We take it for granted that our quadrennial cycle of executive upheaval has so far yielded few serious threats to the constitutional order. But we must now confront the true and terrifying ground of that order, something we haven’t seriously considered since before the Civil War, but which now obtrudes itself onto our consciousness with all the force and immediacy of a genuine crisis: our vaunted rule of law, that glorious fabric spun from the most durable silks of antiquity, is but a gossamer web. It persists only by the artifice of our faith, a faith more delicate than the sheerest butterfly wing. And when powerful opportunists begin worrying at that thread — tugging its frayed ends and spoiling its fine texture — they threaten to unravel the whole tapestry.
It may well be that McConnell’s reluctance to acknowledge Biden’s win is pure theatre. It may well be that William Barr merely “humors” Trump by authorizing probes into election fraud before the states have even certified the votes, in direct contravention of established DoJ policy. It may well be that Secretary of State Pompeo spoke in jest when he opined about a smooth transition to a new Trump regime. But giving the appearance of support to Trump’s corruption, and failing to repudiate his efforts to steal the election, only inflames the ardor of his cultists by lending credence to his baseless claims. They may well discover that miming all the forms and manners of a coup actually ends up producing one.
For what it’s worth, I believe that most elite Republicans are rational enough to recognize the danger in this, but fear alienating Trump’s zombies before the January runoffs in Georgia. But that’s cold comfort in a world where appearance tends to create its own reality. Whom do you suppose McConnell will choose, if and when Trump crosses the Rubicon?