Similarly, when Trump told the four Democratic lawmakers of the “Squad”—Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley—to “go back” to the countries “from which they came,” he was not literally questioning their American citizenship. He was expressing the ideological conviction, shared by his base, that their identity as Americans is made contingent by the combination of their racial backgrounds, national origins, and political beliefs, in ways that those of conservative white Republicans are not.
From the June 2019 issue: An oral history of Trump’s bigotry
The Michigan protester’s declaration that Trump won the election (by a landslide, no less) falls into the same category. The majority of people who make such declarations understand that in fact, Trump did not win, that he received fewer votes than his opponent, and that the Electoral College result reflects that loss. But they support Trump’s claims that the vote was fraudulent, and his efforts to pressure Republican officials in key states to overturn the result. To Trump’s strongest supporters, Biden’s win is a fraud because his voters should not count to begin with, and because the Democratic Party is not a legitimate political institution that should be allowed to wield power even if they did.
This is why the authoritarian remedies festering in the Trump fever swamps—martial law, the usurpation of state electors, Supreme Court fiat—are so openly contemplated. Because the true will of the people is that Trump remain president, forcing that outcome, even in the face of defeat, is a fulfillment of democracy rather than its betrayal.
The Republican base’s fundamental belief, the one that Trump used to win them over in the first place, the one that ties the election conspiracy theory to birtherism and to Trump’s sneering attack on the Squad’s citizenship, is that Democratic victories do not count, because Democratic voters are not truly American. It’s no accident that the Trump campaign’s claims have focused almost entirely on jurisdictions with high Black populations.
“Detroit and Philadelphia—known as two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country, easily—cannot be responsible for engineering the outcome of a presidential race,” Trump said on November 5. Since then, Trump’s legal challenges have targeted cities with large Black populations—not just Philadelphia and Detroit, but also Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Atlanta. Trump improved his vote margin slightly in these places, while getting destroyed in nearby suburbs. But because the outdated popular perception of suburbs is that they are white, they lack the assumption of illegitimacy that Trumpists attach to cities.
The absence of not only evidence of any systemic fraud, but even compelling anecdotes that might be misleadingly trumpeted throughout right-wing media, has not deterred the president or his supporters. Republican legislators are already scheming to put new restrictions on the franchise, justified by claims of fraud so baseless that not even their handpicked judges can find a foothold to sustain them. The necessary ingredient is not actual voter fraud, but Democratic victory at the ballot box, real or potential.