A fixture of president-elect Joe Biden’s victory speech was his insistence that he would be a president for “all Americans,” rather than just those of one party. He urged unity and pleaded with people to move on from the division that the ousted president Trump had sown.
Meanwhile, President Trump was claiming victory on Twitter as his legal team filed a series of increasingly frivolous lawsuits to throw out Democrat-heavy mail-in ballots. In a back alley behind a landscaping company, Rudy Giuliani stood at a podium and insisted, without evidence, that the election was stolen by Democrats.
The whining, the lying, and the foot stomping from the Trump campaign have had a predictable effect: Rank-and-file Trump supporters are refusing to accept the results of the election and are spreading massive amounts of misinformation about the electoral process, sending poll workers into hiding as they get baselessly accused of fraud and gathering for armed protests at state capitals. In a sign of things to surely come, an Arkansas police chief called for violence against Democrats.
With all of these cries for disunity, it would be dangerous to follow Biden’s call. You don’t stop to shake your opponent’s hand and say “good game” if they’re acting like the clock hasn’t expired — you either urge the referee to blow the whistle or you get back on the field to continue to bury the opposition.
The Shoe is on the Other Foot, Now
In justifying his about-face for advancing Amy Coney Barrett out of the Judiciary Committee after denying a hearing to Merrick Garland in an identical situation, Lindsey Graham claimed that, “if the shoe were on the other foot, [Democrats] would do the same.”
The shoe is very much on the other foot, now. Unlike Graham, though, Democrats do not need to engage in baseless conjecture to predict how Republicans would react to an election’s outcome — instead, they can look back four years. How did Republicans react when Hillary Clinton was upset by Donald Trump and lost the election? Did they hold out their hands and offer sympathy for a race well run?
The short answer, of course, is no.
“Get over it, you lost,” became a favorite right-wing taunt. Grifters sold mugs that said “Filled with liberal tears” like hot cakes. “Libtard” and “snowflake” entered the political lexicon and were (pun intended) liberally used by people wearing t-shirts that said, “Fuck your feelings.”
Civility was the antithesis of the Trump campaign. He literally ran against the concept. Inter alia, he made fun of disabled reporters, bragged about sexually harassing women, demonized “politically correctness,” and regularly turned to playground bullying and name-calling like a child.
As The Atlantic pointed out, for Trump’s followers, The Cruelty Is the Point.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. We’ve all developed a workable Trump imitation and learned that we can make our fingers look comically short by pointing with the first finger while bending the others at the second knuckle.
It’s been four years. We should be using these skills.
It’s called catharsis.
Elections Have Consequences
Back in 2009, shortly after being inaugurated, Barack Obama said, “Elections have consequences.”
When Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, Obama’s words were rapidly appropriated by Trump and his followers and used to justify whatever recent endeavor the Republican Party pursued, from tax breaks to the latest Supreme Court nomination to, through implication, the rise in hate crimes.
It would be a shame to re-appropriate the phrase.
Especially in light of the fact that the Republican Party, taking tips from autocracies around the world, has done all that it could to use their political power to cement their position of control over the government and then lost the most important election in the cycle.
The Democratic voters who stopped the slide into autocracy should never let Republicans forget it. The way Trumpism was going, there might not have been another legitimate election had Democrats not overcome rampant voter suppression and a global pandemic to get to the polls and put an end to the burgeoning authoritarianism.
We just altered the course of history. We have a right to remind people that we kept our country from being dragged down into the muck.
Trump and His Supporters Haven’t Quit, Yet
Perhaps most importantly, though, Trump followers still seem to think that the election isn’t over.
Trump has refused to concede, as we all knew he would.
With only rare exceptions, Republican politicians have refused to recognize the outcome of the election, as well.
Trump’s supporters are gathering at state houses across the country to demand that votes either be counted or thrown out, depending on which is needed to secure Trump’s reelection. Urged on by misinformation and lies from their Republican leaders about Democrats “stealing” the election, the odds that these rallies grow and become violent is very, very real.
The vitriol and thinly-veiled threats from the right and the calls for unity from the left raise the specter of Popper’s Paradox.
Also known as the Paradox of Tolerance, 20th century philosopher Karl Popper asked whether tolerant societies had to tolerate intolerance. For him, in the immediate aftermath of World War II and the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, the question was very real.
For Popper, the answer is, quite simply, no. Tolerant societies should not tolerate intolerance:
If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them
Trump supporters are actively trying to undermine the democratic process. After four years of aggressive intolerance, they are refusing to admit defeat in the game that put them in power and that they agreed to play by being American.
Extending a respectful hand, sympathizing with Trump followers for their electoral loss, and working to build unity while Trumpers are growling, plotting, and sharpening their knives is hilariously naïve.
Until Trump, Republicans, and their supporters prove that they can behave like adults that live in a democracy, they deserve sidelong glances, skepticism, and defensiveness, not civility.
After four years of lies, deception, and shameless power grabbing, I won’t believe a word that they say — only their actions have meaning. The only way they can gain unity and civility is by earning it. They can earn it by ensuring a normal, peaceful transition of power — one that has not been undermined in any way — that ends with the inauguration of Joe Biden.