Second, our democratic culture has only held selectively. The judiciary, to be sure, survived its stress test. State and federal judges swatted away the meritless lawsuits of Trump and his cronies like so many fat, lumbering horseflies. And many state officials charged with organizing and implementing elections rose to the moment as well. They generally did their jobs with integrity and refused to be silent objects of presidential slander.
But this test has also revealed the soft and rotting parts of our democratic system. This begins with a significant portion of voters — mainly Republican voters — who seem determined to believe Trump’s disproven lies. While no sane politician would call these voters to account for their corrupting influence, I am perfectly willing. The determined self-delusions of Trump loyalists egg the president on. By siding with the president’s libels against our constitutional order, they help delegitimize it. Whatever these citizens’ intentions, they are making America a weaker country.
Yet the main responsibility belongs with elected Republicans, who should (and often do) know better. GOP leaders are now divided between the fearful and the deluded — between those who have lost their nerve and those who have lost their minds. After Trump’s decisive defeat, many played along with his fantasies of triumph in order to avoid negative attention from partisans. What could be the harm of a little presidential cosplay? Well, here is the harm: These Republicans have allowed conspiratorial lies to take root that will encourage extremists for decades and cement the GOP’s image as the party of seditious crackpots.