This time, there was a Raffensperger on the other end of the line. If next time a few less scrupulous individuals answer the phone, the attempt to steal an election might well succeed. And if the Republican Party’s base is convinced by its leaders that losing an election means it was stolen from them, those voters will go on to elect officials who are properly eager to help get the “correct” results—so that Republicans win regardless of the vote count…

In the United States, the military remains unlikely to be involved, but all 10 living former secretaries of defense were sufficiently alarmed to write an op-ed in which they said that the “military should have no role in determining the outcome of a U.S. election.” And It could never happen here! is cold comfort for a country that once endured a massive and bloody civil war. There’s no reason to think another civil war is looming, but there are other dangers; history repeats itself, but with imagination.

So what did we get for “humoring” Trump for “this little bit of time,” as if he were a toddler we were appeasing, rather than the holder of one of the most powerful positions on the planet? Apply the Thomas theorem. What people believe they should do is how they will eventually act. This is especially important because institutions—the courts, the political parties, the elections offices, the legislatures—are merely people collectively deciding to act in a particular manner. When people change their mind about the rules, those will be the new rules. Once this transition passes, the Trump wing of the Republican Party—which the 2024 hopefuls clearly think constitutes a plurality—is going to work hard to make sure no Raffensperger gets elected again. And the next time the call comes to “find 11,780 votes,” that gun—which was never performative, because it was always loaded—may well find its target.