The Republicans’ Dangerous Delegitimization of Democratic Presidents

I began here in June – in a column titled “If it looks like Biden will win… danger ahead!” — expressing my concerns about the likelihood of the two-fold scenario in which Biden would win  the election (fair and square) and Trump would do everything he could to overturn it, regardless of the damage to the nation.

While Trump’s trampling on our constitutional order was predictable, our national well-being would hinge, among other things, on how much of the Republican base would believe the lies Trump would tell about the election’s being stolen.

Now here we are. Monmouth University polling has found: “While 60% of Americans believe Biden won the election fair and square, 32% say he only won it due to voter fraud. Three-quarters (77%) of Trump backers say Biden’s win was due to fraud. [The pollster] added, ‘The anger among Trump’s base is tied to a belief that the election was stolen.’”

It is emphatically not OK for America for 1/3 of Americans to regard the nation’s President as illegitimate.

1)That damages our constitutional order. (Which means it’s been the moral and legal responsibility of the Republican leaders to honor their oath of office and emphatically not abet Trump’s attacks on the election, and to disabuse their supporters of these false accusations.)

2) And it will hamper the new President in his attempts to unify the nation behind taking the steps necessary for repairing a nation in crisis.

Those costs make it imperative that the Biden team take seriously the task – not easy admittedly — of bringing down, as far as possible, the number of people holding such false beliefs.

That’s not required, of course, for Biden to become President. But it will help determine Biden’s ability to move the nation forward.

If history is any indication, the Republicans in Congress will attempt to do to Biden’s Presidency what they did to Obama’s:

Even before Obama’s Inauguration, it is known, the Republicans decided to make his failure their top priority. Even at a time of national intense economic crisis in 2009, when the President’s failure would mean serious harm to the nation, they decided to do all they could to prevent Obama from accomplishing anything.

In their effort to cripple Obama’s presidency, the Republicans largely succeeded. Obama ended up unable to pass legislation, confined to his purely executive powers.

And in that effort to cripple the President, the Republicans in Congress were aided by their delegitimizing Obama in the eyes of a substantial portion of the Republican base. As is the case now, that delegitimization was accomplished by a lie: i.e. the infamous (racist) birther lie, according to which Obama was not American born – was born in Africa! – and therefore not eligible to be President.

Once Republican voters believed that lie – believed Obama undeserving of the traditional “respect for the office” — the Republicans in Congress had license to treat the President with contempt, and to nullify the will of the people, who had hired Barack Obama to perform a vital role in our government.

Obama basically forfeited the battle over the minds of the Republican base — i.e. the battle over his legitimacy. He never really denounced — in powerful terms – the Republicans’ disgraceful lying to pervert the intended operation of power in our constitutional system.

Biden — now being assaulted by a new set of delegitimizing lies (this time with manifestly baseless claims of election fraud) — should not make the same mistake.

He should accept it as part of his overall strategy to move the nation forward to task his team to find the best way to accomplish two important tasks (as well as possible): 1) toestablish in the minds of the Republican base the truth about the election; and 2) to discredit – in the eyes of Republican voters — the liars whose baseless accusations represent an unconscionable assault on our constitutional order.

The issue here is much bigger even than this Biden Presidency: Denying the legitimate right of Democrats to wield the powers of the presidency has become a standard weapon in the Republicans’ arsenal in their ongoing war pursuit of power at the expense of our democracy.

(Indeed, one must go back to Jimmy Carter – 40 years ago! — to find a Democratic President whom the Republicans have acknowledged as entitled to exercise the powers the people have bestowed on him. By the time Bill Clinton was President, the Republican Party had already been hijacked by a spirit radical enough that they spent years searching for any means to destroy his Presidency.)

So far, the Republicans have not paid a price for this disgraceful conduct— i.e. treating power as fully legitimate when it is in their hands, and delegitimizing it when the people give it to their opponents.

On the contrary, they have benefitted from it.

That reveals the dark power that has taken over a once-respectable Republican Party. But it also reveals the weakness of a Democratic Party that once knew how to fight.

Now’s a moment for the Democratic team demonstrate they have the will and the rhetorical power to defend the powers the people bestowed on them.

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