Beware the crock-pot coup

The slow-simmering threat to democracy in 2024

The following is the text (lightly edited for reading purposes) of my opening monologue when guest-anchoring MSNBC for the first time last Sunday. It is about the threat to the 2024 elections. The video is also available below.


This was supposed to be our hot vaxxed summer. Instead, it has become a summer of chilling omens.

Wildfire smoke wafted from sea to shining sea, the apocalyptic weather making plain that climate change can no longer be spoken of as a future threat

A once-mellowing virus surged back to life, preying on willful and cynically manufactured ignorance.

New facts surfaced about just how close America came to a coup in 2020.

And, meanwhile, a growing chorus of on-the-ground reporters and writers and scholars began sounding the alarm about 2024.

Their message? If present trends continue, and if nothing is done, the next presidential election could be stolen. Legally stolen.

These are not the cries of extremely online provocateurs. They are fact-based warnings about what is actually happening right now in states across this country.

The scenario these experts warn of isn’t one of guns and tanks and the seizure of TV stations and leaders in unfortunate berets, which may be a redundant phrase.

You see, we are trained, by Hollywood and by our memory of world events, to recognize the telltale signs of democracy under assault.

But if democracy dies in America, it is unlikely to resemble our mental picture.

That death would be, the experts tell us, completely above board. Fully legal, even constitutional. The i’s will be dotted; the t’s will be crossed. The paperwork will be submitted properly and on time, in triplicate.

And we know this — I can say this to you tonight on good authority — because the legal maneuvers, the dotting and crossing, the filling out of paperwork — it’s all happening now, a full three years in advance.

The assault on 2024 is a crock-pot coup, simmering low and slow, under cover, breaking down the fibers of our electoral system, until one day democracy itself is cooked.

In Arizona, as meticulously reported by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, the crock-pot coup looks like a phony audit of the 2020 election results, funded by private donors, many of them out of state, with a view to giving Arizona a pretext, now or in the future, to throw out a legitimate electoral result, citing bogus claims of voter fraud.

As Mayer writes, “It’s a surprisingly short leap from making accusations of voter fraud to calling for the nullification of a supposedly tainted election.”

In Georgia, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a law giving itself the power to replace county election boards, and officials have already initiated a process that could lead to a takeover of elections in Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold.

Indeed, Republicans have introduced more than 400 legislative proposals in 49 states to make voting more difficult, including threats of criminal prosecution for local election officials who violate these rules. At least 30 of these bills have already passed.

The various expressions of this slow-simmering coup appear to share a common object: laying the groundwork for states to declare their own election systems to have been contaminated by fraud, and thereby usurping from the people the power to allocate electoral votes.

In short, these states are creating a legal framework to do what former President Trump asked them to do in 2020 — overturn their own elections.

The cynically, tragicomically Orwellian name for these Republican machinations?

Election integrity.

Election. Integrity.

If democracy does ultimately die in America, it will be “election integrity” that did it.

What is the answer to the crock-pot coup?

Urgent, concerted democratic reform.

“To save our democracy, we must democratize it,” the scholars Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky write. “We must expand access to the ballot, reform our electoral system to ensure that majorities win elections, and weaken or eliminate antiquated institutions such as the filibuster so that majorities can actually govern.”

A radical idea.

Amid the summer of the Delta variant and of those wildfires and of looming evictions and a last-ditch moratorium on those evictions and the possibility that we will, at long last, have our infrastructure week, the crock-pot coup may feel at once less immediate and more daunting.

But perhaps no other ongoing story in this country so deserves our attention.

That you and I are even having this conversation right now doesn’t fit the picture of America that many of us were raised with. We are accustomed to thinking of this country as immune to those kinds of forces. But of course we aren’t.


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Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty