San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday)

Call it what it is: an at­tempted coup

- JOHN DIAZ John Diaz is The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle’s editorial page ed­i­tor. Email: jdiaz@sfchron­i­ Twit­ter: @JohnDi­azChron

The repub­lic’s sal­va­tion may come down to a pow­er­hun­gry pres­i­dent’s delu­sion and in­com­pe­tence. Pres­i­dent Trump seems hell­bent on un­der­min­ing Amer­i­cans’ faith in the demo­cratic process and do­ing his ut­most to poi­son the pol­icy op­tions, for­eign and do­mes­tic, for Pres­i­den­t­elect Joe Bi­den.

What Team Trump is fail­ing to do is over­turn an elec­tion that Bi­den won de­ci­sively. It’s not for lack of try­ing. On the morn­ing af­ter the elec­tion, he tweeted “STOP THE COUNT!” with mil­lions of bal­lots to be pro­cessed, as if he pos­sessed a dic­ta­tor’s wand over the land.

From there, as the votes were counted and it be­came clear that Bi­den pre­vailed, Trump has held to his claim that he had won an elec­tion that was tainted by wide­spread fraud. His rhetoric, and his cam­paign’s law­suits, have grown more fran­tic by the day. It be­came even more omi­nous late last week when Trump’s team shifted to the ul­ti­mate au­thor­i­tar­ian tac­tic: sug­gest­ing state leg­is­la­tors in battlegrou­nds he lost should ig­nore the will of their vot­ers and se­lect pro-Trump elec­tors to the Elec­toral Col­lege.

There is no other way to de­scribe these schemes: This is an at­tempted coup, the first in Amer­i­can his­tory.

That it is al­most cer­tain to fail is no cause for so­lace. Trump’s per­sis­tent but base­less as­ser­tion of a stolen elec­tion is un­der­min­ing Amer­i­cans’ faith in democ­racy, an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of self­gov­er­nance. His re­fusal to fa­cil­i­tate a tran­si­tion to a Bi­den ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der­mines the na­tion’s in­ter­est, in­deed the pub­lic safety. The 9/11 Com­mis­sion, cit­ing the 36day de­lay af­ter the Bush-Gore elec­tion in 2000, un­der­scored the im­por­tance of an in­com­ing pres­i­dent’s ac­cess to the lat­est in­tel­li­gence: “The out­go­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion should pro­vide the pres­i­den­t­elect, as soon as pos­si­ble af­ter elec­tion day, with a clas­si­fied, com­part­mented list that cat­a­logs spe­cific, op­er­a­tional threats to na­tional se­cu­rity; ma­jor mil­i­tary or covert oper­a­tions; and pend­ing de­ci­sions on the pos­si­ble use of force.”

Trump has re­fused to share those crit­i­cal daily brief­ings with Bi­den.

The pres­i­dent and his syco­phants — which, dis­tress­ingly, in­clude a ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­can sen­a­tors and House mem­bers — are ei­ther par­rot­ing un­founded claims of wide­spread elec­tion fraud or al­low­ing them to seep deeper into the pub­lic con­scious­ness through cow­ardly sci­ence.

Thurs­day may have brought a turn­ing point. So pre­pos­ter­ous was a 90minute news con­fer­ence by Rudy Gi­u­liani and the few Trump lawyers who have not aban­doned the sink­ing ship that even some of the pres­i­dent’s apol­o­gists had to de­nounce it. “What I saw with Rudy Gi­u­liani, who I’ve known for decades, was bizarre, was un­fo­cused,” Ger­aldo Rivera said on Fox News.

Bizarre was an un­der­state­ment. Gi­u­liani and his co­horts in­voked the names of Venezue­lan strong­man Hugo Chavez (who died in 2013), Ge­orge Soros, Hil­lary Clin­ton, China, Cuba and Big Tech as among the play­ers in a vast con­spir­acy to deny Trump a sec­ond term. Most of their claims were read­ily de­bunked — in­clud­ing many that were tossed out of court. Some of the wildest were ac­com­pa­nied with­out a shred of ev­i­dence, such as the dark ru­mor cir­cu­lat­ing on the in­ter­net that soft­ware in Do­min­ion vot­ing ma­chines could have been pro­grammed “all over the coun­try” to shift votes from Bi­den to Trump.

A hand count in Ge­or­gia de­bunked that para­noid the­ory. A hand count cor­rob­o­rated the ac­cu­racy of the Do­min­ion ma­chines. Bi­den’s Ge­or­gia vic­tory was cer­ti­fied Fri­day by the Repub­li­can sec­re­tary of state and gover­nor. On Thurs­day morn­ing, Trump had tweeted at the gover­nor, Brian Kemp, to in­ter­vene in the re­count to help “flip” the re­sult. “Repub­li­cans must get tough!” Trump said. Un­for­tu­nately for Trump, Kemp did. “It is the 1775 of our gen­er­a­tion,” Trump strike force team mem­ber Sid­ney Pow­ell said at the news con­fer­ence.

She’s right in one sense. This is a se­ri­ous stress test of the repub­lic en­vi­sioned by our found­ing fa­thers. Pow­ell, how­ever, is on the wrong side of his­tory.

The Drama King in the White House is more akin to King Ge­orge III than Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton.

Trump sum­moned GOP leg­isla­tive lead­ers from Michi­gan to the White House on Fri­day amid the push to over­turn a state Bi­den car­ried by more than 150,000 votes (Trump de­feated Hil­lary Clin­ton there by fewer than 11,000 votes four years ago). The meet­ing it­self was highly in­ap­pro­pri­ate. Sen. Mitt Rom­ney, R-Utah, spoke out against the ef­fort to pres­sure state and lo­cal of­fi­cials to re­verse the clear Bi­den vic­to­ries in bat­tle­ground states.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine a worse, more un­demo­cratic ac­tion by a sit­ting Amer­i­can pres­i­dent,” Rom­ney said.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., re­acted to the Gi­u­liani news con­fer­ence by tweet­ing: “Rudy and his bud­dies should not pres­sure elec­tors to ig­nore their cer­ti­fi­ca­tion obli­ga­tions un­der the statute. We are a na­tion of laws, not tweets.”

It re­mains out­ra­geous, even un­pa­tri­otic, that so few other Repub­li­cans have spo­ken out against his at­tempted coup. This is no longer about par­ti­san loy­al­ties or pol­icy dif­fer­ences. This is about an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent who lost an elec­tion try­ing to cling to power in a way that the U.S. State Depart­ment would con­demn any­where else in the world.

Its clum­si­ness and ab­sur­dity may doom it, but does not ex­cuse it. The world is watch­ing.

It is, in­deed, a 1775 mo­ment.

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