Wednesday’s inflection point

As I predicted on Sunday, Wednesday was a day of bedlam at the U.S. Capitol. Thousands of pro-Trump protestors, egged on by Trump at an earlier rally outside the White House, occupied and defaced the Capitol for several hours.

Little was done to stop them, and even less was done to prepare for this predictable event. It was (for the moment at least) the acme of Trumpism. It was also an attempted coup, thankfully one that was badly organized and brought under control within a few hours. It was clearly a coup because it was an attempt to alter the results of the presidential election. Our mighty democracy proved very fragile on Wednesday.

Parts of the Capitol were ransacked and items pilfered. At last count, five people are dead but so far not a whole lot of people have been charged with crimes. It was arguably the first time since the War of 1812 that the Capitol was attacked, this time not by British troops but by all American insurrectionists.

(In 1954, Puerto Rican separatists managed to open fire in the House of Representatives, wounding five members of Congress. But that was not a coup as they were not trying to topple the government. It was also quickly put down. Wednesday’s events were clearly the most brazenly seditious acts since the Civil War.)

Time will tell though if Trumpism dies with this coup attempt. Trump’s social media was abruptly cut off, perhaps the cruelest thing that anyone has ever done to him. Talk of using the 25th Amendment to quickly remove Trump from office is going on even inside the White House.

The coup attempt seemed to take the wind out of those in Congress protesting Biden’s election. Only the electoral votes of two states were challenged (curiously, not Georgia’s) and early Thursday Biden’s election was certified. Yesterday Trump came as close as he has come to conceding the election, saying there will be an orderly transition. I wouldn’t bet on this as a lot of what’s left of his government is resigning instead. My other earlier bet, that Trump would flee to a foreign country, now looks a lot more likely. In the meantime, I would not be surprised if he fled the White House, probably for Mar-a-Lago, never coming back.

The ultimate outcome of this coup attempt will hopefully be to kill Trumpism, but I doubt that will happen. It probably will leave Trumpists chastened, at least for a while. One thing it has caused: the government has slipped into Democratic hands. With two Democratic wins in the Georgia Senate runoff, Democrats will control the Senate. So over four years, Trumpism caused Republicans to go from united Republican government to united Democratic government. You would think that would be a karmic shock to what’s left of the party.

On another level, what happened Wednesday was entirely predictable and was the result of demographic changes long underway that are coming to a head, just given a focus through Trump. That’s why I was not surprised when my prediction posted on Sunday came true. That it actually unfolded the way it did though may ultimately secure a better long-term outcome than if it had been beaten back. Maybe Trumpists will be satisfied with the illusion of a short-term victory in a skirmish, then go back into their conspiratorial holes. Maybe having actually lived out part of their fantasies, that will be enough.

I do suffer from what is likely to be the fantasy that those who perpetrated this crime will be held fully accountable. It would not be hard to identify and locate almost all of these lawbreakers. Aside from the many photos taken on the scene, most brought their cellphones with them. As a DailyKos poster noted, a cell tower data dump could quickly identify who were actually there. Assuming Trump is not quickly 25th Amendment-ed, what’s left of his wits though is likely to issue a blanked pardon keeping all those accountable (including presumably himself) from having justice served. Arguably all these prosecutions would stoke the flame of Trumpists, encouraging guerilla-like actions.

While a lot of this is due to the future coming too fast for Trumpists, we may have a new president that can meet the moment. The coup attempt on the Capitol may make Republicans in their diminished role more prone to compromise. It may mean that some of their craziest members, like Josh Hawley (captured raising his fist to the insurrectionists during the coup attempt) get unseated. It does mean that government can function again, albeit modestly, for a while. There is an endless list of changes that need immediate action. For a while we may get some space for these changes to happen.

My gut though tells me this is hardly over. With Trump sidelined, there will be less animus driving these people forward. But there are a massive amount of loose-cannon Trumpists out there. A likely long national struggle lies ahead.

Six days later and my stomach is still queasy

I figured I’d be out in the streets pretty soon after the election was called, not necessarily to celebrate Joe Biden’s win, but because we’d see violent actions by right wingers trying to foment insurrection, civil war, revolution or all of the above. That hasn’t happened, which is good. But I’m not at all convinced it won’t happen.

For now, Trump is hoping for a Hail Mary outcome that is unlikely to happen. Even if somehow, he could flip the results in a couple of states, which is almost impossible, Biden’s likely win with 306 electoral college votes means one or two states wouldn’t matter. So far Trump hasn’t egged on his right-wing fanatics, perhaps mindful that doing so would expose him to criminal charges once out of office. So far though the consequence of his actions hasn’t seemed to deter him. So, this may be a card he’s holding close to his chest, waiting for a special moment. Perhaps that day will be December 14, when the Electoral College meets in each of the fifty states, or January 6, 2021 when the votes are certified in Congress.

In the meantime, Trump’s acts are worrisome. He’s so far playing the wannabee dictator’s handbook. He fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, presumably because he publicly said the armed forces would not support a coup attempt. Attorney General Bill Barr has told the Justice Department it’s okay to look into election fraud issues, even though none were found. If you were going to try to carry out a coup, you’d want your toadies in all the key posts. He’s got the Justice Department in his pocket, hopes to have the Defense Department in it too and is making noises like he’s about to fire CIA Director Mark Esper. The FBI technically reports to Bill Barr, but it would be good to get rid of its director too, Christopher Wray. Trump’s got experience firing FBI directors, and he’s not enamored with Wray, so it’s not unrealistic to think he’s going to get ousted soon.

A real coup would be hard to pull off without the National Guard supporting it, and it’s pretty unlikely he can pull that off. In any event, there are chess pieces in play. Until January 20, Trump controls the government, so a coup would depend on how actively his government takes steps to pull one off. We may get half-hearted measures or a huge new Saturday Night Massacre as many levels of government leaders rebel.

Or it could all be worry for naught. Trump is notoriously distractible. Staff could keep him playing golf at one of his many resorts while he stews and tweets. It’s unlikely that right wing militias would do anything without his egging them on. After all, he told the Proud Boys to “stand down and stand by”. Good soldiers as they are, they are waiting for his orders.

Meanwhile of course he is continuing to deny reality and is ordering the government not to let a transition proceed. He still is tweeting but he’s keeping a low public profile, which is unusual for him. You can get a sense of the state of his mind by his tweets, which are now predominantly in uppercase.

In short, expect to stay on pins and needles until we see Biden sworn in and our armed forces fall in behind him. I do hope Biden appoints a presidential photographer and makes his first assignment to hang out at the White House. If Trump has to be bodily evicted, it should be captured for posterity.

Whence then for Trump? If you read me regularly, I expect him to flee this USA. I’m actually hoping for it, as he’d only do it if he figures he might get arrested. The cases against him and the Trump Organization are mostly civil, but it’s certainly possible the Manhattan District Attorney or the New York State Attorney General has a criminal case or two ready to prosecute on January 21.

It would be best if Trump left the country permanently and was always afraid that if he returned he would be indicted and possibly hauled off to jail for fleeing justice. If Trump is guilty of criminal charges, I’d love to see him in prison. But it’s probably better for our country if he stays away permanently. It’s like sending Napoleon to St. Helens. He won’t be wholly neutered but he’ll be mostly neutered, particularly when he violates Twitter’s terms of service. Not being president, his account will be easy to shut off. Twitter recently turned off Steve Bannon’s account after he called for beheading Tony Fauci.

Even with Trump out of the picture, our democracy is in a very fragile state. The seventy or so million people who voted for Trump implicitly are okay with ending democracy and having an authoritarian of Trump’s ilk ruling by fiat instead. There is a cancer on the Republican Party that I don’t think can be cured and many have noted Trump’s success and will imitate his tactics in future campaign. However, they are unlikely to be as ineffective. The Republican Party deserves to die, but right now I don’t see a split within the party severe enough where this can happen, although I predicted it would. Maybe I will be vindicated with time.

Real rule of law needs to return, and structural reforms are urgently needed to shore up our democracy. Unless Democrats win two Senate seats in a Georgia special election, it has virtually no chance of happening before 2022. There are so many issues that need fixing all at once and insufficient political capital to do them that the long-term prospects for a functioning government in our country seem bleak. Biden’s election brought us a ray of hope, but it’s just a ray. Biden’s plan for unity and comity are likely to go nowhere. If Republicans retain the Senate, their agenda will probably be party line obstruction on all levels. There is simply no incentive for them to fix our systemic issues, as they are likely to lose more power if they do. Past initiatives to broaden their party have fallen on deaf ears.

So, while I am obviously glad that Biden and Harris were elected, the odds against them are Herculean. We narrowly won an initial battle, but winning this war against democracy looks iffy at best. At least we should get some breathing room.

Defusing the angry Trumpsters

Sorry I haven’t been posting lately. For being sort of retired, my life has been plenty busy lately. Mainly I’ve been hosting family, who seem to have finally accepted that we have moved to Western Massachusetts and suddenly want to visit. My brother arrived for a weeklong visit. In the middle of it my sister arrived, along with my stepmother. For eleven days we enjoyed their company, fed them and took them places. Now things are getting back to normal and I can think about blogging again.

What thought that have been occupying my brain these last couple of weeks have not been Donald Trump, but the people who support him. Trump has been true to his form, going from crazy to crazier. I no longer worry at all about him winning the election. As I said in June, Trump is toast. I’d like to think he is smart enough to realize this, but he is surprisingly tone deaf to things like his ultra high negatives and polling that shows him pulling farther behind Hillary Clinton.

He seems convinced that he will somehow pull this election thing off somehow, unless it gets “stolen” somehow. (What a strange concern from a party that has been putting up voting roadblocks for poor and minorities.) Even Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert) has thrown in his towel. For months he was dogmatically certain that Trump had us all hypnotized. He had said he had 98% confidence that Trump would win the election because he excelled at mass hypnosis and persuasion techniques. I do give him credit for one thing: Trump certainly has his followers hypnotized. It seems there is nothing too wild that he can say (the latest is that President Obama “founded” ISIS) that will dissuade his followers from voting for him. Fortunately this is but a sizeable minority of the country. To quote Bertrand Russell, the rest of us aren’t hypnotized; we are “uncomfortably awake”. You know you are in trouble when my stepmother, who reads Bill O’Reilly’s books and watches Fox News told us she couldn’t vote for Trump. Hillary will get her vote.

This is not my first rumination about Trump’s followers. This is America, and we’re entitled to believe any crazy thing we want, which is why many of us are dogmatically certain the earth is only 6000 years old. We don’t give up our prejudices easily and I’m no exception. Rest assured though that if Bernie Sanders were the pompous, gaseous windbag that Donald Trump is I would have been the first to run away from him. A few of Trump’s halfhearted supporters have seen the light, which is mostly figuring out what side their bread is buttered on. Establishment Republicans are working hard to shut their eyes and stop their ears until after the election. They too live in the real world and they know a political disaster of potentially Biblical proportions is about to be unleashed in November against them. They are hoping their firewall of gerrymandering will allow them to maintain some modicum of political control, at least in the House. The Senate is looking likely to flip back to the Democrats.

The late Eric Hoffer wrote a number of interesting books, including The Ordeal of Change and The True Believer. It is the latter book that I am thinking about tonight. Most of us are true believers in the sense that we have certain core beliefs that virtually nothing can change. I fall into this category too. We are not open to evidence that contravenes our predetermined positions, which is why it’s very hard to get someone to change those opinions and beliefs they are most passionate about. Sometimes it takes cataclysm. In the case of Japan, it took two nuclear bombs to get them to surrender and a benevolent overlord (the United States) to introduce rational government (democracy). Just to be on the safe side though we clipped Japan’s wings, not allowing it to develop nuclear weapons or an army capable of fighting in a foreign war. In Trump’s supporters I see a lot of people behaving a lot like the Japanese before their surrender, i.e. true believers. Trump seems to be egging them on with a recent comment that suggested that those who favor the Second Amendment might unseat a President Hillary Clinton using their guns, which most read as his sanctioning her assassination.

The most dangerous day for our democracy since the Civil War may be the day after the general election, November 9, and what comes out of Trump’s mouth when he loses. Based on his bullheadedness and lack of impulse control, I would not be surprised if he asked his followers to rise up. After all, it will be the only way to “make America great again” if we unwisely choose “Crooked Hillary”. It would probably land him in jail, but it’s unclear if this would bother him, as stoking his ego seems to be all that matters. Would his supporters actually try insurrection? And if so how can it be prevented?

I think at least some will, with or without an overt call. Trump will probably call for it using weasel words that will sound like he is not directly calling for such an action, but his supporters will know what he is signaling. I think even if he says nothing at least some of his supporters will attempt to take matters into their own hands. It may be a handful of incidents or it may turn into something much more long term: attempts at insurrection that could look indistinguishable from terrorism. After all, if your cause is just, terrorism is just another tactic.

It’s hard for me to feel sympathy for Trump supporters. If any group deserves to hit the concrete, it will be his supporters. In reality, the whole Republican establishment could stand for a tar and feathering. We Democrats though are too nonviolent to do something like this. His supporters though are full of energy and certainty about the rightness of their positions. If we know anything about energy, a pocket of energy will eventually burst its container if it grows large enough. So how does an enlightened society gently prick this Trump balloon so rather than explode violently it gently drains away? How do we lead the Tea Party and Trump supporters to a better and more productive place?

Ideally, Trump would be statesmanlike enough to do this, but that’s not a likely option here. Part of the solution would be for key Republicans to forcefully and repeatedly state that insurrection and violence are not options. It wouldn’t hurt if Republicans said that anyone advocating these things would be expelled from their party. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be a good person to say this, as his loathing for all things Democratic is hardly unknown. Speaker Paul Ryan can and likely would do the same thing, but he has considerably less influence and power than McConnell. Doubtless the Bush family, Mitt Romney and most of the Republican presidential candidates would say the same. It’s important though for these people to speak up on this now, be clear and be loud throughout the general election campaign. At this point none of these people seem to be entertaining the idea that anyone in their flock needs such a lecture.

They also need a plan for the day after the election that Tea Partiers can latch onto with some measure of hope. It will be mostly more of what they did after Obama was elected: promising total obstruction, something Mitch McConnell was quite effective in doing. It won’t make a President-elect Hillary Clinton happy but it may staunch a rebellion. Hillary Clinton probably can and will speak forcefully after her election calling for calm and making it clear that she will not propose anything more than modest gun control legislation. (She is already doing the latter, but Tea Partiers aren’t listening or simply don’t believe her.)

What will prove key is how President Obama reacts to any scattered attempts at insurrection. We still have a National Guard that has controlling insurrection as part of its mission. However, when incidents are scattered and low-key, they won’t prove effective using traditional tactics. We do have police forces with plenty of armaments more suited to warfare than policing. That will help.

My suspicion is that Obama is already all over this, and this is part of his daily national security briefing. There are likely all sorts of contingency plans and all sorts of discreet surveillance going on by the NSA and FBI to nip a lot of these in the bud. But not even the NSA can be everywhere and it’s easy to acquire firearms. More lethal armaments are likely out there for those with the money and connections. All we can really do is hope they are doing their job. If they are, the bomb that are Trump supporters may mostly diffuse before Election Day.