Republicans are preparing to oust Rep. Liz Cheney as chair of the House GOP conference. They’re doing this because former President Donald Trump insists his defeat in last year’s election was “fraudulent,” and Cheney refuses to accept that lie. In choosing Trump over Cheney, the party isn’t just choosing lies over truth. It’s choosing servility over patriotism. While pretending to stand for “America First,” Trump has been working steadily to fracture, weaken, and discredit the United States.
As president, Trump consistently sided with foreign dictators against his domestic political opponents. On Jan. 6, he carried his treachery as far as he could, sending a mob to the Capitol in an explicit attempt to stop Congress from certifying his electoral defeat. The coup attempt failed, and Trump left office on Jan. 20. But since then, in more than a dozen interviews, speeches, and written statements, he has continued to tell his followers, falsely, that the 2020 election was “rigged,” “totally fraudulent,” and “stolen” through “tens of millions of fake ballots.”
In delivering these lies, Trump chooses language that’s particularly likely to incite rebellion and destabilize the government. On Feb. 28, a month after leaving office, he told the Conservative Political Action Conference that President Joe Biden was never truly elected. “Did Biden win? No,” Trump told the crowd. As his followers chanted, “You won! You won!” Trump egged them on, saying, “We did.” Three weeks later, in a “Statement by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America,” he declared that “we had an Illegitimate Election.” On April 12, he wrote that the U.S. government was in the grip of “an unconstitutionally elected group of Radical Left Democrats who are destroying our Country.”
Trump has recommended specific steps to sabotage American democracy. In a March 22 interview with right-wing podcaster Lisa Boothe, he suggested that Republican senators should block Democratic legislation by refusing to “show up.” For the past two weeks, he has promoted a partisan charade disguised as a ballot recount in Arizona. While other Republicans have called for ballot security, Trump has gone further, demanding that access to the polls be curtailed even for legal voters. “Georgia’s election reform law is far too weak,” he protested last month. He argued that “far too many days are given to vote” and that the state should have completely “eliminated” drop boxes, weekend early voting, and no-excuse absentee voting.
When Republican senators acquitted Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, they said he hadn’t intended to provoke the violence that followed his speech to the mob. But Trump, having witnessed the violence, keeps using the same language he used then. In a March 22 Newsmax interview, he said Democrats were “destroying our country.” He told Boothe’s listeners that Democrats were “vicious,” that “we have to stop them,” and “we’ve got to fight like hell.” He castigated former Vice President Mike Pence—who was targeted for death by the insurrectionists—for failing to block certification of the election. If Democrats had been robbed in an election the way he was robbed, Trump raged, “You would have literally had a revolution. [But] guys like Mitch McConnell, they don’t fight.”
Trump doesn’t just dispute one election. He endorses the narrative, promoted by Russia and other U.S. adversaries, that the whole American system of liberty and democracy is a sham. “We have a very sick and corrupt electoral process,” he told CPAC. Two weeks later, he told Fox News, “We’re like a Third World country.” A week after that, in his interview with Boothe, he said three times that “we don’t have freedom of the press.” Several investigations have found that these anti-American narratives were central to Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election. But Trump continues to play along, addressing a global audience as he lies about the United States. On Thursday, he told Fox News, “This election is a disgrace to our country, and the whole world knows it.”
Two weeks ago, Fox News host Sean Hannity asked Trump about Russia, North Korea, and other “hostile regimes.” Trump, having returned to his global business empire, rejected that characterization and defended Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. “We should be doing business with Russia,” he told Hannity. “I got along great with President Putin. I liked him. He liked me.” Trump complained that U.S. investigations of his extensive ties to Russia had “hurt any possibility of dealing with Russia.” The result, he said, was a loss of precious financial opportunities: “We could have made a lot of money. They have great natural resources.”
Trump also bragged about his bond with Kim. “I have a great relationship with a certain man that’s got great power over North Korea,” he told Hannity. “He writes me letters. I like him. He likes me.” Shortly after the interview, when South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Trump had tried to shake him down in exchange for keeping U.S. troops in that country, Trump took Kim’s side against Moon. “Kim Jong-un of North Korea, who I have gotten to know (and like) … never respected the current President of South Korea,” Trump scoffed. In a formal statement, he accused South Korea and “many other countries we protect” of a “ripoff,” claiming that these allies weren’t paying us enough for “the military protection and services we render.”
When Trump says “we,” he isn’t talking about America as a guardian of freedom or democracy. He’s talking about America as a well-armed financial empire and vehicle for his ego. He doesn’t understand that we aspire to stand for distinctive values, and he feels no loyalty to a country he doesn’t control. That’s why he advocates plunder—“If you’re going to go in, keep the oil,” he told CPAC—and complains that scrutiny of his relationships with authoritarian regimes “keeps you away from these countries, from dealing economically.” It’s why he brags about arranging a lucrative pact with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It’s why he envies Mexico, where the armed forces “don’t have the restrictions that we have” on civilian deployment. It’s why he works every day to undermine the democracy that rejected him.
Now Trump is demanding Cheney’s head, and House Republicans are preparing to comply. “I’ve had it with her,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said of Cheney on Tuesday. “Someone just has to bring a motion.” McCarthy framed Cheney as a troublemaker, arguing that Republicans must “work together instead of attacking one another. … We were so successful under President Trump.” But you can’t unite honorably behind a man who’s trying to sabotage your country. You can only choose between the country and the man.
Support Slate’s politics coverage
Slate is covering the stories that matter to you. Join Slate Plus to support our work. You’ll get unlimited articles and a suite of great benefits.