Profiles in cowardice

In the years ahead we’ll continue to depend on the integrity of thousands of unsung heroes to do their duty in the face of threats to their livelihoods and perhaps their lives.

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SOURCERobert Reich

Financial regulators subject banks to stress tests to see if they have enough capital to withstand sharp downturns.

Now America is being subject to a stress test to see if it has enough strength to withstand Trump’s treacherous campaign to discredit the 2020 presidential election.

Trump will lose because there’s no evidence of fraud. But the integrity of thousands of people responsible for maintaining American democracy is being tested as never before.  

Tragically, most elected Republicans in Washington are failing the test by refusing to stand up to Trump. Their cowardice is one of the worst betrayals of public trust in the history of our republic.

The only dissenting notes are coming from Republicans who are retiring at the end of the year or don’t have to face voters for several years, such as Senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

Silent Republicans worry that speaking out could invite a primary challenge. But democracy depends on moral courage. These Republicans are profiles in cowardice.

But I’ve got some good news. The vast majority of lower-level Republican office-holders are passing the stress test, many with distinction.

Take for example Chris Krebs, who led the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency and last Tuesday refuted Trump’s claims of election fraud – saying the claims “have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent.”

Trump fired Krebs that afternoon. Krebs’s response: “Honored to serve. We did it right.”

Or Brad Raffensperger – Georgia’s Republican secretary of state who oversaw the election there and describes himself as “a Republican through and through and never voted for a Democrat.” Raffensperger is defending Georgia’s vote for Biden, rejecting Trump’s accusations of fraud. On Friday he certified that Biden won the state’s presidential vote.

Raffensperger spurned overtures from Trump quisling Lindsey Graham, who asked if Raffensperger could toss out all mail-in votes from counties with high rates of questionable signatures. And Raffensperger dismissed demands from Georgia’s two incumbent Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue (both facing tougher-than-anticipated runoffs) that he resign.

“This office runs on integrity,” Raffensperger says, “and that’s what voters want to know, that this person’s going to do his job.”

Raffensperger has received death threats from Republican voters inflamed by Trump’s allegations. He’s not the only one. Election officials in Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona are also reporting threats. But they’re not giving in to them.

While we’re at it, let’s not forget all the other public officials in the Trump administration who have been stress-tested and passed honorably.

I’m referring to public health officials unwilling to lie about Covid-19, military leaders unwilling to back Trump’s attacks on Black Lives Matter protesters, inspectors general unwilling to cover up Trump corruption, U.S. foreign service officers unwilling to lie about Trump’s overtures to Ukraine, intelligence officials unwilling to bend their reports to suit Trump, and Justice Department attorneys refusing to participate in Trump’s obstructions of justice.

If you think it easy to do what they did, think again. Some of them lost their jobs. Many were demoted. A few have been threatened with violence. They’ve risked all this to do what’s morally right in an America poisoned by Trump, who has no idea what it means to do what’s morally right.

That’s ultimately what the Trump stress test is all about. It’s a test of moral integrity.

Even though House and Senate Republicans are failing that test, American democracy will survive because enough public officials are passing it.

But the fact that Trump’s attempted coup won’t succeed doesn’t make it any less damaging and dangerous.  A new poll from Monmouth University finds 77 percent of Trump supporters believe Biden’s win was due to fraud – a claim, I should emphasize again, backed by zero evidence.

Which means the stress test won’t be over when Joe Biden is sworn in as president on January 20. In the years ahead we’ll continue to depend on the integrity of thousands of unsung heroes to do their duty in the face of threats to their livelihoods and perhaps their lives.

Meanwhile, American democracy will continue to be endangered by House and Senate Republicans who lack the moral courage to do what’s right.

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Robert Reich
Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "Saving Capitalism." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.

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