Remember what happens on this day.

This is the day when members in both chambers of Congress, all of them Republicans, will try to stop the age-old transfer of power from one president to another.

That they will fail is already a forgone conclusion. That they even tried will leave a permanent stain on our democracy. Yet, almost half of America, including a good chunk of Maine, will cheer them on.

How can this be?

“Are you familiar with the famous book ‘The True Believer’ by Eric Hoffer?” asked Sen. Angus King Tuesday morning during a phone interview from Washington, D.C. He hadn’t read the celebrated American philosopher’s 1951 classic since his college days, but he took it out of the Library of Congress a couple of months ago.

One part of the book – its full title is “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements” – resonated with King now more than ever. It focuses on how, amid mass movements that revolve around a single, mesmerizing leader, the “true believer” identifies so closely with that leader that, as King put it, “an attack on the leader is an attack on them.”

Thus, in today’s context, widespread condemnation of Donald Trump’s final chaotic days in office becomes not just the logical reaction to a man who’s clearly gone off the rails in his struggle to avoid being labeled a “loser.” To his still-loyal followers, King said, “it’s not just an attack on Donald Trump. It’s ‘You’re attacking me.’ ”

None of that should surprise anyone who has watched Trump’s base stick with him through four years of deceit, demagoguery and disdain for the rule of law. Still, it makes what will happen today – and may well spill into Thursday – no less shocking.

Scores of Republicans in the House and at least 13 Republicans in the Senate are expected to support challenges of electoral results in at least six states won by President-elect Joe Biden.

Their claims of widespread fraud lack a scintilla of evidence. Their insistence that they’re only responding to the “concerns” of their constituents – baseless fears that Trump and many of those same Republican lawmakers have themselves fomented since Election Day – sets a new low for political hypocrisy.

And their solemn pronouncements that they’re defending our democracy, not degrading it? Give us a break. The only thing these cowards are defending is their own political future – forever tarnished as it may be.

Fortunately for us, all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation have spoken out in one way or another against the diehards on Capitol Hill who will carry Trump’s water on this normally ceremonial day when the votes from the Electoral College are counted and accepted.

But of the four, it was King who rang the alarm most loudly.

He wrote his 500-word statement after waking up Sunday morning and deciding, in the wake of Trump’s now-infamous call on Saturday to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, that this was more than just another transgression by a president whose grip on his own sanity weakens by the day.

“We are experiencing one of the most serious assaults upon our country’s democratic system in American history,” King wrote. “The President and a growing number of his Congressional enablers are plotting to overturn a legitimate election result, while simultaneously urging their supporters to take to the streets around the Capitol this week to intimidate or worse.”

Some might call that hyperbolic. But the moment this post-election hangover found its way from the White House, where it was at least contained to a failed president and his few remaining sycophants, to Capitol Hill, where it’s now become the ultimate loyalty test, it indeed metastasized from Trump tantrum to constitutional crisis.

In his weekend statement, King noted that our democracy, when viewed against a world history dominated by dictators, warlords and tyrants, “is very unusual, and very fragile. It rests upon trust – in facts, in courts, in honest public officials, and, yes, in elections.”

Now, because Trump has bewitched his true believers into literally divorcing themselves from reality, that trust is threatened in a way we’ve never seen before.

Go ahead. Try to tell Trump’s supporters that his claims of fraud have been dismissed by everyone from the Department of Homeland Security to courts everywhere to recently departed Attorney General William Barr. As King noted Tuesday, all you get is the “all-purpose answer” that it’s the work of the “deep state” or the “elites” who are out to get both the president and his most ardent supporters.

The good news, if it can be called that, is that such willful blindness won’t change the outcome of today’s proceedings. But imagine if this political theater were to play out in a Congress heavily dominated in both chambers by Republicans. What then?

“There is a grave danger, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not a month from now, but at some point in the foreseeable future, that our democratic experiment will grind to a close,” King said. “And the thing that really bothers me is that it’s happening in real time before our eyes – and half the county is OK with it.”

That half includes a good chunk of King’s own constituents. Will they stick to their guns in the weeks, months, even years ahead and transform Trump into the political martyr he so desperately wants to be? Or, like a near-bursting balloon that inevitably deflates over time, will they move on?

“It’s hard to maintain outrage indefinitely,” King noted. “Eventually you’ve got to go back to your job and your family and paying your mortgage and figuring out where the fish are biting.”

Maybe Trump’s remaining zealots also will find time to look inward: Was it something about the huckster from New York City that so transfixed them – or was it something about themselves?

Eric Hoffer, the prescient philosopher, touched on that, too, 70 years ago.

“It is the true believer’s ability to ‘shut his eyes and stop his ears’ to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy,” he wrote. “He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence.”

Good luck denying this, folks: Fourteen days from today, Republican holdouts in Congress be damned, Joe Biden will become our president. And at that moment, Donald Trump will go back to being just another loudmouthed schmo.

Long live the truth.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.