What happens when one presidential candidate decides he's in no mood to lose, now or ever, no matter who gets hurt or what the cost is?
What happens when he tells you your vote no longer counts, in his unrelenting assault on democracy?
On January 6, 2021, we had our first clear answer, in a desperate attempt by the losing candidate to ignore the counted ballots in favor of his own failed attempt at a dictatorship.
The danger of that horrifying day has not passed. In fact, thanks to efforts by the Republican party to undermine democracy and install unquestioning party loyalists as election certifiers in state after state, the scramble to determine who's votes will be counted and who's rejected in the next presidential election is gaining ground.
In 2021, principled election officials from both parties strongly resisted Donald Trump's veiled threats to “find the votes” that he needed to overthrow over the election, promoting the “big lie” that he had won an election he in fact he had lost.
But Trump and his enablers are not content to just stop at election fraud the next time. Now they are desperately trying to convince conservative voters that no election will ever fairly represent their views or their vote again, claiming for example that all the voting machines are pre-programmed to elect their political opponents and that the entire system is undemocratic and corrupt.
Irish history shows us what happens to a nation when half of those living in it decide their voices are not being heard or counted. The Troubles arose from a similar festering grievance but with one important caveat, the claims of gerrymandered votes and economic and social marginalization made by the nationalist people in the 1960s were real, but the narrative of voter disenfranchisement being promoted by the Republican party to its own base now is a self-serving mirage.
But no one within Trump's own party now dares to challenge the fact that, should he run, he will likely become the Republican candidate in 2024. No one within his own party now dares to openly oppose his candidacy, despite their misgivings about the real danger that he represents to the very democratic system they are part of.
In their blind pursuit of power at any price, they have forgotten what all Trump supporters always seem to forget - that a dictatorship is the rule of one, not the many.
Recall that on the day of the insurrection many of the participants made clear their intention to violently harm and silence the politicians they opposed. Only quick thinking by the overwhelmed capitol police officers prevented the insurrectionists from capturing the very congressional leaders they had come to attack.
People genuinely feared for their lives, police and politicians both, and some actually lost their lives that day. In the immediate aftermath, shocked and appalled Republican leaders had no doubt at all that Trump was to blame for it, and initially, they said so, in no uncertain terms.
But then cold political calculation took over and those same Republican leaders who had at first blasted Trump's anti-democratic coup attempt suddenly came to heel, and what had been seen as an unprecedented attack on our democracy was soon being hailed as a mere political protest. Insurrectionists soon found themselves being repackaged as patriots.
Whilst Democratic leaders wring their hands about what to do to protect the country from another blatant coup attempt in 2024, Trump himself has been busy convincing his most ardent supporters that without him, their voices will be silenced and their nation stolen.
What makes Trump so uniquely dangerous is that he has weaponized the many grievances of a dwindling number of conservative voters, who feel themselves increasingly under siege from a wider and much more diverse nation, one that they oppose and increasingly defy.
On January 6, Trump told his supporters in Washington, “You’re the real people. You’re the people that built this nation.” Then he added, “And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
That isn't the language of democracy, it's the language of war. If it's not aggressively resisted now, then January 6 won't just be a day of infamy, it'll be a prelude to much worse.