I felt a growing sadness as I listened to a recording of Donald Trump begging, bullying, cajoling, and threatening Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in an attempt to make him do something he can’t — overturn Trump’s loss in the presidential race, via the state now poised to send a historic rebuke to the GOP’s exclusionary politics.

Others, including former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig, have said the president’s roughly hour-long call to Raffensperger, published by the Washington Post, could expose the president to state and federal charges of election fraud. In listening to what Trump said, I thought Bharara and others were right.

“But they are shredding ballots, in my opinion, based on what I’ve heard,” Trump told Raffensperger as lawyers and staffers listened in. “And they are removing machinery, and they’re moving it as fast as they can, both of which are criminal finds. And you can’t let it happen, and you are letting it happen. You know, I mean, I’m notifying you that you’re letting it happen. So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.”

Finding almost 12,000 votes sounded like something out of a mob movie. For me, though, it was about much more than the seemingly illegal nature of Trump’s actions. It was the fact that otherwise rational people would entertain the kind of foolishness that Trump has put forth concerning an election he lost by more than seven million votes.

But, as I listened to Trump bombard Raffensperger with a series of debunked and bizarre conspiracy theories, it struck me that Trump’s followers are holding onto the one American thing Trump has sought to uphold: white supremacy.

In Trump’s America, where the goal is to take the country back to a time when it was great, whiteness has tremendous value. When white supremacy is the order of the day, there is no need for any white person to prepare themselves to compete with nonwhites. There is no need to work harder or reach higher. For those who might not be as talented or driven as others, that is an attractive proposition. And in Trump’s America, where South American children are caged and unarmed Black men are shot, where African countries are “s—holes” and Asians are to blame for a pandemic, white supremacy seems to be the goal.

That brings me back to Trump’s call with Brad Raffensperger. At first, I focused on the sheer lunacy of Trump saying that he must’ve won the election because big crowds show up at his rallies. I homed in on the incredible hubris of a man who would actually claim — after recounts, no less — that everybody is wrong except him. I chuckled as Trump peppered Raffensperger with claims that dead people and non-Georgia residents somehow rigged the election.

Then, as I listened more closely, I realized that Trump was naming the same place over and over again: Fulton County. That was where he said the cheating took place, and that was the place Raffensperger would need to check. Fulton County is home to Atlanta, and Atlanta is the urban center that is home to a significant number of Black voters.

“We have at least two or three — anywhere from 250 to 300,000 ballots were dropped mysteriously into the rolls,” Trump said. “Much of that had to do with Fulton County, which hasn’t been checked. We think that if you check the signatures — a real check of the signatures going back in Fulton County — you’ll find at least a couple of hundred thousand of forged signatures of people who have been forged.”

As I listened to Raffensperger push back against those ridiculous assertions, I realized this was the same tactic Trump’s team had used in many of the states he lost. He claimed that Black people in Milwaukee and Philadelphia and Detroit had somehow cheated him out of the election when, in reality, we simply voted for the other candidate in larger numbers.

If white supremacy were the order of the day, truth wouldn’t matter, because in times past, all it took was the word of a white person to doom an African American. Trump, in his quest to steal an election he lost handily, is trying to return us to that time.

Trump’s followers are hungry for that kind of power. The power to say that right is wrong, that up is down, that left is right. The power to dare nonwhites to challenge their view of the world.

Those who see Trump as the man who will lead them to that power will never seek to hold him accountable. But even if Trump never pays for his all-out assault on American democracy, the rest of us will be paying for generations to come.