Georgia has certified President Trump’s electoral loss. His Giuliani-led effort to overturn the results in Pennsylvania was rejected by a federal judge as an “unhinged” “Frankenstein monster.” And in Michigan and Arizona, Trump’s efforts to overturn the election have met defeat, after defeat, after defeat. Yet the president’s efforts to forestall the inevitable continue almost unabated. As recently as this weekend he called on the courts and state legislatures to award him the victory he had not earned at the ballot box.
In many ways his actions have come to resemble little more than the petulant sulking of six-year old child, who hasn’t gotten his way. But more insidiously, the president’s acts reflect an ongoing effort to delegitimize Biden’s victory and, in the end, call into question the validity of our democratic system.
These efforts began earlier this year when concerned cybersecurity professionals identified something that they thought was a threat to the integrity of the soon-to-be-conducted Presidential election. It wasn’t an actual threat to the election systems themselves. Rather it was an effort to call into question the integrity of the election by creating a false narrative that election results were at risk. By telling the lie that our voting infrastructure was unsafe one could create the reality of distrust in the system — Americans would think the election was illegitimate even though it was safe and secure.
The manufactured rumors
The focus for this rumor was the equipment manufactured by Dominion Voting System (one of several systems used around the country to tabulate votes). The false story making the rounds was the charge that the Russians could, somehow, gain access to the coding of the system and cause it to mis-report vote totals.
As the cybersecurity experts knew, the claim was nonsensical. Though no system is perfectly secure, Dominion Systems use open source coding, so any malicious Russian modification would be readily observed. More importantly, the Dominion Systems machines create paper record back-ups for each vote, making wholesale vote manipulation all but impossible. Confronted with this reality, the false claims about Dominion crumbled under their own weight and seemed to fade away.
Or so we thought. But it was, sadly, not the case. Today, as part of their assault on democracy, President Trump and his bitter-end supporters are advancing a variant of that bogus claim and Trump is purging from his administration anyone who would question his lies. In doing so, he is destroying yet another critically important American norm — the expectation of a peaceful transition of power and the loser’s acceptance of the loss of an election.
Every four years, Americans go to the polls and elect a new president. Until this year Americans have celebrated the integrity of the election process, even when they disliked the results. Indeed, at the end of our most bitter recent dispute, Al Gore accepted his defeat, lauded the election’s integrity, and congratulated George Bush on his victory.
Belief in the integrity and accuracy of our election system is critical to our nation. Without that belief, faith in the entire edifice of American governance crumbles. And yet destroying that edifice seems to be precisely what President Trump intends. He traduces the norms of electoral transition that are the hallmark of American democracy.
Dominion Voting is, again, the focus of the President’s ire. Earlier this month the President tweeted that Dominion systems had deleted 2.7 million Trump votes nationwide and switched votes in Pennsylvania from Trump to Biden. The other day, his attorney, Sidney Powell, alleged that it was a Venezuelan plot to steal the election, masterminded by Hugo Chavez (even though he has been dead for several years).
This was, of course, utter nonsense. Not only did Dominion categorically deny the charge, but a hand recount in Georgia of all the paper ballots confirmed the accuracy (to 99.9911%) of Dominion’s machines. In addition, Trump’s own cybersecurity professionals rejected the claim. As they said in a public statement, directly contradicting the President: “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”
Trump’s continued attacks
For their trouble, their leaders lost their jobs. President Trump said that their determination that the election was secure was “inaccurate” and he “terminated” the well-respected head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Chris Krebs, along with his deputy agency chief.
The firings were both irrational and arbitrary. As Wisconsin GOP Congressman Michael Gallagher put it: “Chris Krebs did his job and did it extremely well. The country is safer and our elections more secure from foreign interference because of his leadership at CISA. . . . He left a legacy of success that reiterates the Commission’s recommendations to strengthen CISA, maintain auditable paper trails for voting, and provide cyber education so Americans can better spot disinformation.”
The challenge, of course, is when the disinformation comes from the President and the White House. The claim that Dominion systems transferred votes simply echoes the debunked claims of Russian interference from earlier this summer. It seems that anyone who speaks the truth — that the election was conducted with integrity — is at risk simply because that truth doesn’t match the President’s perception of reality.
Jamil N. Jaffer of George Mason University has said that Trump’s rejection of the election, and most notably his decision to fire Krebs “is not leadership. It is an embarrassment and an act of cowardice.” If we do not reject his efforts; if we do not restore the norms of our transition; we will not only be rewarding Trump’s authoritarian impulse, we will be institutionalizing cowardice. Americans must be better than that.