Sedition n. incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority.

Yesterday, the Washington Post released a tape of an hour-long phone call where the President of the United States tried to bully the Georgia Secretary of State into overturning the state’s election. The 10 living ex-secretaries of defense issued an op-ed in which they stated, “Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.” Twelve GOP U.S. Senators and more than 140 Republican Members of the House of Representatives announced they will oppose certifying the election results in clear violation of the Constitution. Most of the conservatives in my twitter feed were tweeting about sports, mundane history, and teachers’ unions. 

The attempt to steal the election by Donald Trump and his minions in Congress is not just a threat to our democracy; It’s the end of the Reagan Revolution and the conservative movement as we’ve known it. Pathetically, many of the conservatives who built their careers and made their names defending the ideals of small government and liberty are silent as radicals destroy their movement. As Republican Representative Matt Gaetz says, “This is Donald Trump’s party.” 

In large part, the silence of conservatives is what led to Trump and his authoritarian brand of populism in the first place. Throughout the 1970s, ‘80s, and 90s, they became apologists for the racists in their midst, giving them cover with ideological slogans like “states’ rights” and “personal responsibility.” In the early 2000s, they made ideological excuses for the anti-immigrant sentiment that came to dominate the Republican Party electoral message. The populists, animated by racism and xenophobia, grew faster within the GOP than the conservatives who led the Reagan Revolution. 

When Trump won the nomination, traditional conservatives ignored his most egregious crimes, refusing to insist Republican Members of Congress hold him accountable. Yes, the Mueller Report revealed corruption within his campaign and, yes, Trump asked a foreign country to intervene in our election in exchange for foreign aid. While conservatives showed elitist disdain for the president, they refused to call out his enablers or demand any sort of accountability. As Susan Collins said after voting to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial, “I believe that the president has learned from this case.” He certainly did. He learned that he could do as he pleased because Republicans won’t hold him accountable. Indeed, they will protect him. 

Now, what the president and his enablers are doing is very close to sedition. Trump pressured an elected official, and probably many more, to violate the law of the land to overturn an election. Those former defense secretaries didn’t write that op-ed in a vacuum. They’ve clearly heard that Trump and his minions are talking to the military about keeping him in power. It’s not hyperbole to call what is happening an attempted coup.

Conservatives who argue that this whole fiasco showed that our institutions have held missed the real point. Our institutions are close to failing. If Republicans had a majority in the House, as they may well have in 2024, they would probably be rejecting the will of the voters in enough states to steal the election. If a guy like Mark Robinson, who was just elected lieutenant governor of North Carolina, was secretary of state in Georgia, he would be overturning the election there. 

Instead of looking for ways to prevent the current scenario from happening again, conservative governors like Mike DeWine of Ohio want to placate those that would undermine a legitimate election. DeWine told Jake Tapper that we need a commission to investigate the integrity of the election because so many people don’t trust the outcome. They don’t trust the outcome, as Tapper said, because the President of the United States lied to them, spreading malicious conspiracy theories that were parroted by right-wing media outlets. And while some conservatives have condemned Trump, very few have criticized the Republican leaders who could actually do something and even fewer have told their conservative readership to turn off Fox News. 

The current situation in America is dangerous. One of our national parties is in control of authoritarian populists prone to believing absurd conspiracy theories and willing to enact laws that disenfranchise voters. We didn’t get here because of Trump. The aspirations of these thugs and the charlatans who exploit them was nurtured by the silence of conservatives within the Republican Party. The men and women who led the Reagan Revolution knew that they could not achieve their goals of smaller government, fewer taxes and less regulation without the support of cultural populists and white nationalists. They sat silent as the segregationists of the 1960s morphed into the Tea Party of 2010 and finally into the Trumpists of today. In the long run, it was a bad gamble.

It’s time for conservatives who claim to love this country and place liberty and freedom among their core values to speak up. The people questioning this election are bad actors, including members of the North Carolina Congressional delegation. They need to be held accountable by those who helped them achieve their power. As conservative Bill Kristol says, “It is time to make clear that they will not sit by quietly; that they will not accept; that they will not acquiesce in, a terrible blow to the American experiment in constitutional self-government. To use a phrase Republicans and conservatives may recognize: It is a time for choosing.”

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