The election that didn’t kill the infection

(Originally published here by the South China Morning Post on November 24, 2020.)

“I think it just adds to the confusion and chaos,” John Cornyn, a Texas Republican re-elected to the US Senate for a fourth term this month, said last week about US President Donald Trump’s firing of Christopher Krebs.

Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, lost his job for countering Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud.

The “chaos” of the 2020 US election arises from Trump’s efforts to discredit the results without any evidence of wrongdoing, as well as most of the Republican Party either agreeing with the president or remaining silent on what is possibly his most headline-grabbing act yet.

Trump, who leads a government that portrays itself as a beacon of democracy and whose top diplomat Mike Pompeo lectures countless others about the importance of free and fair elections, is exploring every conceivable route to the invalidation of ballots cast in key Democratic strongholds.

The president’s strategy of intransigence, which should surprise no one who has been at least half-conscious during the past four years, is a parting gift to the autocrats he adores so much. It will continue to benefit the strongmen of the world who see no greater prize than the tarnishing of the American brand.

Cornyn, who still refuses to regard Joe Biden as the president-elect even though he acknowledges no evidence of election fraud took place, followed up on his comment about the chaos that Trump and Republicans like himself have created.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one that would like some return to a little bit more of a – I don’t even know what’s normal any more,” he said, summarising perfectly the reason Moscow can rest easy even if Russian President Vladimir Putin’s preferred candidate lost.

Trump and his allies are now like an infection of the American body politic that the antibiotics did not completely eliminate. The illness survived the medicine that was the US election – an effective treatment for political maladies for more than two centuries – and now looks to be a chronic condition that will threaten the life of American democracy.

All previous election losers in modern American history conceded before all votes were certified because they knew the country’s institutions and customs would endure. As the history of their contests were written, they would not have wanted to be portrayed as the kind of obstreperous child Trump has been throughout his tenure.

Fear and retribution are at the core of Trump’s leadership to the exclusion of any discernible principles or policy, though, twisting the Republican Party into one that accepts trade wars against allies and foes alike and leaving little else to offer besides tax cuts and deregulation.

Trump has taken an axe to the ties that had always grounded Republicans, a party that used to defer to the organs of power, such as the judiciary and the FBI, or the country’s chambers of commerce as the touchstones of their conservative identities.

Now they are more inclined to support Trump’s efforts to undermine these very institutions or remain silent as the president tries to pulverise them. Amid the “chaos”, traditional Republicans such as Cornyn are trying to figure out what stance will bolster their electoral prospects instead of reasserting the principles that made their party successful before 2016.

They know nearly 74 million Americans voted for a man who did everything possible to boost the fossil fuel industry as our climate crisis becomes more apparent, did nothing to slow the spread of Covid-19 and insulted highly respected career epidemiologists trying to get people to at least wear face coverings in public as a minimum protection.

Apparently there is a large market in America for idea grounded in spite and selfishness, which spread disease. That is not to mention those that would undercut efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions even as the evidence of our climate crisis accumulates.

Will Republicans revert to a stance that embraces institutional grounding over the progressive reforms Democrats are more inclined to push, or are they becoming a party that will fall further in line with Trump’s cultural revolution?

Cornyn and many others like him do not seem to know yet. Their befuddlement is a condition that all of America’s enemies should be optimistic about, and one more dangerous than the surging coronavirus infections throughout the country.

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