Impeachment and insurrection part deux on deck for next week, even as there’s now mixed messaging on the part of Pence invoking the 25th Amendment. Lots of banality of evil around and about.
A politician-incited, post-election riot at a Capitol, seeking to block the result of a peculiar voting system, is not news. Ancient Romans witnessed something very similar.
On December 9, 100 B.C., Romans assembled to vote for the two consuls who would serve as the Republic’s top magistrates for the coming year. The election promised to be momentous. Gaius Marius, the dominant political figure in the Roman Republic for the previous decade, was finishing his fifth consecutive consulship. Once an extraordinarily popular figure, Marius had only won his most recent consular term through widespread vote-buying and intimidation.
Marius’s behavior in office had been even worse than his campaign conduct. In alliance with two radical populists, the tribune Saturninus and the praetor Glaucia, Marius spent much of the year before the election mobilizing angry crowds that violently backed laws that benefitted their partisans and punished their rivals—in one case even beating their opponents with clubs after polling had begun. So Rome seemed ready to move on.
Marius was not on the ballot that day, but Glaucia was. Glaucia understood that an electoral victory might again depend upon violence and intimidation, and so his supporters came to the polling place, hoping he would win but ready to fight if that would prevent his loss.
Roman magistrates did not win election by simply carrying a majority of the popular vote. Roman elections for consul were instead decided when candidates won a majority of Rome’s 193 voting centuries. The voting centuries were neither equally distributed across property classes nor were they the same size. The wealthiest Romans had the most centuries in the assembly, but their centuries had far fewer members than the ones to which poorer Romans belonged. Romans nevertheless accepted that a successful consular candidate needed to win the support of 97 centuries, regardless of their raw vote total. This was, in a way, a Roman analog to our own Electoral College.
“…if Trump becomes ‘more unstable.’”
In the past, America was viewed as a beacon of democracy, not a country that polluted its own free and fair elections with reckless toxicity. If we want to maintain credibility in American efforts to promote democracy abroad, our leaders must reject the poisoning of democracy at home.
Trump can’t escape criminal culpability now simply with a “head in the sand” defense. He can’t dodge an investigation by Georgia prosecutors or by the Justice Department by feigning ignorance. It is a criminal violation of federal law to attempt to deprive voters of a fair and impartial election by procuring fictitious ballots. It is a criminal violation of Georgia law to solicit another person to engage in election fraud. The president’s demands in the hour-long call on Saturday seem to fit squarely within the conduct described by these laws.
Whether criminal charges are ultimately brought against him for it will be within the discretion of federal and state prosecutors. Regardless, the ramifications of this call are far greater than whether the president is brought to justice for his attempted crimes against democracy. In America, our leaders exercise the power to govern through the consent of the governed. As retired Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) put it, “the American people, not politicians” have the right to elect our president. No one person is above this principle.
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