Bookman: Trump quits court battle but recklessly urges followers to fight

June 24, 2021 3:00 am

Columnist Jay Bookman opines that former President Donald Trump urges his followers to keep fighting and fighting and on Jan. 6 Capitol police officers were beaten with flagpoles and batons. Win McNamee/Getty Images

This week, Donald Trump was finally forced to admit the truth: He lost Georgia fair and square, the multiple lawsuits that he and the Georgia GOP filed to try to throw out the state’s 5 million presidential votes had been based on lies and fantasies, and the entire argument they tried to make had zero basis in reality.

That important admission was forced upon Trump after DeKalb and Cobb counties demanded that he pay the legal costs they had incurred in defending those nonsense suits. Trump could have resisted. He could have demanded his day in court, insisting to a judge that he and his lawyers had been acting in good faith. He could have done what he keeps pushing his supporters to do, which is to keep on fighting and fighting.

But Trump did not. Instead he quit. He gave up. Rather than defend the suits, he and his camp quietly agreed to pay $15,554 to the Cobb County Elections Board to cover its costs, and another $6,000 to DeKalb County. His attorney, Randy Evans, told the media that the money to repay the taxpayers of Cobb and DeKalb had not come from Trump personally, but even if that’s true it doesn’t matter.

If the money didn’t come from Trump, the decision did. In agreeing to repay the two counties, he in effect agreed that if he fought it in court, if he and his lawyers tried to argue that the suits were not frivolous and did indeed have a basis in fact and law, he would have lost and lost badly. So he tucked his tail between his legs and slinked away.

Frankly, it was a smart move. Otherwise, Trump’s attorneys would have been forced to go before a judge to explain how it wasn’t frivolous to tell the courts that more than 10,000 dead people had voted in Georgia, even though he and his attorneys couldn’t actually name any of those 10,000. He and his lawyers would have been asked the basis of their claim in a court filing that more than 66,000 Georgia children under the age of 17 had been allowed to register illegally, although again they couldn’t actually identify them. They would have been thoroughly embarrassed and exposed, and even Trump has a limit on how much embarrassment he can withstand.

So where do we now find ourselves?

Trump and his gang took their case to the American voters, and they lost by 7 million votes. They then turned to judges and to state legislatures, seeking to overturn the vote of the people, and they lost again. Then they turned to Congress, demanding that the House and Senate overturn the courts and legislatures and voters, and again they lost. And then, as we all witnessed on Jan. 6, they turned to violence, and lost yet again.

That last phase, the turn to violence, didn’t end once all the insurrectionists were removed from the Capitol and may not be over for a long, long time. Over the last 50 years, American conservatives have convinced themselves that the Second Amendment gives them a constitutional right to violently overturn the U.S. government, at the time of their choosing and for the cause of their choosing. The idea has become so ingrained into parts of the conservative movement that they now believe they not only have the right to try but the right to succeed.

If you’ve watched bodycam and cellphone video of the Jan. 6 insurrection, then you’ve heard the anger, outrage and even astonishment that the insurrectionists expressed at Capitol and D.C. police officers who dared to fight back, who dared to do their duty in defending our republic. The officers didn’t seem to appreciate that these fine gentlemen beating them with flagpoles and batons and fire extinguishers were simply patriots exercising their constitutional right to get their way through violence.

We continue to see that attitude today, with insurrectionists and their supporters whining in disbelief that they might actually be punished for their invasion, as if the government has no right to defend itself. Three members of Georgia’s GOP congressional delegation – Reps. Andrew Clyde, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jody Hice – have voted against honoring the police officers who put their lives on the line on their behalf. At one point, Clyde also refused to shake the hand of an officer who had been injured during the attack. They are even trying to turn Ashli Babbitt, the insurrectionist who died trying to violently force her way into House chambers, into a martyr for American democracy.

So far, here in Georgia and in most other parts of the country, the courts and other institutions of self-governance have held. But over time we have grown so used to this Maoist idea that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” that we have forgotten how extraordinary and dangerous it is. Longstanding Georgia law, for example, bans the formation of private militias and makes it illegal to associate as a military unit or “parade or demonstrate in public with firearms.” That law exists in Georgia and most other states because we once understood that insurrection or political intimidation with arms are not constitutional rights but a grave constitutional danger. Those laws are rarely enforced in part because frankly, it would be too risky for law enforcement to do so.

There is no right to armed insurrection, and no right to incite others to commit armed insurrection. We Americans govern ourselves through the ballot box, not through the bullet, and unless we confront this ideology head on, it has the potential to destroy us.

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Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman

Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.