The electoral college on Monday is making Joe Biden’s November win official. Unwilling to accept this outcome, Donald Trump has waged war against the results and democracy itself. The longterm consequences of that assault—particularly the GOP’s complicity in the effort—can’t yet be known. But at present, it’s already having two clear effects: First, when Biden assumes office next month, a swath of the nation loyal to Trump will view him as illegitimate; second, and perhaps most immediately dangerous, is that it is inspiring violent threats and intimidation against people on the frontlines of the democratic process.
Normally, the task of state electors is perfunctory, their work in December going unnoticed by the average citizen, who tends to tune out between Election Day and the inauguration in January. But Trump’s relentless effort to overturn his loss have thrust these anonymous functionaries into the spotlight and made them targets of the harassment that other election officials—from Democrats like Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to Republicans like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—have faced for carrying out their duties against Trump’s wishes.
In swing states, electors are receiving police escorts to the locations where they’ll be casting ballots. In Arizona and Pennsylvania, that location has been kept secret, even from the electors themselves, until Monday, as a safeguard against threats. And in Michigan, where electors will cast their ballots at the State Capitol, “credible threats of violence” have shut down state legislative offices. “This is some scary stuff, man,” Khary Penebaker, a Democratic elector from Wisconsin, told the New York Times. “This is not what America is supposed to be like.”
Trump’s wholly manufactured fraud claims had already inspired armed mobs outside Benson’s home, the circulation in right-wing circles of an “enemies” list of people perceived to have broken with Trump, and threats against Philadelphia vote counters and Georgia officials. “It has to stop,” one of those election officials, Gabriel Sterling, said in a strident condemnation of the president’s rhetoric, warning that “someone is going to get hurt, someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed.” But Trump was unmoved, insisting again that his targets had presided over a “rigged election,” escalating the situation even as his desperate attempts to overturn his loss continue to fail.
After the Supreme Court once again declined to hear one of the frivolous lawsuits filed on his behalf, Trump supporters took to the streets in Washington, D.C., vandalizing Black churches, instigating street fights, and even threatening violence against the president-elect. “Joe Biden will be removed,” the far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said at one point, “one way or another.” As the nation’s simmering political tensions started to boil (four people were stabbed in D.C. Saturday as the Proud Boys turned the demonstration into a riot; a right-wing protester allegedly shot a counter-protester at a separate demonstration in Washington state), Trump kept turning up the heat. On Sunday, he threatened that electors would be charged with a “severely punishable crime” if they made the results official, and at one point suggested that he will sandbag his own party in the Georgia runoff race next month if Governor Brian Kemp doesn’t give him his way.
“If blood is spilled, it is on the hands of the president,” an attorney for fired cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs said in a statement last week, after it was reported that U.S. intelligence was investigating a website that accused perceived enemies of Trump of “treason,” listed their addresses, and featured photographs of them with crosshairs over their faces.
As far as the outcome goes, none of this will change anything; the Electoral College is formalizing Biden’s win, and he will be inaugurated January 20. But as University of Maryland sociology professor Dana R. Fisher told the Washington Post, it serves to increase the potential for violence in the U.S. “What we’re seeing is an escalation, so that instead of people calling each other nasty names and cursing each other out on Twitter or Parler, instead they’re doing it in person while holding weapons,” Fisher said. Trump and his allies, though, remain undeterred. The president said after his most recent Supreme Court humiliation that “we have just begun to fight.” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, one of 126 Republicans who formally endorsed the lawsuit seeking to disenfranchise millions of Americans, suggested in a Fox News interview Sunday that he still wouldn’t recognize Biden’s win after the Electoral College vote. And Trump adviser Stephen Miller told Fox & Friends Monday that an “alternate slate of electors from the contested states” would be voting at the same time as the actual electors, and would send those bogus results to Congress to help fuel the next stage of the challenge there. This is all corrosive to democracy, as even a majority in a recent Fox News poll recognized. But if the temperature continues to rise, so too will the risk of things boiling over into something even more dangerous.
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