A small movement — initially dismissed with contempt — has now acquired impressive momentum: the drive to have the Electoral College thwart the dangerous presidency of Donald Trump. Millions are now involved; the strategy has been covered in the national media; and the goal, however unlikely, is not impossible. Democrats have learned a brutal lesson in statistical odds, and success here seems hardly less probable than the election of a man like Donald Trump.
Now it is time to address the most decent Republicans: John McCain; George H. W. Bush and his son Jeb; John Kasich. Americans on both sides of the aisle must plead with these men: how can you remain silent, when everything you stand for is being turned to its hideous opposite?
Since when, for instance, is America in the business of exporting fascism to Europe? I do not use that term lightly: Marine Le Pen, the French demagogue, is the daughter of a man long recognized as a genuine fascist; and she has not in any meaningful sense deviated from his ideology. Ms. Le Pen understands what the American election means for her party and cause: Donald Trump “makes the French realize that what the people want, they can get, if they mobilize themselves.” The president-elect has given hope not simply to her National Front, but to the many burgeoning neo-fascist movements across the continent: the National Democratic Party of Germany, the Greek Golden Dawn, the Sweden Democrats, the Austrian Party of Freedom.
I remind elected Republicans that we have words to describe politicians who acquiesce — or aid — in the spread of fascism. The polite term is “appeaser.” The more accurate term here is “quisling.”
Most Republicans, however much I disagree with them, are the opposite of fascists. American conservatism, for the most part, has defined itself in opposition to fascism, and America itself has long stood as an example and warning to the rest of the world: an unwavering, embodied proclamation that this moral disease will not be tolerated.
Yet here we are. The Southern Poverty Law Center points out that Steve Bannon, Trump’s proposed chief of staff and senior counselor, is a notorious bigot, cherished by white nationalists. Bannon’s genius for the mass dissemination of subtle propaganda is unparalleled, and his appointment is being celebrated by the American Nazi Party, David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. In their eyes, they now have their very own Goebbels: “Bannon is our man in the White House.”
In Tablet Magazine, Liel Leibovitz recalls his grandfather’s departure from an Austria threatened by Hitler, and offers a muted manifesto:
Treat every poisoned word as a promise. When a bigoted blusterer tells you he intends to force members of a religious minority to register with the authorities — much like those friends and family of (my grandfather’s) who stayed behind were forced to do before their horizon grew darker — believe him.
Whether Donald Trump is himself a fascist has been debated by experts; some argue that he falls short of the definition, but few deny that he and his most ardent followers are monstrously close. He must be stopped.
I wrote last week about how the Electoral College was designed by the Founding Fathers to do just this: to prevent the rise of an aspiring tyrant. Others advanced the same argument, and now millions of Americans have signed petitions and sent letters to the relevant electors, begging them to cast their vote for anyone but Trump. But this will not happen without the aid of courageous Republicans in Congress.
Electors are rightly afraid to oppose the results of the general election, especially in this circumstance, where the president-elect has called for the violent suppression of dissent, and his followers have honored that stance. A number of electors have made a point of stressing that they intend to vote for Trump. Yet we know that at least some are voting against their conscience in this regard. Probably many.
Chris Suprun of Texas, for instance, indicated in an interview with Politico that he was deeply unsettled by the prospect of a Trump presidency: “The nominee is… saying things that in an otherwise typical election year would have you disqualified.” Recently, Mr. Suprun has recanted. He has gone further: he now insists that the article is fraudulent, and that he never in fact wavered. I wrote, however, to the author of that piece, Kyle Cheney. And he wrote back:
I respect Chris Suprun tremendously. But my story was entirely accurate. I understand that the pressure and criticism he faced after it ran must have been tremendous. But he was clear and unequivocal throughout several phone and email exchanges: he had deep discomfort with casting his electoral vote for Donald Trump and was strongly considering other options.
We should not condemn Mr. Suprun. It is not easy to stand against a tsunami of hatred. We can only hope that recognition of this hatred will itself move him — at the pivotal moment — to vote his conscience. Baoky Vu of Georgia also announced that he might vote for another candidate, but within hours he had resigned as an elector. Just how he was forced to do so is not hard to imagine.
It would certainly help if men like Mr. Suprun and Mr. Vu knew that they had powerful Republicans in their corner. Again, I ask: where are John McCain, the Bush family, John Kasich? Where is Mitt Romney?
Leibowitz considers the analogy between Donald Trump and der Führer “absurd and reprehensible” — I clearly do not — but his conclusion is the same as mine: “When the levers of power are seized by the small hands of hateful men, you work hard, you stand with those who are most vulnerable, and you don’t give up until it’s morning again.”
Senator McCain, since when do you go gentle into that good night with a man who says this about waterboarding: “I like it a lot. I don’t think it’s tough enough.” Andrew Sullivan, the former editor of The New Republic and an avowed conservative, has argued that a Trump presidency represents an “extinction event”: “After 240 years, an idea that once inspired the world has finally repealed itself.”
If you are an elected Republican, how can you imagine not taking a stand here? It can only be one of two impulses: either a benighted nod to party loyalty, or — worse — a bid to earn a prominent position in this new regime. (I use the word “regime” advisedly: as with Sullivan, I am convinced that Trump represents something more ominous than a new administration.) Has the word “quisling” lost its moral force? Have you become this cynical, this nihilistic? Do you believe in nothing?
The citizens who elected you should hold you to your principles, if you cannot see clear to embrace them yourselves. Your staff should hold you to them. Your friends.
Let us see a river of email from your constituents, begging you to do this: to announce, forcefully and unequivocally, that you expect electors to deny this ugly man his 270 requisite votes. The decision regarding the next president will then be passed to the House, and Congress may select a competent, deserving Republican: one who can be trusted with the nuclear codes; one who can be trusted not to extinguish — forever — the nation’s good name. The victors may write history, but so do historians. As with Vidkung Quisling and Lord Haw-Haw and Philippe Pétain, you will be judged.
A PERSONAL NOTE: This piece follows upon another article, which appeared in the Huffington Post and had well over a million readers: “The Electoral College Was Designed To Prevent Trump. You Can Make This Happen.” After that was published, I was widely criticized for commenting — supposedly “intervening” — in the national election of a foreign nation. While I was a lawful American resident for years, I am a Canadian living in Europe, and the argument I’ve encountered — not always in the most sensitive language — is that Trump is America’s business alone.
He is not. He is destabilizing Europe; he has expressed support for the Russian tyrant, who is an enemy of NATO, and Canada is a stalwart member of that alliance. Moreover, there is a long tradition of writers decrying vicious tendencies in nations not their own. I am hardly George Orwell — a moral giant — but he is my model, and Orwell’s bitter critique was by no means restricted to his own country: he was sometimes critical of Britain, but he reserved the full force of his cri de coeur for Stalin, and Franco, and Mussolini.
I am not intervening in any tangible way, but Orwell certainly did: he fought with the anti-fascist militia in the Spanish Civil War. I make no apologies for George Orwell, and I make no apologies for my own small gesture in his shadow.
It is absurd to assert that I somehow matter here, but let me state further: I adore America. It is, as one president noted, the greatest political experiment in history. Moreover, America has been generous and hospitable to me, granting me permanent residence — first with an O-1 Visa and then with a corresponding green card (both a great honor) — and I am unwavering in my love for the country. Unlike passive Republicans, I will not stand by in silence to see it ruined.
(Photo: Sam Mihara)