The mid-term elections will be held nation-wide on 8 November this year. All 435 Representatives in the House and thirty-five Senators, along with thirty-six state governors are up for election. Many more office holders at the state and local levels will also be chosen. It seems that during every election campaign, during every election year, multiple candidates, pundits and editorials opine that this will be the most important election in our history. This time they are right.
The Brookings Institution published an analysis of the candidates on the ballot in 2022 and found that there are 345 election deniers running for office. All are Republicans. The election deniers in the analysis are running to be governors, Secretaries of State (in most states they are responsible for running and certifying elections), Attorneys General, members of Congress, and members of state legislatures. Using a scoring sheet based on the state or district, past performance and other criteria, the study’s authors then calculated the probability of an election denier winning office. They concluded that 199 (58%) had a high probability of winning their race. Seventy candidates (20%) have a medium probability of winning. The remaining seventy-six candidates (22%) have a low probability of taking office. Every state in the Union has at least one candidate that denies the results, or questions the legitimacy, of the 2020 election. Most of those likely to win, 131 to be precise, are running for the U.S House of Representatives or the Senate, including incumbents that voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral win.
To my mind, this demonstrates that only one party, the Democrats, is interested in maintaining our Republic through a functioning democracy. The other party, the Republicans, are deliberately sowing distrust in our election system and in many cases advocating for violence against our political system if their candidate does not win (more on that later). Most of these candidates openly state that the only result they will accept is their own victory and the victory of those that they support — all Republicans. If a Democrat wins, it is presumed that the election was “rigged.” Not only does this perspective lead to the end of democracy as we know it, destroying all that we used to hold dear under our Constitution, it also pits Americans against Americans. Election officials are bipartisan professionals assisted by a large number of bipartisan volunteers that believe that they are contributing to the fundamental strength of our nation. The election deniers claim that those very people — just trying to do the right thing — are the enemy. And an enemy of the United States must be destroyed. Consequently, many jurisdictions around the country have a paucity of election workers. So many have been threatened through social media, phone calls, emails, letters and demonstrations in front of their homes that they have quit. We received graphic testimony during the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol (J6 Committee) hearings as to the impact that those threats have on everyday citizens. Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss testified as to their experience in Georgia as election workers. As Ms. Freeman testified, “there is nowhere that I feel safe.” Even today, almost two years after the 2020 election, she does not go into public spaces if she can avoid it for fear that someone will recognize her and attack her. Shameful.
As I have written in this space before, the role model for many of these Trump Republicans is Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary and his anti-immigrant, anti-democratic, Christian, white nationalist philosophy. Recently he implied that the war in Ukraine was the fault of the U.S. Other Trump Republicans go even further and admire Vladimir Putin as the model for the type of strong leader that we should have in the U.S.
As we have learned from the J6 Committee, the events leading to the attack on the Capitol was not a series of random events, or spur of the moment actions by a president who refused to accept that he was a loser. It is increasingly clear that there was a connected, concerted, planned sequence of events to keep the loser in office. The planning began as early as the summer of 2020. The attack on the Capitol was the final stage of the plan. In my view, based on the J6 hearings, the losing president wanted there to be real and extreme violence at the Capitol, including gunfire, serious injuries and deaths. As he wanted to do multiple times previously, he would then invoke the Insurrection Act, declare martial law, and declare that he must stay in office to restore order across the country. In other words, a coup via violent means. He tried unsuccessfully to pull off a coup through fake electors, law suits and Congressional malfeasance by the Sedition Caucus vote to not recognize the Electoral College results. All failed. Violence was the final answer. I sincerely believe that if he did not actively wish the death or capture of his Vice President, he would not have minded if it had happened. Not only was he genuinely angry at Mike Pence, I think that if he was harmed or killed, then the outgoing president had a spectacular reason to declare martial law.
These are the 345 people that are running for office. Some will be directly in charge of carrying out the elections, deciding which votes count, and certifying the results. They all support the former president’s Big Lie that the election was stolen and that he should be restored to office. They all declare that the only legitimate outcome of any election is that their candidate wins. It isn’t just crazy anymore. It is real. There is a nation-wide effort underway to rewrite the rules of our democracy to leave only one party in power. Presumably forever.
This upcoming election is about one thing only — the survival of our Republic as we know it. On the campaign trail most of the discussion is about inflation, gas prices, immigration, abortion and other issues. Those are real problems. They need to be addressed. However, in the current context they are a smoke screen to allow Trump Republican candidates to talk about anything but the real goal. If you listen carefully, they have little to no policies or solutions to alleviate those problems. There are slogans, there are attempts to “own the libs” and there are other non-consequential statements, but no substantive proposals. When asked by reporters as to what Republicans would do should they win back Congress, here is what the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said about the Republican platform for 2022, and I quote, “That’s a very good question. And I’ll let you know when we take it back.” Note that the 2020 Republican platform did not exist. It merely stated in a very few words that they would do whatever Trump wanted. No policies. No agenda.
Here is what to expect next year if the Trump Republicans win the House of Representatives — a large number of Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) types running the show. You may remember her as the far right conspiracy monger that loves the limelight by owning the libs. She also is an advocate of the Great Replacement Theory whereby immigrants (only the black and brown immigrants) are sent to the U.S. by Democrats to replace “good Americans” (white Americans) in their jobs, schools, and in the voting booth (never mind that you need to be a U.S. citizen to vote). Among other things. Think she is a whack job on the fringe of politics that only crazies listen to? Think again. In the new Congress, she will be in the main stream of her party along with all the election deniers and far right wing advocates ready to change the way that the U.S. government acts domestically and internationally. Think I am exaggerating? Take a look at the news video clips and photographs where the-wants-to-be-Speaker-of-the-House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is announcing some new effort on behalf of the Republican caucus. Standing over his right shoulder, or sitting next to him, more times than not, is Marjorie Taylor Greene. She would not be there if she was not a player in the new extremist Republican party. Or let her tell you herself as she told a reporter for the New York Times. Speaking of Minority Leader McCarthy she said, “I think that to be the best Speaker of the House, and to please the base, he’s going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway. And if he doesn’t, they’re going to be very unhappy about it. I think that’s the best way to read that. And that’s not in anyway a threat at all. I just think that’s the reality.” Which House Committee do you think she wants? Oversight? Judiciary? Appropriations? Q-anon follower Marjorie Taylor Greene as a Committee Chair for any committee in Congress is scary all unto itself. And she will only be one of many.
(Speaking of Q-anon, Trump now plays the unofficial anthem of Q believers at the end of his rallies.)
There is only one way to combat this direct attack on democracy. That is to continue to repeat the facts over and over and over again. As Joe Friday would say on the old Dragnet program, “just the facts, ma’am.” Clearly, many people will not accept the facts. Ever. Especially as they are bombarded with lies, propaganda and conspiracies. But we have to try. These new politicians have learned one lesson well from the losing president. Lie, lie, lie. Never apologize. Double down if caught. It worked for him and it appears that it works for many of his approved candidates. If there is any phrase that best sums up the current crop of Trump Republicans it is “I don’t care.” They don’t care if they lie. They don’t care if they are doing great harm to our country. They don’t care if people are suffering and will continue to suffer as the new leaders put power and making money over the needs of our citizens. They just don’t care about anything, period. Except winning the election so that they can force themselves on the rest of us.
Many of the election results are going to be very tight. If only a handful of voters learn the truth and vote against the far right candidates, it could turn an election. In any case, we have to try. Otherwise, it is so long democracy. It was nice while it lasted.
In English, the Ukrainian national anthem is known as “Ukraine Has Not Perished.” Indeed, it has not perished, even as the unprovoked Russian invasion of its territory continues. The initial invasion took place in February 2014 and the Russians invaded again in February 2022. Over seven months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin went all in on his long-standing desire to annex all of Ukraine, not just Crimea or the eastern part known as the Donbas. After seven long months of warfare, massive casualties continue to mount on both sides of the conflict. Recently, however, the Ukrainians have shown themselves to be the superior force on the ground — both in terms of their fighting ability and in terms of their will to destroy the Russian troops invading their country. There does not appear to be any comparable will to fight in any of the Russian units engaged in combat and thus the tide is starting to slowly turn in the Ukrainians’ favor.
Perhaps surprisingly so, the Ukrainian successes create an ever more dangerous situation. The last few weeks have shown that President Putin is not willing to back off of his stated goal to crush the Ukrainian people, overthrow its government, and install a puppet regime that is controlled by Moscow. Indeed, he is doubling down despite his gross miscalculation that he could take Ukraine in a matter of days with a quick strike into Kyiv. To show his resolve to control Ukraine, earlier this month he formally annexed the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia in eastern Ukraine. That part of the country is where the fighting on the ground continues and the Russian and pro-Russian forces are concentrated there. The annexation was announced despite one important thing — the Russians do not control all of that territory. In fact, Ukrainian forces have the Russians in retreat in several parts of the annexed areas. This is where things get dicey.
President Putin declared that those four regions were now a part of Russia proper (just as he claimed Crimea in 2014) and that an attack on them would be considered an attack on the homeland. In a late September speech, President Putin declared that he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity.” Since then he has reiterated that he is willing to use “all means necessary” to protect the newly acquired territory, which is a euphemism for threatening to use Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to prevent Ukraine from retaking their own territory. (WMD are chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.) Bluff? Bluster? Empty threats? Warning? No one is sure, and that is the problem. Mr. Putin backed himself into a corner that now threatens the stability of Russia as a country and threatens his own iron grip on the population. He considers the current state of affairs to be “an existential threat” to Russia and to himself. Is it possible that if he sees his own safety and power threatened that he would lash out? Possibly, but let’s look a little closer.
The past few days have given us some ideas as to how Mr. Putin might respond to an expanded war. When the twelve mile long Kerch Strait Bridge from Crimea to Russia was partially damaged on Sunday, the Russians retaliated by launching massive air strikes using approximately one hundred cruise missiles and suicide drones in one morning to attack Ukrainian infrastructure and civilian neighborhoods. (So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack on the bridge, but Russia assumes it was Ukrainian special forces.) The Russian supply of such weapons is not endless, but air strikes are probably the primary method that the Russians will use to continue to disrupt daily life in Ukraine and to inflict serious damage. The intent is to break the will of the civilian population and force the Ukrainian government to seek a settlement of some kind. It will not work.
The Russian style of warfare is based on raw brutality. Massive numbers of people and weapons are used against every aspect of an opponent’s military and civilian systems, capabilities, support and people. The term “collateral damage” does not exist for Russia. Killing civilians and destroying playgrounds, hospitals, apartment buildings, and any other area of a city is the point. Torture is a tool to be used. Indiscriminate bombing is a tool to be used. Everything is on the table. If brutality is the point, then that adds credibility to any threat to use WMD. So does that include nuclear weapons?
In my opinion, no. Not because Mr. Putin considers them to be off the table. Rather, so far, he calculates that he has other means at his disposal to achieve his war aims. In my many years in the military, I never seriously believed that we, or anyone else, would use nuclear weapons. The deterrent impact of sufficient numbers of weapons on both sides made it highly improbable. But now, for the first time in my adult life (I was around for the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that is a different situation), the chances are not zero. I still think that the probability of Mr. Putin using a nuclear weapon, even as a “demonstration,” is incredibly low, but no one knows for certain what he may be capable of doing. Probably more likely is the use of chemical weapons. The Russians used them, or at least abetted their use, in Syria. It may be as the Russian army withdraws from yet another town or village that the incoming Ukrainian forces may be subject to a chemical attack. If so, it is likely to be on a small scale and intended to be a deterrent to a continuing Ukrainian offensive and a warning to the rest of the world that the Russians are not bluffing when they threaten to defend themselves using “any means necessary.”
More likely, the Russians will expand their use of asymmetric attacks such as cyberwarfare, economic warfare such as limiting or stopping the export of oil or natural gas, or halting the shipment of goods (especially grain) from the Black Sea. A clear sign of such efforts occurred in late September this year when Swedish and Danish sensors detected explosions in the Baltic Sea. It was soon discovered that the Nord Stream pipelines running from Russia to Europe were experiencing massive leaks, thus stopping the flow of natural gas to Europe. To date, there is no official blame or explanation for the leaks. It is widely believed, however, that Russian special forces are to blame. The Russians, and other nations including the United States, have the capability to operate from submarines near the seabed to disrupt the wide array of modern infrastructure that crosses great bodies of water such as gas and oil lines and fiber optic cables. As winter approaches, Mr. Putin may be pushing European nations, especially Germany, to give up their support of Ukraine by disrupting their economies and signaling that other elements of infrastructure could be at risk if their support to Ukraine continues. It may be a long, cold winter in much of Europe. In the short run, it actually hurts Russia as the gas it sells to Europe is a major element of support to the Russian economy. The side effect is to again signal that Mr. Putin is willing to do “anything,” even if it hurts his own people, to achieve his goals. I would expect to see more of these moves from the Russians, as long as they can plausibly (or in some cases implausibly) deny their involvement.
The war in Ukraine will drag on for months to come, possibly years. Mr. Putin knows that he is in trouble on the ground and his army is being destroyed. Recent attempts to mobilize 300,000 additional troops to fight in the war have gone badly. Russian men are leaving the country in droves. Reportedly, over 200,000 have fled to Kazakhstan alone. Another 100,000 are said to have left for other countries surrounding Russia in order to avoid conscription. Even if he raises an additional 300,000 troops, they will be poorly trained and equipped based on what we see with his allegedly “elite” forces that have already been decimated on the battlefield. They will only be cannon fodder, which is yet another indicator that the Russian army and Mr. Putin in particular have no concerns about the lives and well-being of their soldiers or their civilians. It is worth noting that Mr. Putin’s retaliatory strikes this week and his threats to use “any means necessary” are not aimed at the Ukrainian soldiers on the front. Rather, they are all aimed at the Ukrainian civilian population. It is terrifying for them, but as has happened throughout history, his terror tactics only increase the resolve of those under attack.
Mr. Putin has many options left in his bag of tricks. However, even he must recognize that he does not want to go toe-to-toe with NATO. He must also recognize that as his attacks on Ukrainian cities escalates, he runs the risk of NATO and other friendly nations increasing the number and sophistication of the weapons they are sending to Ukraine.
It is hard to know how this conflict ends, but it is increasingly less likely that there will be a negotiated settlement.