When the announcement came on Monday afternoon that Attorney General Bill Barr was letting his dogs off the leash to go investigate Trump’s wild and thoroughly unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, it prompted warranted fear and concern.
“Barr’s action comes days after Democrat Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump and raises the prospect that Trump will use the Justice Department to try to challenge the outcome,” reported CNBC. “Trump has not conceded the election and is instead claiming without evidence that there has been a widespread, multi-state conspiracy by Democrats to skew the vote tally in Biden’s favor.”
Because of the grip Trump has on the psyche of this nation, especially among those who fear and loathe him, this latest move was the worst of all possible scenarios. An understandable sense of dread swept over the land. Part of this might seem irrational: Can Trump the alchemist, through the same dark magic he used to ensorcell virtually every elected Republican along with more than 70 million voters, transform this chunk of lead into golden victory, secure a second term, and own the libs for all coming time?
The fact remains that Trump lost — not massively, but definitively, and by enough of a margin to forestall reasonable doubt. Furthermore, President-elect Joe Biden won or is winning in enough states to make Trump’s “vast conspiracy” accusation laughable on its face. Finally, the suits being brought, even if successful, do not toss enough votes to alter the outcome. In short, nothing Trump’s people are doing will bring them victory — but that doesn’t mean their actions won’t do serious damage. In point of fact, that damage has already begun.
“Already Trump’s unfounded accusations of fraud have inspired an attempted armed attack on the Philadelphia convention center and bomb threats against the mall next to the convention center,” reports Mark Bray for Truthout, “not to mention the plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan.” White Supremacist gangs like the Proud Boys, who Trump specifically ordered to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate, may be waiting for the word from their leader.
The problems being caused by Trump’s inchoate assault on democracy are not confined to the fringes of the Republican fever swamp. Richard Pilger, director of the Election Crimes Branch at the Justice Department, quit shortly after Barr announced his dumpster-dive investigation. “Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications, and in accord with the best tradition of the John C. Keeney Award for Exceptional Integrity and Professionalism (my most cherished Departmental recognition), I must regretfully resign from my role as Director of the Election Crimes Branch,” Pilger wrote in his resignation letter.
It’s not hard to read between the lines there: Mr. Pilger would not be able to face himself in the mirror if he participated in this farce, and so he is gone. Given how unpopular Barr is at Justice, one wonders how many more defections may be coming if this thing is allowed to grind on.
Another side effect is the trickle-down nature of Trump’s display. Across the country, long-shot Republican office-seekers who got beat by vast margins down the ballot are taking up the dual cries of “Fraud!” and “Count the legal votes!” One GOP candidate doing this lost by 40 points, another by 75.
This will sit well with the segment of the population who would call Trump a victim even if he’d won.
As the election reminded us, that is a far larger segment of the country than many of us might like to believe. Will the rest of the country see these opportunistic whiners, and the GOP leadership echoing them, and recoil? We can hope so.
Why is Trump doing this? Does he expect to win back the presidency? Is he simply trying to be as destructive as possible on his way out?
Part of the answer is in your email, but only if you’re on Trump’s campaign list.
The email blasts have been coming fast, furious and ever more desperate since Saturday’s announcement. “STOP THE FRAUD” reads one email headline, “Joe Biden wants to count ILLEGAL ballots” reads another. All are seeking donations to Trump’s legal fund, so he can fight the good fight against Biden and the socialist hordes.
“But if you read the fine print,” reports Judd Legum at Popular Information, “money sent to the Election Defense Task Force will not necessarily be used to finance the Trump campaign’s lawsuits. Donors are actually contributing to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee (TMAGAC), a joint fundraising committee of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. and the Republican National Committee.”
“60% of the money donated to TMAGAC will go to pay the Trump campaign’s debt and 40% will go to the general operating account of the Republican National Committee,” continues Legum. “Money is only designated for recounts or other legal efforts if an individual donor reaches their legal limit or Trump retires his debt…. If Trump concedes, that money would come to a halt. You can’t pretend to raise money for a legal challenge once you admit you’ve lost.”
… and the penny drops.
Trump’s refusal to concede may serve many purposes, but one of them is certainly a grift: an incredibly dangerous grift that could permanently undermine not only faith in the judicial branch, but also faith in our elections, both of which are already on shaky ground. Tuesday’s vote went about as smoothly as one could hope for under these extreme circumstances, and yet that positive step forward is being deliberately undermined by a guy who in defeat is still trying to scrape money off the backs of his most devoted followers … and some of those followers could get violent when this sideshow finally comes to an end unfavorably for their hero.
There’s no predicting what the next few weeks will bring, and the addition of AG Barr and the muscle of the Justice Department is a deeply disquieting turn of events. But there’s no doubt that all the while, until he concedes or is bodily removed from the building, Donald Trump will be in his counting house, counting all his money. P.T. Barnum was right.