his fel­low Repub­li­cans are al­low­ing him to play this out.

With one eye on Trump, Repub­li­cans may have the other fixed on Ge­or­gia, where they want his en­ergy to help their can­di­dates win two Se­nate runoffs in Jan­uary and en­sure at min­i­mum that Bi­den has to deal with di­vided gov­ern­ment. Repub­li­cans have seen how Trump bat­ters dis­si­dents, and few have cho­sen this con­se­quen­tial mo­ment to cross him.

“Repub­li­cans are stick­ing with him out of fear,” said Eric Dezen­hall, a cri­sis man­age­ment ex­pert who worked in com­mu­ni­ca­tions in Ron­ald Rea­gan’s White House. “Fear has al­ways worked for Trump.

Tantrums have al­ways paid div­i­dends.”

But not ev­ery­one in of­fi­cial­dom shares the timid­ity of GOP law­mak­ers when it comes to stand­ing up to Trump.

The Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment’s Cy­ber­se­cu­rity and In­fra­struc­ture Se­cu­rity Agency has slapped down ru­mors about vot­ing malfea­sance and joined with state election of­fi­cials in a state­ment declar­ing the election to have been the

“most se­cure in Amer­i­can his­tory.”

By se­cure, they meant there was no ev­i­dence that any vot­ing sys­tem deleted or lost votes, changed votes “or­was in any­way com­pro­mised.” That was a clear re­pu­di­a­tion of Trump’s un­founded ac­cu­sa­tions.

The U.S. has long pro­moted the con­ceit that it is the world’s bea­con of democ­racy. Now, the most es­sen­tial tool of democ­racy, the vote, is un­der at­tack.

The story of pres­i­den­tial

elec­tions the night of, the day af­ter or even weeks of in­de­ci­sion later has been one of can­di­dates swal­low­ing the bit­ter­ness of de­feat and smooth­ing the path for the win­ner. Pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tions have un­folded as if by mus­cle mem­ory. The peace­ful trans­fer of power has never been in ques­tion in liv­ing mem­ory un­til now.

Per­haps the clos­est the U.S. has come to today’s con­flict was the pres­i­den­tial election of 1876, when Sa­muel Tilden, the Demo­crat, ap­peared to win, only to have Ruther­ford B. Hayes, the Repub­li­can, ul­ti­mately de­clared the win­ner af­ter cut­ting a deal to se­cure elec­toral votes in three South­ern states in ex­change for ef­fec­tively end­ing Re­con­struc­tion.

In 1960, Demo­crat John F. Kennedy de­feated Repub­li­can Richard Nixon by only about 112,000 votes out of more than 68 mil­lion cast, though Kennedy held a de­cided ad­van­tage in the

Elec­toral College. Nixon felt cheated and con­sid­ered chal­leng­ing the out­come but de­clined, con­ced­ing the morn­ing af­ter the election.

Al Gore, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee in 2000, won the pop­u­lar vote by about 540,000 votes out of 100 mil­lion cast. But he con­ceded twice — at first pre­ma­turely on election night, then again weeks later when a de­ci­sion by the Supreme Court handed Florida, and an Elec­toral College ma­jor­ity, 271-266, to Repub­li­can Ge­orge W. Bush.

Bush had turned to the high court with a le­gal case based on his claim that vot­ers were de­nied equal pro­tec­tion be­cause Florida did not have proper stan­dards for re­counts.

In2016, Trump­wonWis-con­sin, Michi­gan and Penn­syl­va­nia by a com­bined 77,000 votes; Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton called him on election night and pub­licly con­ceded the next day. Her ad­van­tage in the pop­u­lar vote of nearly 3 mil­lion has an­i­mated the griev­ances of her sup­port­ers to this day, but the Elec­toral College arith­metic was in­ex­orable and not to be chal­lenged.

Obama then wel­comed Trump to the White House in a dis­play to the world of the ri­tu­als of an Amer­i­can demo­cratic tran­si­tion.

“Repub­li­cans are stick­ing with him out of fear. Fear has al­ways worked for Trump. Tantrums have al­ways paid div­i­dends.” — Eric Dezen­hall, a cri­sis man­age­ment ex­pert who worked in com­mu­ni­ca­tions in Ron­ald Rea­gan’s White House.

MANDEL NGAN/GETTY-AFP

The Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment called the election the “most se­cure” in U.S. his­tory de­spite the pres­i­dent’s claim.

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