Commentary: Are We Seeing the End of Our Democracy or Its Resilience?


By David M. Greenwald

When I warned people over the summer of the threat to democracy, there were usually two responses—a lot of partisan agreements and a lot of independent and conservative denials.  Indeed, when Trump at the first debate refused to commit to accepting the election results, a lot of people still did not see a true threat.

The only real parallel the US has had in our history was the 1876 election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden.  But that election was legitimately in dispute—both sides agreed that there was no clear winner in the three states that would ultimately decide the election, and ultimately there was a deal cut by Hayes to be seated as President basically in exchange for ending Reconstruction.

In some ways this is worse.  The New York Times today quoted Presidential historian and author Michael Beschloss, who pointed out, “In the case of Hayes, both sides agreed that the outcome in at least three states was in dispute. In this case, no serious person thinks enough votes are in dispute that Donald Trump could have been elected on Election Day.

“This is a manufactured crisis. It is a president abusing his huge powers in order to stay in office after the voters clearly rejected him for re-election.”

Some have suggested to let this play out.  It is playing out—but in most ways it already has played out.  The legal avenues have largely been exhausted.  The courts have pretty much thrown out every single challenge by the President.

Georgia held a recount.  They did find a few uncounted ballots.  It did close the gap by a few hundred votes. But it left the result intact.

We are left pretty much with madness.

Anyone who actually watched Rudy Giuliani’s press conference had to leave shaking their head.  Remember when to a lot of Americans this guy was a hero?  That was just under 20 years ago.  Now he delivered a 90-minute briefing that overflowed with falsehoods and conspiracy theories.

At no point has Trump’s legal team offered proof of their allegations for widespread fraud.  One official did say that this was an “introductory statement” and they would be striking at claims about a conspiracy involving Venezuela and George Soros interfering with the US election.

Even before they were made, most of the specific claims have been refuted whether by federal election experts or bipartisan election officials.

“This was not an individual idea of 10 or 12 Democrat bosses. This was a plan. You would have to be a fool not to realize that,” Giuliani said, pointing to legal challenges in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and elsewhere.

Attorney Sidney Powell also alleged that Dominion Voting Systems used technology developed by Hugo Chavez, the late-Venezuelan dictator, to manipulate votes tabulated overseas to favor Joe Biden.

Of course the company has disputed the assertions, and Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has said there is no evidence of foreign adversaries changing vote tallies.  Moreover, that’s not how they count votes anyway.

The Wall Street Journal in an editorial explained there were some errors, but they point out that the errors in Michigan actually didn’t affect the totals and, “In any case, the Michigan Secretary of State’s office said the error “would have been identified during the county canvass,” when Democrats and Republicans ‘review the printed totals tape from each tabulator.’”

Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy told the Associated Press: “There was no malice, no fraud here, just human error.” She’s a Republican, the WSJ points out.

Princeton Computer Science Professor Andrew Appel said that “voting machines could theoretically be hacked. Where’s the proof they actually were in 2020?”

“Vulnerabilities,” Appel wrote in a blog post Friday, “are not the same as rigged elections, especially when we have paper ballots in almost all the states.”


Dominion responds that’s “impossible,” noting that Dominion only serves 14 counties in Pennsylvania, and it could not have deleted a million Trump votes.  Moreover, the WSJ points out, “With turnout at 76%, it adds, those counties registered 1.3 million votes.”

George Washington Law Professor Jonathan Turley, who has actually been critical of the media’s dismissal of the Trump claims of fraud before evidence has come out, believes that the Trump team could face a defamation suit from Dominion.

He writes, “If the Trump team does not put forward this evidence in its case challenging the election, it could now be forced to produce it in a case brought by Dominion or its officers.”

With the legal ploys going nowhere and devolving into bizarre conspiracy theories, the other move seems to be election nullification.

This is an interesting test for just how strong our democracy is—I suppose.

The NY Times lists the chances as “somewhere between remote and impossible.”

In Michigan, the bizarre machinations in Detroit where Republican canvassers at first refused to certify the results, then did so, now are claiming threats and pressure and want to withdraw their certification, but apparently have no mechanism to do so.

Now he is attempting to get the Michigan Legislature to overturn the Biden victory and seat a Republican slate of electors.  He invited the delegation to the White House to attempt to persuade them to ignore the popular vote outcome.

“Not going to happen…  We are going to follow the law and follow the process,” said Mike Shirkey, the Republican majority leader of the Michigan Senate.  Of course he said it before the meeting and, as we know, the President can be quite “persuasive.”

Michigan alone would not be enough to overturn the results—he would need two other states to follow suit, and the NY Times suggests Georgia and Arizona as most likely.

But what happens if he succeeds?  What happens if he can convince a few key people to overturn the results of a popular election?

This really isn’t that close of an election.  The close election was the 2000 race where it came down to one state—Florida and a 500-point margin.  There were legitimate concerns about the ballots.  There were legitimate legal challenges.  I think a lot of Democrats were angry at the result then as it was a 5-4 decision on partisan lines by the Supreme Court to halt the counting and, in that case, I think the result was legitimately within the margins for error.

Florida also took a lot of steps to recognize the shortcomings of their process and improve the system after that.

This is different.  Biden won: Michigan by nearly 160,000 but there were much closer margins in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia—but none less than 10,000 votes.

If Trump succeeds in throwing this one, I’m not sure how our democracy recovers.  But the good news, I suppose, is, so far, it still seems like an extreme longshot to actually succeed.

What he has done is throw a lot of his supporters—many already inclined toward bizarre conspiracies—into a lather over this and that will make it much harder to bring this nation together again.  Maybe ever.

Part of the problem here is the way that votes were counted fueled people’s misunderstanding of the fundamental fact: Republicans voted on election day, Democrats voted early and by mail.  That made for large vote swings depending on which ballots were counted last.

As New York Times reporter Nate Cohn tweeted this morning, “The thing that’s most dispiriting about the ‘vote dump’ charts (which purport to show irregularities, but just show large Dem. cities reporting), is that it’s in such complete bad faith that there’s no way the electoral process could be reformed to guard against it going forward.”

Giuliani alleged on Thursday that Donald Trump won by a landslide.

Christopher Krebs, the Election Cybersecurity Official fired earlier this week, tweeted in response: “That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest.”

Many election systems would have simply folded under the strain of this.  Ours has at least so far not really buckled.

It remains to be seen at one point the kind of mainstream Republican leaders say “enough.”  Will they wait until December 14?  Another three weeks of this?

Two Republican Senators spoke out yesterday.

One was 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, now a Utah Senator, and the other Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.  Both have been more independent and critical of Trump.

“Having failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy before any court of law, the President has now resorted to overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election,” Romney said in a statement posted to Twitter. “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President.”

It is worth pointing out that Romney and Sasse may have some leverage here, particularly if they could gain the support of a third senator like Murkowski or Collins.  They could threaten to bolt the Republican caucus, effectively losing control of the Senate for the Republicans regardless of the outcome in Georgia.

But for now we will watch how this plays out.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Alan Miller

    I imagine KO already posted examples of left-leaning people acting outrageously, and I imagine you’ve already pulled those as off-topic.   Seems to be the theme of the week.  I go to comment on a KO comments – and “you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone” — Joni Mitchell

    Trump goes out dramatically and lawyer makes outrageous statements.  Blow me over with a feather.

    I am wondering when the far-right-wing Trump-supporting militias were coming into town from the hills (all towns, all hills) to violently avenge the unlawful vote that took down their leader.  Do you have a date?  Still waiting.

    Also still waiting for someone, anyone, to bet me $50 that Trump won’t leave the White House in January.  I’m betting he will.  Just like I’m betting the fears of Trump overturning the election as expressed in this article are all hot air.


    1. David Greenwald

      No. He has not posted anything today.

      “I am wondering when the far-right-wing Trump-supporting militias were coming into town from the hills (all towns, all hills) to violently avenge the unlawful vote that took down their leader. Do you have a date? Still waiting.”

      Seems like he’s bent on undoing the election through bullying, intimidation and crazy fraud claims. We’ll see where it goes.

      I’m not going to bet, but at this point I wouldn’t bet on the side of Trump not doing something.

      1. John Hobbs

        If we’re not willing to fight for democracy, we’re not deserving of it. I think Trump will try any and everything to keep out of the hands of the law. Once he’ citizen Trump, the Manhattan DA and the SDNY have him to carve up. That’s if his Russian gangster friends don’t get him first. No longer useful to Putin and the oligarchs once he’s out of office, any off the book debts come due.

        We can only hope for the best.

  2. Richard McCann

    (David, update your website certificate!)

    The Republicans have been pushing for apartheid voting rules for at least 40 years. I witnessed this in 1983 when I was a vote tally observer in Seattle in 1983 and the Republicans made a big stink about their lack of access to vote counting. They know its much more difficult to go to the many small conservative jurisdictions to observe what I suspect has much more proportional fraud occurring because no one is watching and the powerful know each other much better.

    Remember the core of the GOP is the old Dems who blocked Black voting rights. This is just the same racist motivation and the Supreme Court gave it legitimacy in 2013 by gutting the Voting Rights Act.

    Here’s a disturbing article about how GOP voters are skeptical of the election results. So much for being patriotic.

      1. Keith Olsen

        It is interesting to see how well the system holds up when someone is actually actively trying to subvert it.

        Like the fake Russian Collusion or the sham impeachment proceedings?

        1. Ron Glick

          What was fake about Russia meddling in the 2016 election? Are you okay with that?  The Dems never contested the vote however.

          The part I find laughable was that during Trump’s impeachment his defenders talked about subverting the will of the voters. Now many of those same Republicans sit silent while Trump tries to subvert the will of the voters.

  3. Keith Olsen

    Attorney Sidney Powell

    I’m not a fan of Rudy Giuliani, he seems to be losing it in his older years, but Sydney Powell is the real deal.  I can’t believe she would put her reputation on the line if she didn’t actually have the goods.  We’ll have to wait and see.


    1. David Greenwald

      Wait and see for what? The states are certifying their elections. The Trump people have put nothing credible into court documents. I personally did a county by county analysis of three states and saw nothing outside of the expected in terms of turnout or result. In fact, when the Trump people did file on Michigan turnout questions it turned out they were using Minnesota data (strange quirk is that Minnesota and Michigan have townships that have the same name in a lot of cases).

        1. David Greenwald

          It is largely settled. There has been no evidence that has come forward to suggest that there is massive fraud (massive enough to overturn a fairly decisive election outcome) and evidence that suggests that there was not a large scale fraud. At some point, there will be a critical mass of Republicans that accept this and allow the process to move forward.

        2. David Greenwald

          Keith – if you believe this is fraudulent, you have to believe people like this are lying… What incentive does he have to lie?

          “I am a Republican, and a conservative one. And I believe that I’m going to be disappointed, because I don’t believe that my candidate is going to win,” Raffensperger said in an interview this week, before Georgia certified its results. “But that said, I want 100 percent of people to have confidence in the results. I’m not gonna like it. And I’m gonna have to take that medicine, just like everyone else in my party will, but it will be an accurate count.”

    2. David Greenwald

      I’m sure why you think Sidney Powell is the real deal.  Her publicly stated position is that the reason Trump lost Georgia is that Georgia’s Governor (a Republican!) was bribed by a Venezuelan front company in cahoots with the CIA to throw elections to communists.  She said, “Georgia is probably going to be the first state I’m going to blow up” and “it will be Biblical.”

      You really think we’re in wait and see mode here?

    3. Don Shor

      I’m not a fan of Rudy Giuliani, he seems to be losing it in his older years, but Sydney Powell is the real deal.  I can’t believe she would put her reputation on the line if she didn’t actually have the goods.  We’ll have to wait and see.

      That quote didn’t age very well.

      Are we allowed to now state that Trump lost and Biden won? Or does it still need to “play out” and allow him to “pursue all legal options?”

  4. Alan Miller

    Are we allowed to now state that Trump lost and Biden won? Or does it still need to “play out” and allow him to “pursue all legal options?”

    I’m not sure the point of this comment.  Of course you can state that Trump lost, of course Trump can pursue his legal options.  Through what method would you stop him from pursuing his legal options?  Does it “need” to play out?  I suppose not, but unless Trump decides not to pursue his legal options, it will play out.  Again, what’s the point?

  5. Tia Will

    Again, what’s the point?

    Can’t speak for Don, but for me, the point is, at what point is enough, enough. How many totally unsubstantiated bizarre cases is Trump allowed to bring, wasting time pretending the result will not be known, pretending there is no need to start transition because he will still be president, knowing he will not prevail but stirring up his base and continue to sabotage people’s belief in the election process itself. I personally don’t care how much of his own money Trump wastes on this pursuit as entitled according to law. I care deeply that he is managing to funnel taxpayer money into these efforts and waste valuable court time.


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