The Problem Isn’t Just Legal Efforts to Overturn Elections, the Problem is Bad Faith

Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. Image: Gage Skidmore/flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

As Donald Trump’s time in the White House winds down, Republicans across the nation continue to sabotage democracy by refusing to accept election results. Trump himself reached to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a deeply corrupt and possibly criminal attempt to “find” enough votes to overcome his loss in that state. He also seems set to pressure Mike Pence right up to the last minute to do what is impossible (and illegal), and will no doubt rage and perhaps lash out when Congressional Republicans fail to rescue him from final defeat, as they surely will.

Beyond Trump, however, various dead-enders continue to file increasingly far-fetched lawsuits seeking to overturn election results in hotly-contested states like Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. These suits are being quickly rejected by jurists across the political spectrum, and may result in bar discipline for the lawyers who file them, but they still do serious harm to the system by undermining the norm of accepting defeat with grace and dignity.

As if to prove that the problem goes much deeper than the national level, the GOP-led Pennsylvania state Senate ousted Lt. Governor John Fetterman from his ceremonial role swearing in legislators and refused to seat a Democratic Senator whose election has been certified by the state and upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

It’s important to recognize, as Greg Sargent does, that these attacks on democratic institutions are offered in bad faith:

…The justification for objecting to Biden electors — numerous claims of fraud that have already been shot down in dozens of court rulings — is just as baseless as the one that Trump used to demand vote-rigging in Georgia.

Even worse, many of those Republicans will likely vote against counting those electors. Under the Electoral Count Act, if one Senate and House member objects to a state’s electors — such as Biden electors from Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — the Senate and House each vote on those objections.

The Democratic House will vote the objections down, which ensures those electors will be counted. What remains unclear is how many Senate Republicans will vote to uphold the objections, i.e., vote not to count Biden’s electors.

Sargent uses “bad faith” in more of a legal sense, of course: to act in a dishonest or untrustworthy way. That is certainly true in each of these cases. It’s unclear if Trump actually understands that Pence cannot reject the slates of electors presented to him in his role presiding over the Senate. But he knows he’s lost the election, and soundly, and repeatedly. The lawsuits being filed on his behalf have no reasonable prospect of success. They’re just being used cynically to score political points, as the judge rejecting the latest case noted acerbically.

Nor do Pennsylvania Republicans have the remotest honest belief that the federal lawsuit over their colleague’s election will prevail. In each of these cases, the ostensible reason for action is demonstrably, transparently false. They’re doing it out of naked terror at defeat and being held accountable (Trump), or to show Democrats their ass and plant the seeds of a dolchstoßlegende.

But as John Stoehr has pointed out here on RD, the religious sense can apply as well:

America, as President-Elect Joe Biden said last week, “is a covenant.” It is a community, a union, collective effort to recognize a non-negotiable, which is the moral assertion, not the fact, that all people are equal—that human beings are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Covenants are a kind of sacred contract, originally a human device later used to image the agreements cut between the Israelite God and that deity’s people. Those agreements typically included both horizontal and vertical components: you humans do this for one another, and I, God, will do this for you. Because of this, human covenants, such as marriage, picked up a sacramental aspect: when people are as faithful to one another as God is faithful to them, God both blesses the relationship and becomes present in it. That’s the implication of Biden’s metaphor: on a literal level, all that holds the nation together are the agreements to cooperate with one another, often solemnized with the words “so help me God.” But on the level of poetry, of theology, Biden means that when Americans keep faith with one another, they provoke the presence of God amongst them.

That faithfulness to one another, as John Stoehr knows, is directed toward, and bound by, the moral assertion of human equality. And as Greg Sargent equally sees, what unravels the thread holding together our civil society, and thus our common pursuit, is lying. There is no way to treat one another as equals, much less make sacramental covenant, without being honest with one another. It’s not for nothing that “Thou shalt not lie”—a prohibition on perjury in court, among other things—is one of the Ten Commandments. It is simply impossible to build a society committed to the benefit of all its members without a foundation of truthfulness.

Which means that the biggest lie of all exposed in these rear-guard election battles might be the dishonest assertion that the people fighting them are committed to the benefit of all. It’s becoming increasingly clear that for many Republicans, this nation is of some of the people, by some of the people, and for some of the people. Increasingly, that’s defined as white suburban and rural Republicans, or in the case of Pres. Trump, himself, and no further loyalties apply. It’s one thing to show bad faith in a dishonest political strategy, and quite another to show no faith in your fellow citizens, yet here we seem to be. Jesus once said, “Where two or three are gathered, I will be there,” but he never met latter-day Republicans trying desperately to cling to power.