Trump's been backed into a corner and that makes his movement a serious threat
The Trump administration can’t afford to lose.
Not that they can’t lose when the votes are tallied -- that’s a whole different thing, even though polling trends make this increasingly unlikely (more on this later).
But the reality is that Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr and the rest of the administration’s brazenly corrupt inner circle, by the pervasive nature of their criminality, have backed themselves into a corner.
Trump has fired five Inspectors General in the past two months. You don’t engage in such brazen authoritarianism unless you’re trying to keep the lid on a slew of misdeeds. If Trump loses in November and new Democratic appointees start turning over rocks, it’s very likely that more crimes will be uncovered. Only a supine, Republican-controlled Senate kept Trump from being held accountable for his criminal attempt to coerce the Ukrainian government to smear Joe Biden.
Trump and his enablers are laying the groundwork now to prevent a free and fair election and a peaceful transfer of power. It’s their only way of holding power. The electoral trends were already problematic for Team Trump before Covid-19 and the subsequent economic collapse. Then, his disastrous response to the nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality further battered his standing. His polling is cratering, down by as many as 14 points in nationwide head to head matchups with Biden. And it’s not just Trump -- Congressional Republicans are checking the numbers and viewing November with mounting dread. No supine Senate would mean no impunity moving forward.
Contrary to popular belief in some quarters, Trump can’t just cancel the elections. His term ends January 20, 2021 and if that date comes without an election, he would no longer be president, as explained in great detail in this Vox article from March.
The likeliest course of action would be cheating on the front-end in the form of widespread voter suppression. And if that doesn’t work out, howling about voter fraud and inspiring the deplorables to stochastic terrorism.
To the first point, we’ve already seen time and again that Republicans don’t have to cancel an election to prevent it from being free and fair. In April, the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against measures that would have allowed voters to safely participate in the election in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statewide elections in Georgia on June 10 highlighted further escalation, with voters waiting ten hours or more amid widespread machine malfunctions. More than 80 polling stations were closed ahead of Election Day in metro Atlanta alone.
Republicans have generally been careful to mask their intentions regarding voter suppression in terms of preventing (nonexistent) voter fraud, but Donald Trump said the quiet part out loud in March when he declared a congressional stimulus bill “had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Indeed. The more people vote, the worse the odds for Republicans. The blatant suppression in Georgia should give some indication of what the right has planned for the entire country come November.
Should Trump lose the election, he’s laying the groundwork to insure the transition is anything but peaceful. It is all-but-guaranteed that Trump will howl to the moon that he, and other Republicans, have been cheated, and force the entire nation to grapple with the disastrous consequences of those claims.
After the vote, if things don’t go Trump’s way, he will likely put Barr on the case, and insist the new government won’t be seated until they get to the bottom of it. Trump has already intensified his messaging through his preferred communications channel, Twitter, about the (non-existent) menace of voter fraud. And the most extreme elements of the right-wing ecosystem are quite literally locked and loaded in anticipation.
Militias across the country took advantage of the nationwide lockdown protests to flex their muscle, threatening lawmakers (they directly threatened to kill Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Kentucky’s Governor Andy Beshear). Now, as people have taken to the streets in all fifty states to demand racial justice, these same far right, pro-Trump elements have repeatedly engaged in violent acts. They’ve shown up in full body armor toting automatic weapons attempting to intimidate protestors. They’ve run people over with their cars. They’ve allegedly killed three police officers. And in Seattle, a white nationalist terrorist shot a protestor in the arm after attempting to run over a crowd of protestors.
Maya Angelou’s quote gets repeated a lot because it’s a damn good one. These people have shown time and again who they are and just what they intend to do. If Trump loses, and claims there’s a conspiracy to oust him, it seems nearly certain that far right extremists will respond with at least scattered terrorist attacks.
As to whether the ploy will ‘work’ in the maximalist sense of Trump and the GOP maintaining power after a clear electoral loss? Can some combination of confusion, violence, and far right messaging really keep Trump and his cronies in power? That depends on us.
We need coordinated and principled action to guarantee a succession of power and keep this country together.
Everyone who isn’t a part of the Trumpian far-right must work together. Better than siloed efforts, we need to develop a coordinating entity that would help synchronize various groups’ responses in a campaign with clearly-defined objectives. That could be a task force with representation from the major activist groups like Indivisible, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, Swing Left, and MoveOn.
The reality is, for better or worse, many Americans are conditioned to view elections as the only legitimate mechanism for expressing their will. Voting is indeed critical. We all need to turn out the vote, in record numbers. That point cannot be overemphasized. Vote! Everyone vote! But only voting may not be sufficient this time.
It’s on us to organize everywhere.
“During these moments of upheaval, we often see calls for people to join marches or donate [to bail funds and similar groups],” says Aric McBay, author of Full Spectrum Resistance. “Those acts are important as a starting point. But these moments of upheaval don't last forever.
“We need people to join groups for the long haul, to become dedicated activists, to build their skills as organizers, to strengthen relationships, to be active in their communities,” he says.
The nationwide protests against police brutality have shown results for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is their militancy, their unified front, and their staying power. We must be prepared to widen the scope.
“Using a diversity of tactics is critical to the success of a movement, especially for movements against white supremacy,” Aric adds. “Effective movements in history have used everything from waving signs to destroying property to armed self-defense.”
“The state and the media tell us that only 'polite' protest works, but that's a lie. Those in power – Democrats like Biden included – tell a sanitized version of movement history that's meant to keep people from standing up and fighting injustice.”
There are four months between now and November, and any number of escalations are possible from the far right and their supporters in the White House.
“Authoritarianism will try to foment counter revolution. It's important to remain steadfast against this,” says Shiyam Galyon, Communications Coordinator with the War Resisters League.
The racists and would-be authoritarians have seen the power of mass mobilization. Trump put up a fence and hid in his bunker and sent out helicopters. The people were not cowed. We’ll do well to keep this in mind in the months ahead: there are more of us, and we can never take our eye off those who would overwhelm our democracy with their authoritarianism.