Take a Deep Breath (We’re Not in a Constitutional Crisis)

By E. Ryan Haffner | Posted at 4:34 PM

In his most recent column for Time, David French sounds the alarm under the heading “Only the Right-Wing Media Can Save America From Trump’s Conspiracies.” In fearing the conspiracies of the MAGA-ites, the opposition folks such as French keep creating their own conspiracy theories of sorts that are just as unhelpful. Let’s settle down both wings of the Vast Conspiracy, shall we?

It isn’t that French and I are on entirely different pages, mind you. While I had hopes for a second term of President Trump for reasons I expressed quite clearly before the election, I dislike his rhetoric nearly as much as French does. However, French falls prey to a problem I identified previously: people misunderstand President Trump’s rhetoric and that misunderstanding leads them to see the distasteful as harbingers of the catastrophic.

Our present situation is not catastrophic and neither is the future. So, take a deep breath and then let’s consider why.

To understand my point in relation to the present moment, I should share that I have a pretty simple view of the state of the 2020 election and I believe it mirrors the view President George W. Bush shared last week.

In short, Vice President Biden is almost certainly now President-elect Biden and as a Christian, I ought to pray for him and honor him (our Editor-in-Chief blogged about that last week). President Bush did not stop there, though; he also stated that President Trump is entitled to his day in court. Dubya is precisely right. We have judicial procedures around an election precisely so that they can be used when a party feels wronged.

Dubya rightly felt wronged twenty years ago. Trump may very well be wrong (or not right enough) to have another Bush v. Gore moment, but the ligitation process is how we figure that out. We do not need to prejudge his case as so many have done, particularly without seeing the evidence his campaign intends to submit.

I know waiting for the courts keeps us from the neat and tidy “everything is resolved” moment so many want, but if we turn off cable news (and the hyperventilating media in general), there is no crisis — constitutional or otherwise — right now. To deny judicial recourse for alleged wrongs, in fact, would be the constitutional crisis.

Letting this play out in court is good for democracy, because some sort of forced concession prior to that will only harm the President-elect’s support from the country as a whole. This is actually a chance for the “unity” Biden says he desires to be a tad easier to reach.

The process will not mire us more in conspiracies like French fears, but help to destroy false conspiracy narratives. Will some people have more time to fanaticize about increasingly elaborate intrigues along the way? Sure, but the vast majority of the same would even if Trump resigned tomorrow — the QAnon realm would simply see this as part of Trump’s savior-martyr status they wish upon him.

(As an aside, I’ve seen no similar concern on the part of people like French for the out-of-context insanity of many anti-Trumpers.)

Trump’s maneuvers will almost certainly not result in a change to the election, but let him bring the evidence. That is all that most Republican lawmakers (and reasonable “Right Wing media” types) are advocating for. If Trump actually persuades judges that there is serious fraud, then we should be thankful that evidence came to light.

I could be snarky at this juncture and mention how the Democrats would be overjoyed for having this brought to light since they have been fixated on alleged interference for the last four years, but I will leave that snark to others. The more serious point is that it is a fine exercise for someone to bring his case before a court and allow it to stand or fall.

If, as seems likely, he has some evidence but not enough to change the election, that’s still jolly good: we should be all for catching fraud. In some future election, it may actually matter. Whatever comes of those cases, the vast majority of Americans will see those results when they come and then move on with life.

But isn’t Trump just pushing us toward a constitutional crisis? No. This is not a crisis because the United States hasn’t even elected a president yet. With projections and analysis, we have taken the Founding Father’s genius institution – the Electoral College – and made it little more than a reason to color maps red and blue. I sincerely doubt the President is trying to help us relearn elementary school civics, but perhaps we should. With a month to go before the electors gather, nothing is amiss.

I believe much of French’s dismay (and that of Never Trumpers and Leftists alike) is tied to a misunderstanding of the president that blinds them to all of this and thus makes the President’s tweets seem much more insidious than they are. President Trump is quite often “sound and fury” on matters like this; just as in that famous line from Macbeth, these storms are “signifying nothing.”

To hear the Never Trumpers speak this week, Trump sounds like he could be the reincarnation of the Axis ready to seize every freedom we hold dear or at least rend the Union and thrust half of it into an alternate reality. Perhaps if that were true, alarms such as French’s would be appropriate, but the simple fact is no liberties have suddenly been snatched away by Trump.

Consider: if he really is as dictatorial as his critics claim, why would he be reaching at the last straws of hope of reelection? Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping do not need to litigate over voting machines in some state; they “win” to begin with and kill anyone who would suggest otherwise. No, Trump is not them (or Hitler); this present moment ought to settle that once and for all.

Will Trump rail about the injustices of his situation? Sure. But just as he has done in so many situations, he will ultimately do something surprisingly like a normal politician, even if some “special effects” happen first. This all will pass. Geraldo Rivera tweeted earlier today that he had spoken with the president and felt assured that if the legal battles failed, Trump would pass the baton just like all the presidents before him.

That’s been obvious to me since all of this started the day after the election.

Look at the president’s track record. It is not filled with anomalies beyond the odd fusion of American center-right and center-left positions he has put forward. He was a straightforward right leaning politician on matters like judicial appointments, while pursuing matters such as criminal justice reform or changes in trade that – if anything – would have been more identified with populist Democrats in the past.

A strange combination? Perhaps, but in the way a peanut butter and anchovy sandwich is. Distasteful, but not toxic.

So he was in leading, so I expect he will be in leaving.

E. Ryan Haffner writes on politics for Open for Business.

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