November 5th, 2020 by Jennifer Sensiba
Throughout this year’s U.S. presidential election, I’ve seen the same thing happen over and over. First, we assume a norm of past elections will hold. Then, we hear rumors that Trump will not follow that norm, but assume it’s too extreme and that it’s either a false rumor or, if he said it, that he will chicken out. Finally, he tells us he’s doing the crazy thing in a tweet and then announces it on TV. Then, we are on to the next norm or even law that we assume will be held sacred.
At some point, we have to face that he can be taken at his word when he says he might do something, even something extreme. We also shouldn’t put anything past him, whether he said it or not.
Good outcomes are still possible (more on this at the end, I promise!), but only if we face the ugly present reality.
This isn’t about the election anymore.
First off, Trump isn’t going to officially win. Biden is projected to get 264 electoral votes as of this writing, and to keep Biden from winning, Trump must win every state not yet called by the AP. That includes Nevada (where Trump’s behind), as well as Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia. It’s just about impossible for him to bend every one of those states to his side, even with lawsuits and recounts.
He’s throwing a Hail Mary pass to the Supreme Court, where he hopes the justices he appointed will do him a favor, but even the top court must justify their decisions. Past court decisions don’t support his case, so without some real evidence of major fraud, he’s not going to get anywhere. While Republicans, Libertarians, and even I have seen some irregularities, even if proven fraud, they’re not enough to tip the election.
There’s very little chance he can pull an election out in the courts.
So, why is he continuing to push this?
He’s not dumb. He knows he’s not going to win and he (or his legal team) knows the courts are unlikely to save him. So, we have to wonder why he’s putting out tweets that are meant to look like an official announcement to have “claimed” Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, and Michigan. Of course, with these states, he would come out with 275–280 electoral votes and win the election.
At this point, though, it appears to be just wishful thinking, at least until you start thinking outside of the law.
If he knows it’s not going to legally work out, then the only alternative is that it could illegally work out. Twitter posts don’t affect vote counts, the courts, or any other lawful means of getting power. They mostly are aimed at public opinion.
At this point, we have to look at several ways in which pushing the “I got cheated!” narrative could be made to help Donald Trump.
Mild Scenario: It’s to help Republicans in future elections (unlikely)
One scenario laid out in New York Magazine is that Trump’s near-victory could energize the Republican Party. One unnamed party operative told them, “A Republican base that believes the election was stolen from Trump will show up to vote for school-board races.”
While this certainly may prove true, it doesn’t really fit Trump’s personality and is unlikely his motivation. Trump does things for Trump, and we have to remember that he has switched parties many times over the years. His most recent registration change was in 2012, when he switched from independent to Republican (again), and as president, he’s never been afraid to say and do things the party didn’t traditionally like. Sure, Republicans make excuses for him when he strays from conservative principles, but before he won the nomination in 2016, other Republican candidates weren’t afraid to tell everyone that they didn’t feel like he was really one of them.
Medium Scenario: Start riots, inspire terror attacks to stay in the White House
This one seems more likely, mostly because it benefits Trump and fits his past behavior. He has shown that he has no problem inspiring people to get violent on his behalf. Most recently, he praised a caravan of Trump supporters who surrounded a Biden/Harris bus in Texas, and during the debates, he suggested that right-wing groups should “stand back and stand by,” but added that “… somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem.”
By stirring up violence and terrorism in the U.S., he may think he could get in a position to negotiate his way back into the White House, with people allowing him to serve a second term just to get some peace and safety. If this happens, there’s nothing to prevent an illegal third or fourth term, or installing him as president-for-life (something he’s “joked” about on Twitter and at rallies multiple times).
Wild Scenario #1: Civil War 2.0
The difference between this one and the last one is only severity. If Trump manages to inspire more than a few isolated incidents of violence, involving thousands or millions of supporters in a domestic conflict, it could very easily develop into a war. While this may sound ridiculous to some readers, polls show that a majority of people in the U.S. believe that the election could result in a civil war, and even more people think widespread violence is likely. Newspapers around the world, including the Japan Times, have pieces covering the possibility.
If Trump can convince enough people that he won the election, only to have his victory stolen by the opposition, he might find that the governments of whole states, broad swaths of the military and police, and many, many more armed civilians are willing to go to bat for him. Fear of Biden’s policies, including support for a ban on “assault weapons” and a version of the Green New Deal may prove to be a powerful motivator for people to join his fight. While it’s impossible at this point to predict where such a broad conflict would begin, it’s a possibility we can no longer safely or sanely ignore.
Wild Scenario #2: President In Exile
Trump could also benefit from his rhetoric if he decides to flee the United States. While his remarks at a rally about leaving the country may be in jest (he was talking about the embarrassment of losing to Biden), he has followed through on “jokes” in the past. In Politico, a retired general walks us through the possibilities. Facing the end of presidential protection from lawsuits, prosecution, and other legal outcomes he wouldn’t enjoy, Trump may choose to find a more friendly country to live in. Image is a big thing for Trump, and it would be easier on his ego if he could claim he was driven away from the United States instead of admitting that he chose to leave.
The worst way this could turn out would be Trump calling himself “President in Exile,” and claiming to be the rightful President of the United States. That would potentially leave millions of people feeling like President Biden isn’t legitimate, which could lead to violence or war.
All of the Above?
It’s entirely possible to get all of the above.
Less radical Republicans would see a “stolen election” as a political opportunity, and would start planning for ways to capitalize on it in 2022 and 2024. Radical Republicans could see it as a reason for violence, thinking it’s justified self-defense against an illegitimate tyrannical regime. If it develops into a war, Trump might flee if it goes badly, or it could happen in his absent encouragement.
Why worry about this?
It’s tempting at this point to say something like “it won’t happen where I live” or “the police and military will handle it.” A little more thought shows us that those hopes aren’t a plan. Even a few people ready to get violent over the election can cause a lot of trouble, and you can’t be sure that the police and military in your area won’t be ideologically aligned with one side or the other. Even if they’re committed completely to peace and neutrality, supply chains and daily life could still be disrupted during such turmoil while it’s being dealt with.
The best thing you can do to prepare for such things is be ready for temporary disruptions. To learn more about emergency preparedness, visit FEMA’s Ready.gov.
The Bright Side!
While all of these things seem scary at first glance, don’t forget that problems are only opportunities in work clothes. Even better, one side doesn’t need to dominate everything to have good outcomes. If the political process does get disrupted, it gives an unprecedented opportunity for people on all sides of politics to find better ways to take care of everyone’s differing needs.
In politics, we may find that we are better off with proportional representation, multi-seat districts, ranked choice voting, and other reforms that give everyone a voice instead of shutting out somewhere around half of voters and more than half of the population every election. This would allow everyone from gun owners to clean energy enthusiasts the ability to get things done without being bogged down in the broken and divisive two-party system.
It’s also likely that the people who started a big violent conflict lose some legitimacy and power before it’s all over. If we can find our way back to peace, we could find that the far right’s hold on things like fossil fuel policy isn’t as tight as it once was. Also, when everyone has the unwanted opportunity to see how easily the basics of life like safety and stable supply chains can slip away, people will have a new appreciation for more resilient technologies like solar roofs and battery storage. If we are smart, and don’t forget what we stand for, we might find ways to make things better.
The future, even when bleak, is only what we make of it. Let’s make it a good one!
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