Republicans from Michigan, many of them low-level government officials, have spent the past week flirting with aiding Donald Trump’s coup attempt. On Tuesday, two Republican members of the board that certifies election results from the county that includes Detroit voted against certifying the county’s votes because they favored Joe Biden, leading the group to deadlock. Later that day, they changed their minds and certified the results. Then, after Trump contacted the two Republicans, they changed their minds again and asked to “rescind” their certification votes. It’s as absurd as it is alarming.
There’s also some coup action going on at the state level in Michigan. On Friday, the GOP leaders of the Michigan House and Senate met with Trump in D.C., presumably so the president could ask them to send Trump supporters to the Electoral College. The idea is that they would cast the state’s votes for Trump instead of Joe Biden, who won Michigan about 154,000 votes. John James, the Republican Senate candidate from Michigan who lost his race by nearly 94,000 votes, has, like the president, refused to concede. He’s also asked the Board of State Canvassers to delay its certification of the state’s election results, which it is currently scheduled to do on Monday.
What can be done about all these anti-democratic gambits designed to sow doubt in our country’s elections, to the benefit of a party that’s giving up on winning elections by winning over voters? Democratic leaders are doing some scolding, but they’re mostly waiting for the courts to beat back Trump’s frivolous lawsuits, lest they get drawn into a political battle over something that should be apolitical (the winner of an election taking the office he or she has won). This strategy is generally pretty reasonable, as it lets Trump flail around without dignifying his claims or further riling up his followers.
But the dangerous precedent being set by the Republicans humoring (or helping) Trump’s attempt to nullify votes merits a much more aggressive opposition. After all, why did the two Republicans on the Wayne County board change their minds (the first time) and decide to certify the election results? The furious pushback from leaders and laypeople in Detroit surely had something to do with it. In a public comment period on Zoom held after the initial deadlock vote, the Rev. Wendell Anthony, who leads Detroit’s NAACP chapter, accused the two Republicans of disenfranchising the Black voters of Detroit, almost all of whom voted for Biden. “Shame on you,” he told them, calling their votes a “disgrace.” Wayne State University vice president Ned Staebler used their full names—William Hartmann and Monica Palmer—when he proclaimed that the “stain of racism” they’d brought upon themselves “is going to follow you throughout history.”
This is exactly the correct way to respond to partisans who are trying to throw out legitimate votes. They should be relentlessly shamed, personally and individually, in public, with the specter of being written into history books as straight-out-of-Jim-Crow racists who told Black Americans their votes shouldn’t count, because that’s what they are. This might be their only moment in the national spotlight. Do they really want their most memorable legacy to be a failed attempt to help a terrible president steal an election?
A whole lot of protesters had the same idea, as they heckled Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey on both ends of his voyage to D.C. on Friday. Some confronted him at the airport in Detroit, chanting as he printed out his boarding pass and waited at the security checkpoint . Others met him at the airport when he arrived in the D.C. area. They held letters that spelled out “SHAME,” hoisting them behind him so the word was present in every camera shot. They followed him as he progressed from the gate area to baggage claim, asking him if he’d “honor the will of Michigan voters” or try to toss out their votes. They demanded he present any evidence of fraud. They yelled, chanted, and sang, with patience and persistence, ruining what otherwise would have been a fun and exciting morning for a fan of Trump’s. He was going to meet with the president! He was feeling important and special! And he was met with an extremely loud reminder that he is participating in the subversion of a political system that, while far from perfect, has reliably awarded the presidency to the winner of the Electoral College after all 57 previous presidential elections.
There has been some public discussion of what should become of the Trump administration’s enablers after Trump leaves office. Many have already been indicted; there may be many more to come. Some will be absorbed into think tanks, Big Law, consulting firms, and various squalid corners of the right-wing media universe. Some, like Stephen Miller, should never live down their crimes against humanity, and should find it difficult to take a spin class or patronize a brasserie in peace.
But the little people, like these Michigan Republicans—the statewide officials and local party hacks who are doing their darnedest to invalidate the votes of the Black Americans who overcame dogged voter suppression efforts to oust Donald Trump—shouldn’t fall through the cracks. They may have had no national profile, but they’ve sure earned one now. They want to step into their power to abet a wannabe autocrat? Let them be harangued as publicly and humiliatingly as possible until they certify the election results, and let their neighbors never forget how they chose to use their stupid turn in the limelight.
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