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Against violence
Jesse Richman, 1/11/2021

  1. Last week I signed an open letter from political scientists calling for the immediate removal of President Trump from office. https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2021/01/07/hundreds-political-scientists-call-removing-trump 

I did so in direct response to the riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol.  This is a shocking and utterly unprecidented event.  It must be responded to in the most severe way.  The effort (successful for several hours but ultimately repulsed) to disrupt the orderly operations of the US Congress is a direct attack on the fundamentals of American democracy.  Trump no longer deserves to be president because he directly encouraged the march, and was very slow to say anything even tepidly critical of it even once it was clear that people decked in Trump regalia were fighting with police inside the Capitol building and engaged in various sorts of mayhem https://www.politifact.com/article/2021/jan/11/timeline-what-trump-said-jan-6-capitol-riot/.  If Senator Sasse is right, Trump in fact was jubilant about the events at the Capitol https://www.vox.com/2021/1/8/22220840/sasse-trump-capitol-storming-impeachment. In any event he clearly reacted slowly and badly.  Telling rioters who have been breaking down doors in the US Capitol "We love you" after telling them to go there is not enough.

I defended Trump when he was impeached the last time.  I believe that Trump is right about some key issues, including the need to balance trade.  This is not about policy.  It's about American democracy: presidents should be held accountable for what they have led their supporters to do. 

Trump has mislead his supporters about the 2020 election outcome. 

I have been at ground zero of Trump's claims that elections were fraudulent for years -- my research was among the sources he cited in defense of his indefensible claims that he would have actually won the popular vote in 2016 were it not for fraud.  I believe that non-citizens do vote in US elections.  Indeed, I have seen proof that at least a few do. However, just how much non-citizen voting there is remains highly uncertain, and the more reliable estimates do not provide much credence to any claim that Trump's margins in enough of the key swing states this time around were due to non-citizen votes.   

Concerning the president's other claims, I think Mitch McConnel laid out the basic facts of the matter very well in his great speech on the Senate floor. 

"I supported the president's right to use the legal system. Dozens of lawsuits received hearings in courtrooms all across our country, but over and over, the courts rejected these claims, including all-star judges whom the president himself has nominated.

"Every election we know features some illegality and irregularity, and of course that's unacceptable. I support strong state-led voting reforms. Last year's bizarre pandemic procedures must not become the new norm, but my colleagues nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale, the massive scale that would have tipped the entire election nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break when the doubt itself was incited without any evidence."

Most of the charges are on par with a ridiculous one I received in an e-mail a week or two ago.  The author who will remain unnamed in his shame was arguing that Bill Barr was critically compromised because while in the private sector he sat on the board of Dominion Energy, failing to make the obvious connection that Dominion Voting Systems are made by an entirely different company! https://factcheck.thedispatch.com/p/does-bill-barr-have-connections-to  If one just skims the headlines of this garbage one might come out thinking that there was substance there. And there are a few circumstantial pieces of evidence that those who believe the worst about this election can point to.  While it is false to claim that several states stopped counting ballots overnight at the same time on election night (as some argue) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/11/04/fact-check-no-vote-counting-democrat-led-states-hasnt-stopped/6163978002/ the scanning of ballots after observers left in Georgia should not have happened https://www.foxnews.com/politics/fulton-county-georgia-no-mystery-ballots-under-table-investigator-affidavit even though according to the state investigation it was merely ballots which had already been prepared for scanning while observers were present that were scanned. It's possible that recent reports that votes were systematically deleted from Trump totals in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and elsewhere reflect a combination of some correction of genuine error by Edison Research (e.g. for about an hour they reported flipped Trump and Biden vote totals in my home county in Pennsylvania https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2020/11/fact-check-dominion-was-not-caught-red-handed-stealing-votes-on-lve-tv.html), and other kinds of statistical errors.  

Of course humility is well justified when looking at any of this data.  It's possible that there's real and solid evidence of fraud out there.  Let's even postulate for a moment that there is.  That is, let's explore the possibility that the election was stolen, and the question of how to react. 

Every court that has taken a look has found nothing large enough to overturn the election.  All states certified their elections and appointed there electors. There simply hasn't been anything close to enough evidence to justify overturning this election in the view of the judges.  Leaving aside partisanship, assuming what Rawls terms the "original position" of ignorance about our own partisan leanings, McConnel is right that it is simply unworkable to endorse riots on that basis.  Are we to begin following the precident that without sufficient evidence to win in court the losing party can overturn an election outcome.  This is simply unworkable.  It's just as unworkable as taking the mostly groundless claims by Stacey Abrams that she won the 2018 gubernatorial election in Georgia https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2019/05/17/fact-checkers_give_stacey_abrams_a_pass_on_victory_claim_140358.html#! https://www.politifact.com/article/2019/nov/21/no-proof-voter-suppression-kept-stacey-abrams-gove/and using them as a pretext for using force to place Abrams into the governor's mansion.  The rule of law matters.  If you cannot win in court with charges that the rules of the election were not applied appropriately, and if you did not win under the rules on election day, then you did not win the election.  

All of this is not to say that we don't need to take a serious look at election reform. And I hope that this will be a bipartisan effort, although the push by the Democratic Party for 'reforms' like absentee ballot bundling suggests that things haven't fully gelled there concerning transparency and security.  The goal should be to have elections that are completely secure, completely transparent, and completely accessible to all legitimate voters.   

In response to earlier concerns about election results in previous elections some progress has already been made in terms of ensuring that there is a paper trail associated with each vote, particularly in the in-person voting situation.  A majority of states have conducted or are planning to conduct audits of the election results https://www.freep.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/12/09/jocelyn-benson-state-conduct-most-sweeping-post-vote-audits-history/3863919001/ https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/post-election-audits635926066.aspx. These audits should help assure that all elements of the vote tabulation are done accurately, and will identify instances of electronic fraud and vote switching, if done correctly. Movement in this direction should continue and there should be more opportunities for observers to monitor these processes. All states should put in place robust and thorough routines to audit all aspects of the election.  It should be clear that this is essential in the present environment to ensure public trust.  All states should have routine processes in place to identify individuals who may be inappropriately registered to vote (e.g. non-citizens, non-residents).  And states need to adopt best practices (and better practices) to ensure that absentee ballots / vote by mail ballots are as secure as possible, and to ensure that the counting and validation of those ballots is more transparent.  For instance, signatures should not be and need not be the only means of identifying voters in absentee voting / vote by mail situations.  All of this could further reduce risks of fraud along with the risk that legitimate votes will not be counted and ensure that counting is accurate and trustworthy.  

But in the present moment the issue is what to do about the rioters. No President in the course of American history has ever incited mob violence against the Congress of the sort we saw last week.  None. 

When pro-southern mobs threatened to disrupt the election and inauguration of President Lincoln in 1861 (perhaps the closest analogy to the present situation) General Winfield Scott threatened to shoot them https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-this-was-a-historic-disgrace-20210107-wt27d7akpffjhpa2tka2axpt34-story.html  and the mobs did not disrupt the process. 

Some have cited the example of the War of 1812, when British troops stormed the Capitol.  That was war by an foreign power.  It gives a sense of the gravity of the offense.  Storming a federal building, with the intent to disrupt the legitimate processes going on there (and perhaps as well to hang the Vice President as the mob was apparently chanting at one point) is clearly insurrection and treason. 

In late 2018 I published an oped in the Virginian Pilot (https://www.pilotonline.com/opinion/columns/article_df3d1014-e39b-11e8-9db2-efca95e310de.html?fbclid=IwAR2VuuzE9EQmI34FDMfUtZWnHUvfeuZManYvob_IxZUNrZf9jzUV_kBIBGU) about violence in American politics in which I argued the following.

"The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees their right not only to speak but also to publish, petition for redress of grievances, and to "peaceably assemble."

"But the "peaceably" is critical in the phrasing I just quoted. It delineates an essential boundary. We must all stand against those who in their hate seek to solve our disagreements through bullying, violence or mayhem. Such actions are fundamentally contrary to the principles of our founding documents. They abrogate society in favor of anarchy. Civilization for despotism. Democracy for rule by the mob. Those who confuse speech and physical violence deserve the long jail sentences their hate-filled actions must bring them."

Donald Trump's actions on Wednesday the 6th moved from misguided and misleading speech to at least the borders of incitement of insurrection.  And "We love you, you are very special" is no way to talk to rioters smashing windows in the US Capitol.  He must be removed from office and banned from running again.  Every one of the savages who joined the mob that illegally broke into the capitol must be tracked down and prosecuted for their crimes to the fullest extent of the law.  

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