In just a few hours, America will learn the results of the midterm elections amid the rising crescendo of partisan rancor and anxiety. Republicans are hoping to maintain power while Democrats pray for a “blue wave.” But no matter the outcome, patriotic Americans should be ready post-election for President Donald Trump to escalate his struggle to break American democracy.
For the past two years, I and others working to strengthen bipartisan commitment to essential ideals and institutions have witnessed diverse Americans uniting for the cause. They are truly an encouraging harbinger of a future, strengthened republic.
Together, these Republicans, Democrats and independents have helped defeat extremists like Roy Moore in Alabama, elect unifiers like Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania, and uphold the basic truth that all are created equal, even in the face of Trump-inspired, nationalist violence.
Trump has recently returned to a familiar playbook — the promise of a conservative Supreme Court and xenophobic rhetoric — to divide as many Americans as possible.
Today, I hope they will provide the crucial votes in the most important midterm races.
Yet Trump has recently returned to a familiar playbook — the promise of a conservative Supreme Court and xenophobic rhetoric — to divide as many Americans as possible with fear, tribalism and Faustian bargains in hopes that they abandon the defense of our democracy.
A Democratic majority in the House or Senate is critical to reestablishing effective separation of powers and needed oversight over the Trump administration. But whether or not Democrats succeed, Trump will likely escalate his efforts to smash limits to his power.
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My service with the Central Intelligence Agency taught me that leaders committed to self-preservation through authoritarianism do not curtail their efforts to dismantle checks on their power under the threat of accountability. They hasten them.
If Republicans hold the House and Senate, Trump will see evidence of national vulnerability. Emboldened, he will act more aggressively against threats to his presidency, including the special counsel’s investigation and Congressional consideration of its findings.
If Republicans hold the House and Senate, Trump will see evidence of national vulnerability. Emboldened, he will act more aggressively.
If, on the other hand, the Democrats prevail in at least one chamber, Trump will not stand idly as oversight committees and the law encircle him. He will fear the consequences of his inaction more than those of any potential action.
I sincerely hope that I’m wrong, but Trump has given us no reason to expect otherwise. He is prepared for this moment and we are not — at least not yet.
In the months ahead, Trump and his far-right media allies will more thoroughly flood the country with conspiracies, lies and other disinformation to impede our ability to discern the truth about his corruption. Many well-intentioned Americans will probably succumb, resolving to refocus on matters closer to home, including family, work and friendships.
He will continue to allow and even normalize foreign disinformation in his favor, which will become more sophisticated, effective and increasingly encouraged and mimicked by his loyalists.
He will more brazenly pursue nationalist, illiberal policies to energize the far-right in order to maintain control over the GOP and provoke a more radical response from the far-left, which he will in turn use to justify additional anti-democratic measures.
If the Democrats win the House, Trump will frame their appropriate oversight as treason, sheer partisanship and personal hostility, exploiting any overreaches or missteps as evidence of his false narrative. This in turn will encourage his followers’ utter contempt for evidence of his wrongdoing.
He will promote the idea that the midterm election was rigged and allege the illegitimacy of our democratic processes more regularly to inspire the public apathy will help suppress opposition voting in the future.
He will likely remove Attorney General Jeff Sessions to gain influence over Department of Justice investigations, which the president’s Democratic opposition will tolerate due to their unwillingness to bear Session’s flaws long enough to protect relevant probes.
He will more frequently claim a national security rationale for his actions and may, possibly with a new set of less independent defense advisors, exploit real crises to suspend basic freedoms and silence dissent.
Most importantly, he will do whatever he can to use our greatest fears, frustrations and ambitions to turn us against each other, because uniting on higher ground in defense of the nation presents the greatest threat to him.
Trump’s hostility to our values and institutions is not a partisan problem; it is an American problem. We must recognize it as such and act accordingly.
Conservatives must begin to measure everything Trump does first by its impact on the health of the republic, not by partisan priorities. No party goal is more important than the protection of our liberty. Not one. Democrats must realize that a conservative’s agreement with Trump on some policy matters does not indicate that they are part of the far-right, white nationalist movement; many still harbor serious concerns about the president.
Though our political parties are increasingly divided, America as a whole is not. Most of us are still united by our commitment to liberty, equality and truth. In the next chapter of this presidency, our willingness to put these values first will define our future, whether it be free or otherwise.