Unto the Breach

On Sunday, Jonathan Swan of Axios—who conducted that brutal interview of Trump back in August—reported from White House sources what every savvy observer has long predicted:

On Election Night, regardless of the results, Trump will publicly declare victory as early as he can plausibly get away with. (And as we know, Trump’s assessment of what he can plausibly get away with is a lot more broad than anyone else’s. And he is usually right.) He will then declare that any subsequent votes, via mail-in ballot or presumably even in-person tallies from late breaking counties, are fraudulent, a lie he has been trying to hammer into the American consciousness for months in preparation for just such a ploy.

(Trump denied the report, which is a sure confirmation that it’s true.)

Swan’s sources suggest that Trump will pull the trigger if he has strong leads in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Iowa, Georgia and Arizona. I’m betting he’s more aggressive than that, and doesn’t wait for the polls to close in Mountain Standard Time out in AZ.

But “declaring” himself the winner is meaningless. Trump could also declare himself a penguin. Wouldn’t make it so.

It will fall to the much-maligned mainstream media, influential public authority figures,  reasonable politicians on both the Democratic and Republican sides (let me know if you find any of the latter), and the general public itself to rise up and say, “Oh no, you don’t.”

Are we ready to do that?

Working in our favor, Trump has telegraphed this move for months, and there has been an avalanche of reportage about it, so his autogolpe should not come as a surprise to anyone. Working against us is that fact that he holds the presidency and all its leverage, and commands a cult that accepts his every lie and cheers his every move, even in defiance of every principle of American democracy. 

Clearcut Biden victories any of those states—all of which are in play to a greater or lesser degree—will help undercut Trump’s efforts, but not even a clean sweep by the blue team will prevent Donald from trying to claim victory. In fact, the worse his apparent defeat the more desperate he will become, and the less he will have to lose in trying to most shameless and dangerous gambits. (He also informed us that he intends to send his army of lawyers into swing states to challenge the results.)

So despite Trump’s best (worst) efforts, we have it within our power to put down this self-coup before it even begins by producing a margin of victory for Biden/Harris that renders all these maneuvers impotent. For four years we have been waiting for the chance to oust this cretinous pretender. Now it is upon us. We may see this election stolen, despite out best efforts—and let us gird ourselves to do everything we can to fight against that possibility—but the first step, and the one that has the most potential to neuter Trump’s malicious plans, and that will make any subsequent efforts of our own more viable, is to go to the polls in numbers like this country has never seen before. Early voting turnout—94 million so far, a record pace—looks encouraging, and that’s a good thing….

Because if we don’t turn out in this election, and then fight for the integrity of the results, there may never be another one.

ALEXA, CHANGE THE PRESIDENT

I know we all know this, but it bears repeating:

In any rational democratic system, with the American public preferring the Democratic candidate by close to nine points, Joe Biden should be the next President of the United States.

Here’s Slate’s Politics editor Tom Scocca:

No one thinks that Donald Trump will win a majority of the votes in the 2020 election. In the country that considers itself the world’s leading democracy, the political coverage and predictions start from this: The current president lost the popular vote by a margin of more than 3 million in 2016, and all the polling says that the 2016 margin is the absolute floor from which Joe Biden will build an even greater popular advantage. Whether Trump serves one term or two terms, there will never be more people who voted for him than voted against him.

Please don’t tell me about the Framers’ intent, states’ rights, and all the rest. The country the Founding Fathers forged in the years from 1776 to 1789 was an agrarian nation with a population of 2.5 million (less than Brooklyn today), spread over an area about a tenth the size of the contemporary USA, with only a marginal difference in population density among the states as regards proportional representation in  Congress and the Electoral College.

What we have now bears no resemblance to that.

Notwithstanding the irrational, partisan-front charade of “originalism,” even if the Framers did intend to form an anti-democratic, countermajoritarian society (P.S. they didn’t), we ought to conclude that—gasp!—they were wrong and we should change that…..the same way we decided they were wrong to limit the franchise to just adult white men who owned property.

So we are starting with a system that is ridiculously unjust, and would not pass muster under the eye of UN observers in any nascent democracy writing its first constitution. From there, it doesn’t help that the government currently controlling the levers of power is openly dedicated to subverting the democratic process. But here we are. Fixing up our creaky and unseaworthy ship will have to wait for another day; our urgent priority right now is to put out the raging fire that is currently consuming it, and relieving the mad captain who is pouring fuel on the deck.

Chauncey Devega, by way of review:

Donald Trump continues to make it clear that he does not intend to leave office peacefully if he is defeated by Joe Biden and the Democrats on Election Day. Moreover, Donald Trump considers any election in which he is not the “winner” to be null and void. Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court is an obvious quid pro quo to secure his “reelection” if his attorneys and other agents can sufficiently sabotage the vote on Election Day and beyond.

On Thursday, Trump again followed the authoritarian’s playbook when he bragged to his supporters at a rally in North Carolina that U.S. Marshalls essentially executed Michael Reinoehl, an anti-fascist activist accused of killing a right wing paramilitary member during protests in Oregon last August. Celebrating the extra-judicial killings of one’s political “enemies” is a common feature of fascist authoritarian regimes and the types of leaders admired and imitated by Donald Trump.

Donald Trump’s commitment to and use of political violence is a matter of public record. Two of the most recent examples include how Trump’s followers in Michigan allegedly planned to kidnap and possibly murder Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. During his debate with Joe Biden, Trump also commanded white supremacist paramilitaries to be prepared to attack his and their “enemies” if he loses on Election Day or is otherwise removed from office.

Trump also wants Joe Biden and other leading Democrats imprisoned and perhaps even executed because he deems them to be “guilty” of “treason” and a “coup” attempt against him. Donald Trump and his Attorney General William Barr have also threatened to use the United States military against the American people if they dare to protest the outcome of the 2020 Election if Trump somehow finds some extra-legal (if not outright illegal) way to stay in office.

This is an unprecedented moment in American history, one we should have foreseen when we unaccountably allowed this two-bit grifter to become our head of state….one which many people did foresee. Yet it’s still been infinitely worse than all but the most dire predictions.

Now we stand on the precipice of losing our entire representative democracy full stop, 244 years of flawed but noble dedication to government of the people, by the people, and for the people, brought to the verge of permanent neo-fascist kleptocracy in just a few years by one monstrous game show host, and—and this is the important part—his enablers.

But her emails, amirite?

INSIDE JONESTOWN NORTH

After four years, the case against Donald Trump has been made, in spades. But at this moment, it’s worth a brief summary, if only for the sake of closure.

In a landmark, multipart editorial, the (failing) New York Times  recently laid it out very clearly, as summarized here by Heather Cox Richardson:

“Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II.” What follows is a blistering litany of the actions of the man who is “without any real rivals as the worst American president in modern history,” the editors say. He is conducting “an intolerable assault on the very foundations of the American experiment in government by the people.” The editorial concludes: “Mr. Trump is a man of no integrity. He has repeatedly violated his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States….Now, in this moment of peril, it falls to the American people—even those who would prefer a Republican president—to preserve, protect and defend the United States by voting.”

It is lot to say that Trump is “the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II.” Worse than the USSR, worse than Nixon, worse than Al Qaeda. But I don’t disagree—because, as they say in the horror movies, “The call is coming from inside the house….”

Here’s The Atlantic with its view:

The Atlantic has endorsed only three candidates in its 163-year history: Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Hillary Clinton. The latter two endorsements had more to do with the qualities of Barry Goldwater and Donald Trump than with those of Johnson and Clinton. The same holds true in the case of Joe Biden. Biden is a man of experience, maturity, and obvious humanity, but had the Republican Party put forward a credible candidate for president, we would have felt no compulsion to state a preference. Donald Trump, however, is a clear and continuing danger to the United States, and it does not seem likely that our country would be able to emerge whole from four more years of his misrule. Two men are running for president. One is a terrible man; the other is a decent man. Vote for the decent man.

So what of the counter-argument?

A recent piece in The Guardian surveyed some harcdore Trump defenders who have stuck with him and even doubled down on their loyalty over the past four years. Well-done as it was, the piece was nevertheless the kind for which the acronym SMDH was invented, as it shed no new light on this cult-like mass hysteria beyond what we have already witnessed. Which is to say, there remains no rational reason to support Donald Trump.

A lot of these Trump supporters say that they think he really cares about them. With all due respect, that is the art of the con man. It would be a scam even in normal times, but in the age of COVID it requires a thirst for Kool-Aid that borders on the unquenchable. The Guardian:

Revelations that Trump failed to act on warnings about the dangers of coronavirus, or his years of paying almost no taxes, may outrage his critics, but are dismissed by much of his base as part of the establishment conspiracy to wreck his presidency. Even where Trump’s supporters acknowledge he is wrong, he is often excused.

In general, as we will know, Trump’s fans buy his bullshit on all matters (Biden wants to defund the police, BLM are Marxists, COVID is a hoax, etc.). There is also a lot of “China’s taking our jobs!”, which reflects a certain amount of economic pain and uncertainty, but also an undeniable strain of xenophobia. Anti-immigrant fervor animates a good deal of Trump’s support nationwide, even in places were immigration is essentially non-existent, which bespeaks other motivations—largely, ahem, identity-based.

The things these Trump fans give him credit for are often bad things, like gifting North Korea a presidential summit in exchange for not even some magic beans. Quoth a Trump supporter in West Virginia named Bo Copley:

“Yes, he did make fun of Kim, calling him Rocket Man, and I thought it was so stupid. But at least he was willing to say, ‘I’m going to meet with him.’ Look how historic it was, that we had a United States president visit North Korea. That’s huge.”

But it isn’t about policy—not really. For all the MAGA hatters who applaud the family separation policy, or the Wall That Ain’t, or the tax cuts—all appalling in their own right—there are many who can’t cite a single concrete policy they endorse. Their attachment to Donald isn’t ideological at all, it’s personal: in other words, pure id.

This past weekend I was out in Long Island, which might as well be Alabama when it comes to Trump support. We saw several cars and trucks on the (aptly named) LIE flying massive Trump flags, and Blue Lives Matter flags, and a vehicular Trump parade to match the Trump flotillas that were staged last summer. The conventional wisdom is that these displays show the passion of Trump supporters for their man (whereas, allegedly, many Biden voters are less pro-Joe than simply anti-Don). But I think there is another reason why you don’t see a lot of ostentatious oversized Biden flags flying from the back of SUVs cutting you off in the fast lane.

Because for much of Trump Nation, the whole point is to be assholes. There is nothing else.

This is what Trump supporters mean when they say that he “speaks” to them, in a way that conventional politicians do not. For many Trump fans, the entire appeal of the man is as an expression of their grievance. This was the lesson it took us months to learn during the 2016 campaign—that Trump’s outrages, from trashing McCain to grab ‘em-by-the-pussy, are a feature not a bug. He is a human middle finger to the world, and his followers love that. He gives them permission to say the things they’re thinking, the things that they used to whisper only among their own kind; to vent their anger that they are now being forced to acknowledge that other people in this country have rights, and have been shit upon too. Maybe even worse than you.

It is not a class divide. Yeah, there are lots of blue collar Trump devotees, but there are lots of country club ones too, and they share a toxic martyr complex. At least the former have some legitimate claim to having been exploited by the system (though why they feel a stinking rich con man is their champion is beyond me, as is their refusal to find common cause with other downtrodden groups, and their constant pattern of voting against their own self-interest). By the same token, at least the latter actually benefit from Trump’s reign, venal and unjust as that is.

So which group is worse? It’s a pick ’em. But Trump has weaponized them all as part of his cult of personality.

I GOT BAD NEWS FOR YOU, CHARLIE DANIELS

Earlier last week I went with my friend Justin, who has been working for the re-election campaign of Congressman Max Rose, a first-term Democrat who miraculously won a seat in ruby red South Brooklyn and Staten Island’s 11th District in 2018. As we stood in the pouring rain pamphleteering near a polling place in the heart of Bensonhurst (a Catholic Church no less), we had various angry locals tell us that Max is a “fraud,” a “socialist,” and even a “traitor.” (Rose was an Army infantry officer in Afghanistan, where he won the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat.) A sweet little old lady approached Justin and asked him to convey to Max her wish that he should “go to hell.”

To be fair, we had a fair number of supportive passersby too. But the level of irrational hostility was as intense as the verbiage was ponderous.

A fraud? How? (Please show your work, dude shouting at us from passenger side of passing Camaro.)

A traitor? Max’s military record makes renders the charge especially absurd. The only explanation for the specificity of that insult—and it’s a chilling one—is that anyone who opposes Donald Trump is by definition treasonous…..which is precisely how Donald sees it too. (Ironically, to compete in such a heavily Republican district, Max is forced to highlight the fact that he, unlike many Congressional Democrats, has been willing to work with and support Trump on some issues, like the airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani, as well as his own law-and-order bonafides on matters like police reform.)

The question remains of what these folks will do if Trump loses and we succeed in forcing him out of the White House. (In the old days, that second part of that sentence would be unnecessary.)

Two weeks ago, in my two-part interview with the Democratic consultant I call Mr. X, this blog spent a fair amount of time discussing the possibility of Trump using the power of the presidency to enforce his hold on power. It’s a genuine concern. But the opposite scenario is also worrying: that should Joe Biden win, Trump’s followers—many of them firearms fetishists—might rise up in violent rebellion on behalf of their defeated hero. After all, he has largely succeeded in convincing a third of the country that a Biden presidency would be illegitimate by definition, and even called on his violent white nationalist supporters to “stand by.”

Such violence might indeed come to pass, in the form of anything from the mindboggling notion of outright civil war to a slow-burning campaign of domestic terrorism against the new Biden administration. Ask Gretchen Whitmer about that.

Then again, the last time a bunch of racist insurrectionists tried to do battle with the legitimate United States government, it didn’t end well for them. They’ve been pissed off and making trouble ever since.

This past weekend the threat of violence by Trump supporters, both public and private, intensified. On Saturday, police used pepper spray on children at a totally non-violent Black Lives Matter protest in North Carolina. Yesterday there was the caravan of the Trump supporters who shut down the Garden State Parkway, and on Friday the ones who dangerously forced a Biden/Harris campaign bus off the road in Texas, followed by a Trump tweet cheering them on.

But please, Fox News, keep telling me about all the “radical leftists” who have no respect for the rule of law and would institute mob rule in America.

LAWYERS, GUNS, AND MONEY

Such is the state of insurrectionism in the USA as of Election Eve 2020.

But I’ll give the GOP this: it has diversified its battle plan, committing resources to both the legal and illegal fronts. While keeping an eye on the latter, let’s now look at the former.

Slate’s Tom Scocca, whom we heard from above, describes the shameful hypocrisy of the GOP and the Supreme Court—now including three count ‘em three Trump appointees, fully a third of that once-august body—in code switching between sanctimonious rage that the will of the electorate is paramount on the one hand (when blocking Merrick Garland’s nomination), and abetting Republican efforts to disenfranchise huge and inconvenient swaths of the American people on the other (as it did in Florida in 2000, and seems poised to do again in that state, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and perhaps more).

Here we have what Scocca calls the “Republican wing of the Supreme Court, with three justices who were Bush lawyers in Bush v. Gore, flipping the court’s principle of nonintervention in active elections back and forth, depending on whether a particular intervention would give Democrats less or more opportunity to vote.”

This is the entire Republican strategy in 2020: not to win the election but to make the winner unknowable, so that Trump can claim victory. FiveThirtyEight currently gives Trump a 12 percent chance of winning, if random events and polling errors somehow overwhelmingly bounce his way. This is too small a chance to gamble on. So, instead, there are signature invalidations, deadline rollbacks, drop box removals, poll watchers.

And above it all is the president, denouncing the basic operations of voting as a grand scheme to overthrow him, and declaring that soliciting, collecting, and counting absentee ballots is inherently fraudulent. Trump’s current position, bizarrely echoed by Kavanaugh in a formal opinion, is that the states should call a winner as soon as the polls close on Nov. 3, and all the counting and certification that normally comes afterward should be viewed as a suspicious attempt to steal the election.

Trump has nothing else left. He got lucky last time, and rather than trying to build a majority on that luck, he decided to try to make his luck into election law.

So it will be ironic if, after spending months railing against mail-in voting, and the past week frothing at the mouth that we must name a winner on Election Day and curtail counting of votes afterward, Trump winds up looking down the barrel of a Joe Biden victory that he can only try to overturn by counting every absentee ballot he can, on the hope that they will include pro-Trump military personnel deployed away from their homes of record, overseas and otherwise. (That of course ignores the reality that a rising plurality of active duty US military personnel dislike Trump, but set that aside for now.)

If Trump suddenly does this kind of 180, which would not at all be out of character, you can be sure the GOP and the conservative majority on the Supreme Court will suddenly decide that they MUST intervene to count every last mail-in vote, no matter how long it takes.

A harbinger is the ongoing case in federal court asking that 127,000 votes cast at drive-thru polling places in Harris County, Texas are invalid on the grounds that—and as Dave Barry likes to say, I swear I am not making this up—drive-in polls make voting easier. Uh, isn’t that the point and why the Texas secretary of state authorized such polls in the first place, in the interest of public safety during the pandemic?

No matter, to the chutzpah-rich GOP. (So weak was the plea that even the Republican-controlled Texas Supreme Court already laughed it out of court—I repeat, Republican-controlled—but how the federal bench rules remains to be seen.) From there it is but a short hop to a lawsuit alleging that a vote for the Democratic Party is invalid because it is a vote for the Democratic Party.

Stay tuned for that, should Trump win tomorrow.

Of Trump’s strategy, the intrepid Mr. Scocca writes, “It may be a plan to hold onto the presidency, but it can’t any longer be called a plan to win an election.”

In this, (Trump) is, once again, the perfect standard-bearer for his party. The Republican apparatus, caught up in the belief that whatever gets them a victory must be legitimate, has moved beyond simple partisanship to leave electoral politics behind altogether. The party has become a nation unto itself, seceding from the political system of the broader republic; the implicit message of its long-running 21st-century program of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and rule-changing is now explicit: People voting is good for the Democrats, so Republicans are against people voting.

NIGHTMARE’S END?

In his first speech as President of the Untied States, Gerald Ford famously described Watergate as “our long national nightmare,” one ending with Tricky Dick’s departure. Whether that departure was really the nightmare’s end is debatable, but this much is not: Watergate now looks like a lumpy pillow compared to this night terror.

But when it comes to Trump, “nightmare” is the wrong metaphor altogether. A nightmare suggests a bad dream, something that pointedly isn’t real. The destruction that Donald Trump has wreaked over the past four years has been very real indeed. Moreover, it is not something from which we can merely awaken to find that all is well. We brought this calamity on ourselves, and only we can get ourselves out, and that is going to require severe self-reflection and hard work. Let’s hope we even get the opportunity.

One way or another, tomorrow will be a historic day for these United States. I’ll see you on the other side.

*************

Illustration: TKN via Alarmy

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