It’s doubtful anyone wakes up one morning to find themselves suddenly full of courage, not the kind that comes from character. The courage to face our fears, to tell the truth when it’s awkward or costly, or to turn away from temptation and stick with our principles, is constructed from experiences of doing so. Like death from a thousand cuts, strength of character is an accumulation of a thousand choices to do the right thing, rewarded by the increased strength, insight, and self-respect that comes from it.
It is not hyperbole to say American democracy is being mortally threatened by a sociopathic president pathologically compelled to remain in office after losing his election. He is a dangerously sick individual who cannot be expected to know, let alone do the right thing. Can one such person really bring down the country? The answer is an almost unthinkable “maybe,” if those who can stop him won’t.
Who would that be?
Democrats, playing by the rules, have done what they can to oppose the President’s claims to extra-constitutional power; they impeached him and now have defeated him in the election. Republicans blew off the impeachment trial and now are refusing to recognize the election. Even the Supreme Court, with a new majority whose ideology and political agenda is…let’s say unclear, can only opine on the illegality of the president’s actions; they have no power to enforce their rulings against an executive who simply refuses to leave. That leaves the military, but a military expulsion of a sitting president would be a kind of coup and as much a Constitutional failure as an unelected president refusing to leave office.
That brings us back to the Republican Party and Congressional leadership…and courage. Had they been speaking out on behalf of democratic principles all along, they would be better prepared to manage today’s extreme circumstances. Instead, most have cowered, rationalized, and dissembled in the face of Trump’s steadily increasing assaults on norms and laws. Each time they allowed him to lie or claim extra-Constitutional power or abuse his office without challenge, Trump gained more strength from his base and more control over them. As those who spoke against him were systematically purged from the party or professionally ruined, he grew more dangerous. Today, only those planning to retire and Mitt Romney will say Trump lost the election and should leave.
So what are the chances the Republican Party or the Republican controlled Senate will exercise their authority to force Mr. Trump to do his duty and transition the presidency when they have been so afraid to do so to date? This is where I feel uncharacteristically fearful. As Mr. Trump’s willingness and ability to wreak havoc intensifies, it will take more and more courage for individual Republicans to oppose him. It is widely assumed the ever-vindictive Trump will remain politically active and command his cultish base for years to come so the risk of opposition may never go away. My fear is if Mr. Trump continues to insist he is entitled to stay in office, and continues to use his presidential powers to resist removal, the risks of opposing him will grow, and the alternative–to join him in the attempt to assume unconstitutional power—which several Republicans are doing already by not just questioning but denying the election results, will look easier and safer by comparison.
This is where character and courage might determine our national fate in the very near future. As the president tests the waters, looking for ways to press his fantasy of victory into reality, will Republican leadership finally step up and tell the President “no,” that he must go? If they have not exercised the courage to protect the country from the want-to-be dictator so far, will they suddenly find the strength to face Trump’s wrath by opposing him now? We will soon see.