After four years of bending to President Trump’s every chaotic whim, the Republican Party finally located its spine on New Year’s Day in 2021.
The Republican-controlled Senate’s 80-13 vote to overturn Trump’s veto of the carefully negotiated, bipartisan annual defense bill was a sign that the party of Abraham Lincoln — at last — realized that conscientious government is more important that a lame-duck president’s fragile ego.
“We’ve passed this legislation 59 years in a row. And one way or another, we’re going to complete the 60th annual NDAA and pass it into law before this Congress concludes on Sunday,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had vowed.
What could be more important than the defense of the United States? The $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act determines everything from how many ships are bought to soldiers’ pay and how to address geopolitical threats. If it hadn’t passed, some in the military wouldn’t be paid.
But Trump refused to sign it for two unrelated reasons that play to his ego and his Southern base. First, he wanted a provision removing legal protections for Facebook Twitter and other social media platforms that allow their users to post freely. Trump is angry that those platforms are correctly calling him out for continuing to claim he won the election.
Second, Trump objected to a provision that strips the names of Confederate generals from military bases. Those generals committed treason when they took up arms against the union. That they weren’t shot at the end of the Civil War is a tribute to Lincoln’s desire to rebuild the nation. But they should not be celebrated, and the Black Lives Matter protests last summer underscored the need to end this travesty.
The veto override also offers hope that democracy will prevail on the next pivotal day when Trump’s ego collides with the norms of American government. That day is Jan. 6, when Congress meets to confirm the election of Joe Biden as the 47th President of the United States.
A number of “institutional arsonists,” as Republican Sen. Ben Sasse calls them, in both the House and Senate plan to challenge the electoral votes in Pennsylvania and perhaps other states that Biden narrowly won. These lawmakers are espousing what Adolf Hitler termed the “big lie” — a lie so audacious that many will believe it. That lie is that Trump won the election.
What’s surprising about the election is how thoroughly Biden won. The final popular vote certified by the 50 states was 81,281,888 for Biden to 74,223,251 for Trump. Biden won the electoral vote by 306 to 232, but more importantly he won not just a plurality of the popular vote, but a majority — 51.3%. That’s higher than President Obama’s margin in 2012, not to mention the fact that Trump lost the popular vote in 2016.
But the big lie continues. Not surprisingly, among the 13 senators not wishing to cross the president on Saturday, was populist wannabe Josh Hawley of Missouri. This son of banker and graduate of Stanford and Yale is seeking to burnish his populist credentials by contesting the election on Jan. 6 and forcing needless controversy. He is likely to be joined by dozens of compliant House members and perhaps a few more senators.
Arson is an apt analogy. Arguing that Trump, not Biden, is the victor is a pointless attempt to set fire to American self-government and to disenfranchise a majority of voters. Dictators like Stalin, Mussolini and Mao would have heartedly approved of Hawley’s effort to undermine democracy.
Luckily, as the veto override proves, the Republican Party has found its spine. Trump will be leaving and Hawley will be left out to dry in the 117th Congress.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.