On Thursday afternoon, prior to the final night of the Democratic convention, four New York Times opinion columnists gathered to discuss the political landscape. Of course, millions of people do that every single day. The special conceit of the Times opinion staff is that it believes its discussions are worth broadcasting to the world. The special curse for the rest of us is that many find them worth listening to.
The theme of Thursday’s discussion was the awful, terrifying, unspeakable, unthinkable idea that a major presidential candidate might delegitimize an election outcome. With histrionics once relegated to soap operas airing after The Price is Right, the four Times writers described the unprecedented danger posed to America’s republican experiment by somebody disputing an election. Some sample quotes:
Frank Bruni: ‘We have this very clear evidence that Trump is cheating, is preparing to cheat yet more… We have various other things the president has said and done to convince people that if the result of this election is not what they want, they can consider it illegitimate.’
Michelle Cottle: ‘I think that they’ve made clear they have no problem with doing whatever is necessary to undermine the process. I also worry about what happens if it is a remotely close election because all of President Trump’s efforts to delegitimize this become that much more of an issue.’
Jamelle Bouie: ‘I think there needs to be plans for protests and demonstrations. This is going to sound very hyperbolic, but I think that we have to think of the task of getting Trump out as less of a traditional democratic transition and more of something akin to pushing an authoritarian regime out… Because I think Trump is going to contest regardless. Regardless of the outcome, Trump is going to say, this was rigged. This is fake, whatever.’
The fourth participant in the podcast was Michelle Goldberg, who last week made the same claim as Bouie, that a transition from President Trump to President Biden will be like ‘the experience of countries around the world that have transitioned to democracy from authoritarianism.’ How Goldberg held her prominent job at America’s most prestigious newspaper throughout America’s ‘authoritarian’ moment is unclear. Even less clear is how Goldberg’s big idea, which is having the Biden administration ‘extirpate’ its predecessor with a vast criminal investigation, will make American less authoritarian.