Republicans’ unnecessary theatrics will do lasting harm
(Bloomberg Opinion) – It’s a show that precisely captures America’s current dysfunction: Nothing is really happening in Congress today, yet something is irreparably shattered all the same.
In its first joint session, the 117th Congress meets to count the votes of the Electoral College, a ceremonial event that has gone largely uneventful since 1789. Rather than simply asserting the will of the people, however, dozens Republican lawmakers have said they plan to file objections to the process, delaying proceedings for hours and again questioning the legitimacy of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Some of the opponents have challenged the state’s obscure election procedures. Others expressed a more general dislike of Democrats. Senator Ted Cruz and his allies called for an electoral commission to investigate (without facts) the fraud allegations, modeled on that established after the “Hayes-Tilden presidential race” of 1876. (This commission, incidentally, resulted in a compromise so corrupt and overtly racist that it has since become synonymous with electoral dysfunction.)
All these so-called objectors know very well that they are staging an absurd masquerade. Despite months of investigations, no evidence of widespread fraud has emerged. And no amount of theater on the floor today will change the outcome of the election. However, the harm they cause is only too real: one can foresee a future in which the elections will be more and more decided not by the votes cast but by increasingly aggressive lawyers, the trafficking of influence and the politics of raw power. In which voters are courted by lobbyists or intimidated by digital crowds. In which every aspect of the process is probed for weaknesses, exploited by supporters, and pleaded for oblivion.
Hopefully, Republicans who have persisted in bowing to President Donald Trump, even at this late date, would rethink their priorities. Yesterday’s Georgia Senate runoff – which in all likelihood will give Democrats unified control of government for the first time in a decade – should have made this clear enough. That these lawmakers are still trying to overturn the results of a certified election, without even a facade of political legitimacy, is all the more shameful.
But more of the blame lies with the president himself. In the past three months, he has undermined almost every element of the electoral process. He refused to concede a competition which he heavily lost. He demanded recounts and investigations based solely on conspiracy theories. He and his allies filed dozens of legal challenges and were defeated on all substantive points. Eventually resorting to outright bribery, he demanded on Saturday that Georgia’s Secretary of State simply produce 11,780 more votes for him and said the tally had been “recalculated” – that is, to do precisely what Trump falsely accused his opponent of doing.
It’s reassuring that these efforts will all be in vain and that Biden will legitimately become president on January 20. But don’t assume that no lasting damage has been done. The customs and norms that have long bound American civic life are being unraveled. What chaos could take their place is to be guessed.
Editorials are written by the editorial board of Bloomberg Opinion.
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