Near the end of the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy puts out a fire started by the Wicked Witch, inadvertently melting her into a puddle of orange(!) goo. The now-liberated evil flying monkeys kneel and say in unison, “Hail Dorothy.” The good witches are in charge; Tin Man gets a heart, Scarecrow a brain, and the Cowardly Lion courage.
Sadly, it’s only a movie. In our world, the evil monkeys have doubled down, and the Emerald City is, if anything, more at risk than before.
To be sure, our aging wizard is a good man trying against long odds also to be a good wizard. But the cult of the orange puddle is determined to bring back the Wicked Witch, or a similarly wicked successor who’s better at avoiding water. And those with the power to prevent such a restoration lack the courage, the heart or the brain to prevent it.
Recent disclosures in the flurry of books show how close Donald Trump came to a genuine authoritarian coup. Trump’s actions on January 6 show not paralysis but a man engaged in “watchful waiting” to see whether the insurrection he fomented would succeed or not. It was lack of probability of success, not horror at the fatal violence, that finally prompted him to stop watching television.
At noon, he told his supporters – infiltrated by Proud Boys, whom he had told to “stand by” at the debate, and the armed Oath Keepers – to “never give up” and “never concede.”
At 12:30pm, crowds gathered around the Capitol. An initial wave stormed the outer barricades at 1pm calling for the hanging of Mike Pence and the killing of Nancy Pelosi. By 2:15pm the mob had breached the Capitol.
Trump, no doubt watching events unfold on a screen in the White House dining room, weighed in on Twitter: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.” At 2:38 and 3:13, he tweeted to the crowd to “stay peaceful”, but by that time the crowd was anything but. Trump knew it, and did nothing to stop the ongoing riot.
Finally, at 4:17, as National Guard units began to back up the grossly understaffed Capitol Police, and with a protester shot dead and numerous police officers seriously hurt, Trump knew the game was up. He reiterated that the election was stolen, then told the protesters he understood how they felt and that he loved them – but that they should go home.
Later that evening, a majority of Republican House members voted against certifying the election. Republicans express the view that it is up to elected local officials to certify whichever candidate they wish, not to implement their administrative task of counting the votes and declaring a winner. Republicans also know that since the construction of the US electoral system favours smaller, more Republican states, the system itself is skewed to the right – even without the “Big Lie”.
It is now the position of the Republican party that states are free to limit voting with the tacit intent and undeniable effect that people of colour and poorer people will find it more difficult to cast a ballot. The Supreme Court has made clear that it will not interfere with gerrymandering that pushes both parties to the extremes. And earlier this month, the Court also made clear that it will not stop states from enacting voter restrictions on illusory voter fraud – a crime committed on a miniscule scale by any statistical measure, but more than enough for Justice Alito to provide a mantra for those trying to suppress the vote.
“One strong and entirely legitimate state interest is the prevention of fraud,” Alito wrote. “Fraud can affect the outcome of a close election, and fraudulent votes dilute the right of citizens to cast ballots that carry appropriate weight. Fraud can also undermine public confidence in the fairness of elections and the perceived legitimacy of the announced outcome.”
In his opinion, Alito does not suggest there needs to be proof of fraud; preventing it is a state interest in the abstract. He points to no examples, even though American elections are less susceptible to fraud than they have ever been and most examples in recent years were not only trivial in scope but committed by Republicans.
Alito seems unconcerned that being denied the right to vote also undermines public confidence and legitimacy. But the Republican Party and the Supreme Court are united in dignifying the Big Lie that massive fraud threw the 2020 election to Joe Biden. The cowardly and heartless Mitch McConnell will make sure that Congress does not stand in the way, and the apparently gormless Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are more inclined to block filibuster reform and let it happen.
We have become a nation with no respect for rules, even Constitutional rules. Trump was all about being strong and winning at any cost, like the authoritarian narcissists he seems to revere. He has frightened enough Republicans that he will challenge them in a primary for having shown a millisecond of hesitation in endorsing the cult of Trump. And he is nothing if not vindictive – particularly toward those closest to him who reach a point where they can no longer follow the deranged leader and instead draw a line of sanity.
The flying monkeys are as dangerously obsequious as they ever were – and the Wicked Witch or her progeny are gearing up to make sure that they are more effective next time. Don’t surrender, Dorothy.