I had promised myself—and you—that I would stop talking about the gross elephant trampling through our Constitution (with apologies to real elephants, wonderful creatures that they are!).
My way of dealing with my strong feelings about Trump has been to make him tiny and powerless in my mind—even as I recognize his increasingly dangerous actions and expect them to continue to heighten as Election Day nears.
But then I read an article in The Boston Globe with the scary title “A bipartisan group secretly gathered to game out a contested Trump-Biden election. It wasn’t pretty.” (I’m not linking to it because on the computer it’s behind a paywall. But you can Google it on your phone.)
That article persuaded me that I need both to clarify my thinking about risks and take a steely look at the Mayhem Maker in Chief.
The Globe reports on a June meeting whose attendees included “political operatives, former government and military officials, and academics [who] quietly convened online for what became a disturbing exercise in the fragility of American democracy.”
Comprised of both Democrats and Republicans, they call themselves “The Transition Integrity Project.”
The group was considering questions that are now being asked quite openly, including by the Democratic nominee, former VP Joe Biden:
“What if President Trump refuses to concede a loss, as he publicly hinted recently he might do? How far could he go to preserve his power? And what if Democrats refuse to give in?” (all emphases mine)
Once again, as we have so many times since the beginning of Trump’s chaotic “reign,” we’ve learned that our system of government has functioned since its inception largely by norms, rather than laws.
And now we have a guy in the Oval Office who cares about neither—and repeatedly claims that vote by mail will cause vast fraud that will rig the election. That’s a cause for concern.
Never mind that there’s almost zero evidence to back up his claim, that he, himself votes by mail, and that mail-in ballots have been a staple of red states for years and have been shown to advantage neither political party. He’s simply laying the framework for contesting an election that at this point he seems likely to lose.
When asked by Fox interviewer Chris Wallace a question that should have been easy for any president, “Will you accept the election results?,” Trump answered “I’ll have to see.”
And thus crashed the biggest norm in the life of our democratic republic: casting doubt on the peaceful transition of power from one president to the next.
What would happen between November 3 and January 20, 2021, when the newly elected President is to be sworn in?
One of The Transition Project organizers, Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown and former official at the Defense Department offered this gloomy assessment:
“All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse. The law is…almost helpless against a president who’s willing to ignore it.”
In addition to Trump’s statements, Brooks said that his willingness to use federal forces to confront protesters “has really shaken people” so that ‘What was really a fringe idea has now become an anxiety that’s pretty widely shared.”
Several of their scenarios focused on swing states with divided government (Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina), which might send two different results to Congress. The Globe explained that if there were a dispute in a state’s election, the legislature and governor—of differing parties—could send differing slates of electors.
There have been many similar scare stories in the media, and I’ll acknowledge that I’m unable to totally ignore them. In a discussion yesterday, one of my friends spoke of Trump’s “Fifth Column”—the NRA. If he can’t get the sorry melange of camouflaged Federal agency guys now making things worse in Portland—and possibly soon in a city near you—to defend him, he’s got the militia that gun-toting haters have always dreamed about.
But something inside me said, “Whoa!” And that something was aided by my thoughtful lawyer friend whom I’ve quoted before.
This time he wrote:
“Let me remind everyone that the laws of probability teach us that when a disaster depends on a series of unlikely events, you must multiply to the low probability of those events to determine the likelihood of the outcome.
“If three independent events each have a ten percent chance of occurring, but each is necessary for disaster to happen, the likelihood of the event occurring is one-in-a-thousand. But the coverage on the news media seemed to add the likelihood of the occurrences to make the outcome seem probable.”
Please bear with me now while I explain why I’ve decided not to become deeply troubled by the post-election apocalypse scenarios. My positivity, however, hinges on this not being a close election. The closer to a landslide Biden gets, the better are the chances of avoiding trouble.
That means if you feel as I do, you must do everything in your power to make sure we get out the vote in huge numbers and donate what we can to combat the vast financial resources on the other side.
I’m also putting some faith in Mary Trump. The president’s niece, author of that tell-all best seller about her dysfunctional family’s creating “the most dangerous man in the world,” is a trained psychologist who knows the person in question well.
When she was asked what she felt he would do if he lost, she said if he suffered a big loss, he would flee in embarrassment.
It’s clear that Trump is unhappy; he’s lost control of the narrative, and he can’t campaign or speechify the way he’d like.
His party isn’t moving in lockstep with him at this point; there are dissenters, and they just rejected his absolute, don’t-mess-with-me insistence that a payroll tax be part of the Republicans’ next coronavirus relief package. (That legislation is definitely too late to help many Americans, and will undoubtedly be too little as well. All the more reason that we need Democrats to hold the House and take the Senate!)
Speaking of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she thinks Trump’s ambiguous talk about leaving is designed to make people think there’s no point in voting. In fact, I’ve read some reports that his fraud allegations are actually discouraging his own older white vote-by-mailers, a true irony.
But so many times this strange man has thrown wild ideas into the atmosphere and then backed away from them. He may very well try to contest the election, but since the only person he seems to care about is himself, he may actually be looking for a way to throw in the towel.
And he adores messing with our heads. He has seen, by the media reaction, that casting doubt on his willingness to vacate the Oval Office is a head-messer par excellence.
So to paraphrase the words he used when speaking about why Black Americans should vote for him, he’s probably thinking, “What have I got to lose? I can make these people crazy just by saying ‘I don’t know yet. I’ll have to see.’”
I realize none of this is solid evidence, but I think it’s better if we all focus on what we can control instead of what we can’t. We can do that by playing as big a role as we can to help this tiny man get turned out of the White House by an enormous, unquestionable mandate.
But, you may be thinking: Annie, what if you’re wrong? What if it’s as terrible as all these pundits and reporters are convinced it will be?
Well, Fred Kaplan, writing in Slate, says Trump just wouldn’t get away with it—and even if no one convinced him it was a really terrible idea and “the nightmare happens,” it wouldn’t last long. His article is worth reading, but here’s a summary.
It’s January 20, 2021. Trump says it was a fake election and he’s still president. But, Kaplan writes, “here’s what would happen next.”
*At noon, the nuclear codes expire and the officer who’s been carrying them leaves. “If Trump and whatever lackeys stay with him prevent the officer from leaving, another officer, holding a backup football [name for the code book] would join Biden at the inauguration ceremony.”
*As for fears that Trump would seize control of the military, Kaplan says forget that: they’ll immediately turn to salute now-President Biden.
“The principle of civilian control is hammered into American officers from the time they’re cadets—and the 20th Amendment of the Constitution states, “The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January’—no ifs, ands, or buts.’”
*If Trump gives the military an order, they’ll refuse it.
“If any officers obey his order—say, to circle the White House to keep him in power—they would certainly be tried and convicted on charges of mutiny and sedition, and they would know this before taking the leap.”
It’s worth emphasizing that the motley crew in cities now, unidentified and in camouflage, are not the military per se: they are a combo of Homeland Security agents, Border Patrol people, and Federal property protectors.
*The Secret Service will leave except for the small contingent who will protect him for the rest of his life.
Kaplan then states that Biden’s acting attorney general will by this time have drawn up arrest warrants for Trump and whoever remains with him for criminal trespassing, at the very least—and if he calls for armed forces or militia to defend him, he could be charged with incitement or insurrection.
And if the worst case scenario were to occur,
“a few M1 tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue should make the would-be rebels flee. It would be terrible if the standoff came to this, but Commander in Chief Biden would have this option available, if necessary.”
I don’t know about you, but I now feel so much better! Of course, we still have to be wary of voter suppression, Russian disinformation, and the Post Office (USPS).
I recently commented on another blog that now that Trump’s guy is heading the Post Office, we have to worry about vote-by-mail ballots being tossed into the incinerator. And I stated that I hate the fact that I’m entertaining conspiracy theories—except that Trump’s people probably thought about them first.
Then, unfortunately, I received some unwanted validation. A major slowdown of mail delivery is now under way, with postal workers being told to leave mail that hasn’t been delivered for the next day and to go home—something that was once anathema to their responsibilities.
That may explain why I was advised when returning a package this week that I use an alternate to the USPS because returns have been delayed and lost. This is a bad self-fulfilling prophecy, but I needed to ensure I got a timely refund, so I complied.
This Washington Post article about the planned reconfiguration of the post office to make it a profitable business observes:
“The changes also worry vote-by-mail advocates, who insist that any policy that slows delivery could imperil access to mailed and absentee ballots. It reinforces the need, they say, for Congress to provide the agency emergency coronavirus funding.
“Attacks on USPS not only threaten our economy and the jobs of 600,000 workers. With our states now reliant on mail voting to continue elections during the pandemic, the destabilizing of the post office is a direct attack on American democracy itself,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.). “It has been 59 days since the House passed $25 billion to keep USPS alive. The Senate must pass it now. Democracy hangs in the balance.”
So please consider contacting your elected officials to insist that the Post Office must function appropriately—and Congress must pass the emergency assistance that the House has demanded to keep the Post Office open at this critical time.
Eventually, Trump will no longer be in power. I expect his next gig will be on right-wing media—possibly One America News Network (OANN), which has been the source of many of the conspiracies he’s echoed and is more reliably pro-Trump than Fox these days. At one point there were stories that Don Jr. had invested in the company. The owners denied that, but a Trump-OANN relationship would be beneficial for all involved.
Except for the rest of us, who would be continually showered by off-the-wall racist and white supremacist conspiracies.
But it would be far better to have him there, speaking not all that differently from the way he does now, than anywhere near the White House.