Article of Yesterday: MLK’S BIRTHDAY from Prof. Heather Cox Richardson

PAY PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO THE FOURTH PARAGRAPH

January 18, 2021

Heather Cox RichardsonJan 19

The Trump administration is winding down as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris prepare to take office on Wednesday.

Trump will leave office with an approval rating of 34%, dismal by any measure. He is the first president since Gallup began polling never to break 50% approval. After the attack on the Capitol on January 6, the House of Representatives impeached him for a second time, and a majority of Americans think he should have been removed from office. 

In the last days of his term, the area of Washington, D.C., around our government buildings has been locked down to guard against further terrorism. Our tradition of a peaceful transition of power, established in 1800, has been broken. There is a 7-foot black fence around the Capitol and 15,000 National Guard soldiers on duty in a bitterly cold Washington January. There are checkpoints and road closures near the center of the city, and 10,000 more troops are authorized if necessary. Another 4,000 are on duty in their states, protecting key buildings and infrastructure sites. 

In the past two days, there have been more indications that members of the Trump administration were behind the January 6 coup attempt. Yesterday, Richard Lardner and Michelle R. Smith of the Associated Press broke the story that, far from being a grassroots rally, the event of January 6 that led to the storming of the Capitol was organized and staffed by members of Trump’s presidential campaign team. These staffers have since tried to distance themselves from it, deleting their social media accounts and refusing to answer questions from reporters. 

A number of the arrested insurrectionists have claimed that they were storming the Capitol because the president told them to. According to lawyers Teri Kanefield and Mark Reichel, writing in the Washington Post, this is known as the “public authority” defense, meaning that if someone in authority tells you it’s okay to break a law, that advice is a defense when you are arrested. It doesn’t mean you won’t be punished, but it is a defense. It also means that the person offering you that instruction is more likely to be prosecuted. 

The second impeachment, popular outcry, and continuing stories about the likely involvement of administration figures in the coup attempt seem to have trimmed Trump’s wings in his last days in office. He is issuing orders that Biden vows to overturn, and contemplating pardons (stories say those around him are selling access to him to advocate for those pardons), but otherwise today was quiet. 

He has tried to install a loyalist as the top lawyer at the National Security Agency, either to burrow him in or to get the green light for dumping NSA documents before he leaves office; Biden’s team will fight what is clearly an attempt to politicize the position. Tonight, Census Director Steven Dillingham resigned after whistleblowers alleged that he and other political appointees were putting pressure on department staffers to issue a hasty and unresearched report on undocumented immigrants.

According to news reports, Trump is planning to leave Washington on the morning of January 20 and should be at his Florida club Mar-a-Lago by the time Biden and Harris are sworn in. The last president to miss a successor’s inauguration was Andrew Johnson, who in 1869 refused to attend Ulysses S. Grant’s swearing-in, and instead spent the morning signing last-minute bills to put in place before Grant took office. 

There is a lot of chatter tonight about the release today of the 1776 Report guidelines on American history. This is the administration’s reply to the 1619 Project from the New York Times, which focused on America’s history of racism. As historian Torsten Kathke noted on Twitter, none of the people involved in compiling today’s 41-page document are actually historians. They are political scientists and Republican operatives who have produced a full-throated attack on progressives in American history as well as a whitewashed celebration of the U.S.A. Made up of astonishingly bad history, this document will not stand as anything other than an artifact of Trump’s hatred of today’s progressives and his desperate attempt to wrench American history into the mythology he and his supporters promote so fervently. 

But aside from the bad history, the report is a fascinating window into the mindset of this administration and its supporters. In it, the United States of America has been pretty gosh darned wonderful since the beginning, and has remained curiously static. “[T]he American people have ever pursued freedom and justice,” it reads, and while “neither America nor any other nation has perfectly lived up to the universal truths of equality, liberty, justice, and government by consent,” “no nation… has strived harder, or done more, to achieve them.” 

America seems to have sprung up in 1776 in a form that was fine and finished. But, according to the document’s authors, trouble began in the 1890s, when “progressives” demanded that the Constitution “should constantly evolve to secure evolving rights.” It was at that moment the teaching of history took a dark turn. 

The view that America was born whole, has stayed the same, and is simply a prize worth possessing reminds me of so much of the world of Trump and the people around him, characterized by acquisition: buildings, planes, yachts, clothing, bank accounts. Trump and his people seem to see the world as a zero-sum game in which the winners have the most stuff, and America is just one more thing to possess.

But there is a big difference in this world between having and doing. 

America has never fully embodied equality, liberty, and justice. What it has always had was a dream of justice and equality before the law. The 1776 Report authors are right to note that was an astonishing dream in 1776, and it made this country a beacon of radical hope. It was enough to inspire people from all walks of life to try to make that dream a reality. They didn’t have an ideal America; they worked to make one. 

The hard work of doing is rarely the stuff of heroic biographies of leading men. It is the story of ordinary Americans who were finally pushed far enough that they put themselves on the line for this nation’s principles. 

It is the story, for example, of abolitionist newspaperman Elijah P. Lovejoy, murdered by a pro-slavery mob in 1837, and the U.S. soldiers who twenty-four years later fought to protect the government against a pro-slavery insurrection designed to destroy it. It is the story of Lakota leader Red Cloud, who negotiated with hostile government leaders on behalf of his people, and of his contemporary Booker T. Washington, who tried to find a way for Black people to rise in the heart of the South in a time of widespread lynching. It is the story of Nebraska politician William Jennings Bryan, who gave voice to suffering farmers and workers in the 1890s, and of Frances Perkins, who carried his ideas forward as FDR’s Secretary of Labor and brought us Social Security. It is the story of the American G.I.s, from all races, ethnicities, genders, and walks of life who fought in WWII. It is the story of labor organizer Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, and Fannie Lou Hamer, who faced down men bent on murdering her and became an advocate for Black voting. It is the story of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who 60 years ago this week warned us against the “military-industrial complex.”

And it is, of course, the story of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we celebrate today. King challenged white politicians to take on poverty as well as racism to make the promise of America come true for all of us. “Some forty million of our brothers and sisters are poverty stricken, unable to gain the basic necessities of life,” he reminded white leaders in May 1967. “And so often we allow them to become invisible because our society’s so affluent that we don’t see the poor. Some of them are Mexican Americans. Some of them are Indians. Some are Puerto Ricans. Some are Appalachian whites. The vast majority are Negroes in proportion to their size in the population…. Now there is nothing new about poverty. It’s been with us for years and centuries. What is new at this point though, is that we now have the resources, we now have the skills, we now have the techniques to get rid of poverty. And the question is whether our nation has the will….” Just eleven months later, a white supremacist murdered Dr. King. 

These people did not have a perfect nation, they worked to build one. They embraced America so fully they tried to bring its principles to life, sometimes at the cost of their own. Rather than simply trying to own America, the doers put skin in the game.

Today, the Trump administration issued the 1776 Report that presented the United States of America as a prize to be possessed. And yet, the country is demonstrably still in the process of being created: tonight, there are 15,000 soldiers in the cold in Washington, D.C., defending the seat of our government against insurgents.

theology of the day: 1/13/21 Deuteronomy 30:15

What does it mean to choose life in a world that often chooses death?

Below you will find the final address of Moses to the people of God. These words are worth considering again today in the midst of this country in which so many people are choosing to follow the way of death.  Some things to be aware of as we read:

  • This is not an address to people in general. It is an address first to the chosen people of God, the people who followed Abraham and became known as the Israelites and are now known as Jews.
  • As such, it is also addressed to followers of Jesus, who we believe is the Christ, the anointed One spoken of in the Hebrew Testament who overcame death and the grave and who summarized all of the Biblical law in the command to love the Lord and love our neighbor.
  • This is not an address to a particular nation. Not the nation of Israel nor the nation of the United States nor any other nation state, which are all governmental entities where the people of God may live but which do not declare the kingship authority of God nor do they speak for God at any time or in any place.
  • It is wrong to equate any human rule with the Lord God Almighty or with Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For Christians who follow Biblical teachings, the instrument that God has chosen to spread the good news of the gospel is the Church, in itself a fallible and broken witness.
  • Our hope does not reside in any human power. Our only hope is in the Lord, the creator of heaven and earth. For we who are Christians, Jesus Christ is this Lord.

Deuteronomy 30:15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

What does it mean for us to choose life? To live as a follower of Jesus Christ is to live as people who are IN the world but also to live as people who do not BELONG TO the world. We proclaim that Jesus Christ is King, but we acknowledge that the broader world does not recognize Jesus as King. As followers of Jesus our task is follow the WAY of JESUS while living among a people who are following a different way. 

What is the Way of Jesus? As I wrote above, the briefest description of the Way is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27) The immediate question becomes Who is my neighbor? The answer to this question is immediately given by Jesus in the passage from Luke.

Let me emphasize again that this commandment of Jesus is directed only to the people of God. It is a commandment that makes no sense to the broader world. While there are many wonderful people in the broader world, the inclination of the broader world’s systems is to divide the world into friends and enemies. However, the people of God, when we are in our right mind, remember that we all used to be enemies of God and that God loved us, and God came looking for us, and God brought us into his family any way. While we deserved death, we were given life. 

God saved us. God saves us. God gives us LIFE to the full. This is our great joy. We are rooted in God. It is this awareness that enables us to answer the call of Moses. It is this awareness that enables us to answer the call of Jesus. It is this awareness that enables us to choose life. 

A Personal Reflection: 1/11/21

A Reflection on I Samuel, Chapter 8

In the early days of the people of God we find our forebearers wanting a king. Rather than being content to be led by God, they desired to be led by a human ruler. The prophet Samuel warned them about the ways of a king (this is simplified, look at it for yourself), “he will take your children and make them his servants, he will organize armies and raise money for implements of war, he will apportion to himself a part of all you create, and when that happens you will cry out to the Lord for help.”

We, the people who look to the Lord for help, are much like Samuel’s flock. We are often not content to be led by God. We want a human leader whom we can follow. Sometimes the leader is a religious person. Sometimes the leader is a political person. A current trend is the leader who clothes their political worldview with religious garments. The results we see are the same as those predicted by Samuel. People are diminished so that the leader may be powerful. The only leader who desires us to be free human beings is Jesus, the Christ. 

How can we know that we are following Jesus in the way that He intended? Jesus said that we are to love the Lord and love our neighbor (Luke 10:27). He said that if we do this we will live in His peace. We can test our discipleship by asking, Is what I say reflecting love for the Lord and love for my neighbor? Am I living in the peace of Jesus? The great thing about living in these troublesome times is that they provide us the opportunity for such self-reflection.

I’ve been doing much of that in the past few days, and I have found myself lacking in many areas. I’m recommitting myself to Jesus. It is not wrong to be troubled by what we see around us. Throughout the Bible we find a desire for justice, freedom from oppression, and a concern for the poor and downtrodden. We are called to live into these virtues. However, we can only do this insofar as we live in relationship to our sovereign Lord, Jeus Christ. Jesus is the solid rock, all other ground is sinking sand.

Article of the Day: 1/8/2020

This is an opinion piece appearing in Christanity Today.

We Worship with the Magi, Not MAGA

Epiphany reminds us that faith is not a prop for political power.

Tish Harrison WarrenJanuary 7, 2021

Yesterday, January 6, was the Feast of Epiphany, when Christians celebrate how the light of Christ spreads to all nations. The season of Epiphany—also called Theophany in the East—focuses on Jesus’ revelation of his true identity to all the world. In the West, it centers on the stories of the Magi (who represent the nations or the Gentiles) finding Jesus through their mysterious stargazing. In the weeks ahead, the Epiphany season recalls the baptism of Christ and the wedding at Cana, Jesus’ first miracle.

But what a strange Epiphany we had in the United States. Instead of Magi worshiping a newborn king, MAGA hats descended on our nation’s capital. Instead of the baptism of Christ announcing his true identity, men and women held signs proclaiming “JESUS SAVES” as they demanded to overturn an election. Instead of a miraculous display of love at a wedding feast, we saw a display of political violence.

Epiphany calls us to light and truth. It reminds us that the promise of Isaiah is fulfilled in Christ: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (60:3). Light is beautiful, and it is also revelatory. The word epiphanycomes from the word reveal and gestures toward a realization of the truth. To have an epiphany is to grasp reality, to receive insight. In these gospel stories, followers of Jesus begin to slowly understand who he is. They glimpse the truth: The light of the world has come to all people and all ethnic groups.

The season of Epiphany reminds us that we do not just receive the light of Christ. We are charged with sharing it with all the world. But if the nations were watching yesterday—as people destabilized democracy while carrying flags that read “Make America Godly Again”—would any onlooker want anything to do with this Christ?

The violence wrought by Trump supporters storming the Capitol yesterday is anti-epiphany. It is dark and based in untruth. The symbols of faith—Jesus’ name, cross, and message—have been co-opted to serve the cultish end of Trumpism.

In the story of the Magi, King Herod tries to use the wise men as pawns in his own quest to protect his power. He promises that he too is devout, that they can trust him, and then he asks his astronomer visitors where to find Jesus, so that he also “could worship him” (Matt. 2:8). Epiphany therefore reminds us that the very language of worship can be wielded as a weapon of earthly political power.

While what happened at the Capitol yesterday is tragic, it is not surprising. For more than four years, Trump has shown that he is more than willing to say any lie, ignore any standard of decency, and bring any amount of violence and division to shore up his own power. Through manipulative disinformation, he incited an insurrection and has yet to condemn it unequivocally. Like Herod, he is happy to use religious leaders as pawns.

But sadly, in this anti-epiphany, the wise men are not so wise. They willingly comply. So for me, the worst part of yesterday’s insurrection is how it represents an utter failure in the American church. This anti-epiphany reveals the horrid outgrowths of Christian nationalism, faulty spiritual formation, false teaching, political idolatry, and overriding ignorance.

Though it saddens me deeply, it must be clearly admitted: Yesterday’s atrocity was in large part brought to us by the white, evangelical church in America.

An emaciated and malformed evangelical political theology got us where we are now. Jeffrey Goldberg describes the insurrection at the capitol as “chaos … rooted in psychological and theological phenomena, intensified by eschatological anxiety.” He tells how one protestor told him, “It’s all in the Bible … Everything is predicted. Donald Trump is in the Bible.” Goldberg continues, “The conflation of Trump and Jesus was a common theme at the rally. ‘Give it up if you believe in Jesus!’ a man yelled near me. People cheered. ‘Give it up if you believe in Donald Trump!’”

The light of Christ coming to the nations is good news, but it isn’t always comforting. Light reveals what is hidden. It exposes darkness. And the church must reckon with the “unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11, ESV) that this anti-epiphany—and all that has led to it—makes visible. The storming of the Capitol cannot be understood outside the heresy of Christian nationalism peddled by the likes of Josh Hawley, Franklin Graham, and Robert Jeffress; the unhinged apocalyptic Trump-worship of Eric Metaxas; the blasphemies of the Jericho March; and the millions of evangelicals who see Jesus as a means to ill-conceived ideas of American greatness.

I have at times tried to dismiss these leaders and events as fringe, as the crazy cranks and bizarre displays we ought to ignore. I have instead focused on how, day in and day out, pastors and Christian laypeople are seeking to faithfully follow Jesus, to love their neighbor, and to serve the poor, to embody the truth we proclaim this season. But I cannot overlook the reality that millions of evangelicals are swayed by those who proclaim untruth and ugliness in the name of Jesus.

The responsibility of yesterday’s violence must be in part laid at the feet of those evangelical leaders who ushered in and applauded Trump’s presidency. It can also sadly be laid at the feet of the white American church more broadly.

The conflation of the Christian faith and Trumpism did not suddenly spring up in a vacuum four years ago. It arose through decades of poor catechesis and spiritual formation. Through false teaching that the American flag and the cross of Christ do not conflict. Through evangelical leaders who counted losing their souls a small price to pay for grasping political power. Through white supremacist assumptions that snaked their way into church pulpits and pews. And through the belief that the church exists not to show forth the light of Christ to all people but to Make America Great Again.

By contrast, Epiphany tells us of Jesus’ kingship over all the nations, and yesterday’s events show us what happens when we invert that message: Christian faith is used as a tool to prop up political power.

So what are we to do? How can we move forward as Christians when it seems our very churches have become the epicenters of post-truth? How can we walk in the way of Jesus when his illumination has been traded for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic scare tactics? How do we embody beautiful orthodoxy—truth and light—under the long shadow cast by a cross draped in a MAGA flag on the Capitol lawn?

We have to take up the slow work of repair, of re-forming our churches around the deep, unchanging truths of the light of Christ. We must reconstruct communities where we can know and speak truth, serve the needy and the poor, love our neighbors, learn to be poor in spirit, rejoice in suffering, and witness to the light of Christ amid darkness.

This work will be frustratingly small and local, under the radar, and away from the headlines. It will feel paltry and unimportant in the face of the raging nations and widespread ecclesial and national decay. It will be long, risky, and uncertain. But in that meek and humble place, perhaps, with the Magi, we can again find the small star that leads us to the true Light of the World.

Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and the author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night (IVP, 2021).

Speaking Out is Christianity Today’s guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the publication.

Article of the Day: Do you want to live under an authoritarian regime?

An Insurgency From Inside the Oval Office

President Trump’s effort to overturn the election he lost has gone beyond mere venting of grievances at the risk of damaging the very American democracy he is charged with defending.

Published Jan. 4, 2021Updated Jan. 5, 2021, 6:48 a.m. ET

“So what are we going to do here, folks?” President Trump said on a call with Georgia’s secretary of state. “I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes.”
“So what are we going to do here, folks?” President Trump said on a call with Georgia’s secretary of state. “I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes.”Pete Marovich for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s relentless effort to overturn the result of the election that he lost has become the most serious stress test of American democracy in generations, one led not by outside revolutionaries intent on bringing down the system but by the very leader charged with defending it.

In the 220 years since a defeated John Adams turned over the White House to his rival, firmly establishing the peaceful transfer of authority as a bedrock principle, no sitting president who lost an election has tried to hang onto power by rejecting the Electoral College and subverting the will of the voters — until now. It is a scenario at once utterly unthinkable and yet feared since the beginning of Mr. Trump’s tenure.

The president has gone well beyond simply venting his grievances or creating a face-saving narrative to explain away a loss, as advisers privately suggested he was doing in the days after the Nov. 3 vote. Instead, he has stretched or crossed the boundaries of tradition, propriety and perhaps the law to find any way he can to cling to office beyond his term that expires in two weeks. That he is almost certain to fail and that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be inaugurated on Jan. 20 does not mitigate the damage he is doing to democracy by undermining public faith in the electoral system.

Mr. Trump’s hourlong telephone call over the weekend with Georgia’s chief election official, Brad Raffensperger, pressuring him to “find” enough votes to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory in that state only brought into stark relief what the president has been doing for weeks. He has called the Republican governors of Georgia and Arizona to get them to intervene. He has summoned Michigan’s Republican Legislature leaders to the White House to pressure them to change their state’s results. He called the Republican speaker of the Pennsylvania Housemultiple times seeking help to reverse the outcome there.

Mr. Trump and his staff have floated the idea of delaying Mr. Biden’s inauguration, even though it is set in stone by the Constitution, and the president met with a former adviser who has publicly urged him to declare martial law to “rerun” the election in states he lost. Mr. Trump’s erratic behavior has so alarmed military commanders who fear he might try to use troops to stay in the White House that every living former defense secretary — including two he appointed himself — issued a warning against the armed forces becoming involved.

Undaunted, the president has encouraged Vice President Mike Pence and congressional allies to do anything they can to block the final formal declaration of Mr. Biden’s victory when Congress meets on Wednesday, seeking to turn what has historically been a ceremonial moment into a last-ditch showdown over the election. The idea has disturbed even many senior Republicans and it is guaranteed to fall short, much to the president’s frustration.

“The ‘Surrender Caucus’ within the Republican Party will go down in infamy as weak and ineffective ‘guardians’ of our Nation, who were willing to accept the certification of fraudulent presidential numbers!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday, quickly drawing a fact-checking warning label from the social media firm.

He denied subverting democracy, posting a quote he attributed to Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of his Republican allies: “We are not acting to thwart the Democratic process, we are acting to protect it.”

But Mr. Trump’s efforts ring familiar to many who have studied authoritarian regimes in countries around the world, like those run by President Vladimir V. Putin in Russia and Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary.

“Trump’s attempt to overturn the election, and his pressure tactics to that end with Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, are an example of how authoritarianism works in the 21st century,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, the author of “Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present.” “Today’s leaders come in through elections and then manipulate elections to stay in office — until they get enough power to force the hand of legislative bodies to keep them there indefinitely, as Putin and Orban have done.”

Supporters of Mr. Trump line the streets as his presidential motorcade passed by last week in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Supporters of Mr. Trump line the streets as his presidential motorcade passed by last week in West Palm Beach, Fla.Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The call with Mr. Raffensperger, which was recorded and released to the news media after Mr. Trump tweeted a false version of the conversation, provided a breathtaking case study of how far the president is willing to go to preserve power. He ran through one unfounded conspiracy theory after another and pushed Mr. Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” to flip the election outcome, appealing to him as a Republican to show loyalty and implicitly threatening criminal charges if he refused.

The Interpreter: Original insights, commentary and discussions on the major news stories of the week.

“So what are we going to do here, folks?” Mr. Trump said at one point. “I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes.”

The call was unseemly enough that even some of the president’s allies distanced themselves. “One of the things, I think, that everyone has said is that this call was not a helpful call,” Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, one of the Republicans pushing to reject Biden electors from swing states, conceded on Fox News.

Mr. Trump’s claim that the election was somehow stolen from him has gained no traction in any of the dozens of courts that he and his allies have petitioned, including the Supreme Court, with three justices he appointed. Republican election officials in swing states like Mr. Raffensperger have rejected his assertions as false. Even Mr. Trump’s own attorney general, William P. Barr, said he saw no widespread fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election.

A group of 22 historians released a statement on Monday pointing out that the 2020 election was not even particularly close in historical terms. Mr. Biden won as many or more Electoral College votes as the winning candidates in five elections since 1960 and larger popular vote majorities than in more than half of the presidential elections held in the past six decades.

“Yet in none of these elections did any losing candidate attempt to claim victory by brazenly sabotaging the electoral process as Donald Trump has done and continues to do,” said the letter, organized by Douglas Brinkley of Rice University and Sean Wilentz of Princeton University. Among the signatories was Michael W. McConnell of Stanford University, a former appeals court judge who was effectively repudiating the effort led by one of his former clerks, Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri.

Mr. Trump’s fidelity to the concept of American democracy has long been debated. From the earliest days of his campaign for the White House, critics suggested that he harbored autocratic tendencies that raised questions about whether he would eventually subvert democracy or seek to stay in power even if he lost, questions that grew loud enough that he felt compelled to respond. “There is nobody less of a fascist than Donald Trump,” he insisted in 2016.

But Mr. Trump did little to disabuse those fears in subsequent years. He expressed admiration for strongmen like Mr. Putin, Mr. Orban, President Xi Jinping of China and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, evincing envy of their ability to act decisively without the checks of a democratic government. He asserted at various points that the Constitution “allows me to do whatever I want” with the special counsel investigating him and that his “authority is total”to order states to follow his wishes.

He sought to turn government agencies into instruments of political power, pressuring the Justice Department to prosecute his enemies and go easy on his friends. He made expansive use of executive orders that courts at times ruled went too far. He was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House in 2019 for abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine to help him sully Mr. Biden’s reputation although he was later acquitted by the Republican-led Senate.

When Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt published their best-selling book, “How Democracies Die,” in 2018, warning that even the United States could slide into autocracy, they faced blowback from some who thought they were overstating the case. “We were criticized by some as alarmist,” Mr. Ziblatt, a government professor at Harvard University, said on Monday. “It turns out we weren’t alarmist enough.”

Mr. Ziblatt said a healthy democracy requires at least two political parties that know how to compete and lose. “I hope and think we will get through the next few weeks,” he said, “but our democracy can’t survive in any recognizable way for long if we don’t have two parties committed to the rules and norms of democracy.”

In the end, this period of conflict and confrontation should not have come as a surprise to anyone who watched Mr. Trump over the past four years. He foreshadowed his plans to challenge the election as invalid unless he won, suggesting as far back as summer that the November vote be postponed and refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. Even now, just two weeks before the end of his term, Mr. Trump has left doubt about how he will leave the White House when Mr. Biden is inaugurated.

What else Mr. Trump could try to do to stop it remains unclear because he seems out of options. But he is not yet willing to acknowledge the reality of his situation, much less follow John Adams’s example.

Article of the Day: 1/4/21 Even Dick Chaney stands up for your vote to count

All 10 living former defense secretaries declare election is over in forceful public letter

(CNN) — All 10 living former US defense secretaries declared that the US presidential election is over in a forceful public letter published in The Washington Post on Sunday as President Donald Trump continues to deny his election loss to Joe Biden.

The letter — signed by Dick Cheney, James Mattis, Mark Esper, Leon Panetta, Donald Rumsfeld, William Cohen, Chuck Hagel, Robert Gates, William Perry and Ashton Carter — amounts to a remarkable show of force against Trump’s subversion efforts just days before Congress is set to count Electoral College votes.

“Our elections have occurred. Recounts and audits have been conducted. Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted. The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived,” the group wrote. Since Election Day, Trump has falsely claimed that a second term is being stolen, even as there have been no credible allegations of widespread voting issues as affirmed by dozens of judges, governors, and election officials, the Electoral College, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the US Supreme Court.

Still, a wide swath of congressional Republicans are siding with the President and plan to object to Biden’s win during Electoral College counting on Wednesday — even though their efforts will only delay the inevitable affirmation of Biden’s win. 

The former Defense secretaries, who collectively represent decades of tenure in the position, wrote that presidential transitions “are a crucial part of the successful transfer of power.”

“They often occur at times of international uncertainty about U.S. national security policy and posture. They can be a moment when the nation is vulnerable to actions by adversaries seeking to take advantage of the situation.”The letter follows Trump’s removal of Esper in November as part of a set of sweeping changes atop the Defense Department’s civilian leadership structure that included the installation of perceived loyalists to the President.

The shakeup put officials inside the Pentagon on edge and fueled a growing sense of alarm among military and civilian officials.And while America’s top military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, told Congress in August that the military won’t help settle any election disputes, the group of former Defense secretaries reiterated in their letter that such an effort “would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”

“Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic,” the letter states.

Cohen, a Republican who served as Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton, told CNN’s Ana Cabrera on “Newsroom” shortly after the letter was published that the “highly unusual” step was warranted given the “unconstitutional path” Trump has taken the country. 

“It was really our attempt to call out to the American people. We believe all of them are patriotic. They’ve been led down a path by President Trump, which is an unconstitutional path. And so we felt it was incumbent on us as having served in the Defense Department to say: Please all of you in the Defense Department, you’ve taken an oath to serve this country, this Constitution, not any given individual,” he said. Perry, a Democrat who also served as secretary of defense under Clinton, said in a tweet Sunday evening that the idea for the statement came from Cheney, a Republican who was secretary of defense under President George H.W. Bush before becoming vice president to President George W. Bush.

“Each of us swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution; that oath does not change according to party designation,” Perry said. 

The former Defense secretaries ended their letter urging the Defense Department to “refrain from any political actions” that could undermine the election results or harm the transition to a new administration. 

“We call upon them, in the strongest terms, to do as so many generations of Americans have done before them,” the letter states. 

“This final action is in keeping with the highest traditions and professionalism of the U.S. armed forces, and the history of democratic transition in our great country.”

This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.

Article of the Day: 1/3/21–Democracy under attack by a would-be dictator

Trump Pressured Georgia Official to ‘Find’ Enough Votes to Overturn Election

The president vaguely warned of a “criminal offense” as he pressured Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a call, according to audio excerpts.

President Trump has spent almost nine weeks making false conspiracy claims about his election loss.
President Trump has spent almost nine weeks making false conspiracy claims about his election loss.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
Michael D. Shear

By Michael D. Shear

  • Jan. 3, 2021, 2:28 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — President Trump demanded that Georgia’s Republican secretary of state “find” him enough votes to overturn the presidential election, and vaguely threatened him with “a criminal offense,” during an hourlong telephone conversation with him on Saturday, according to audio excerpts from the conversation.

Mr. Trump, who has spent almost nine weeks making false conspiracy claims about his loss to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., told Brad Raffensperger, the state’s top elections official, that Mr. Raffensperger should recalculate the vote count so Mr. Trump would win the state’s 16 electoral votes.

“I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Mr. Trump said on the call, a recording of which was obtained by The Washington Post, which published excerpts from the audio on its website Sunday. “Because we won the state.”

Mr. Raffensperger rejected the president’s efforts to get him to reverse the election results, which are set to be certified by Congress during a session on Wednesday. Some of Mr. Trump’s allies in the House and the Senate have said they will object to the results of the elections in several states, including Georgia.

But Mr. Raffensperger told Mr. Trump that he stood by the results.

“Well, Mr. President, the challenge is that you have is the data you have is wrong,” he said, according to the audio recording.

During the call, the president offered several false conspiracy theories, including debunked charges that ballots in Fulton County were shredded and that voting machines operated by Dominion Voting Systems were tampered with and replaced. Ryan Germany, the legal counsel in Mr. Raffensperger’s office, can be heard telling the president that such charges are untrue.

“You should want to have an accurate election. And you’re a Republican,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Raffensperger, who replied that “we believe we that we do have an accurate election.”

Mr. Trump responded: “No, no, no, you don’t, you don’t have, you don’t have, not even close. You guys, you’re off by hundreds of thousands of votes.”

Then the president suggested that Mr. Raffensperger could be prosecuted criminally.

“You know what they did and you’re not reporting it,” the president said. “You know, that’s a criminal — that’s a criminal offense. And you know, you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. That’s a big risk.”

The president confirmed the call in a tweet Sunday morning, claiming that Mr. Raffensperger “was unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the ‘ballots under table’ scam, ballot destruction, out of state ‘voters’, dead voters, and more. He has no clue!”

In a response on Twitter, Mr. Raffensperger wrote: “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true. The truth will come out.”

Michael D. Shear is a White House correspondent. He previously worked at The Washington Post and was a member of their Pulitzer Prize-winning team that covered the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. @shearm