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.

A time for courage and for antacids

Five months from today we are likely to wake up and find that Joe Biden is our president elect. Donald Trump’s reelection seems increasingly unlikely, given that many polls now show Biden has a ten-point lead over Trump. Or maybe we won’t know. One factor in this election is that there may be a crush of absentee ballots that will take days to tabulate. But hopefully we are less than five months away before we can begin to return to some semblance of normalcy.

But can anything go back to normal after such a disruptive president as Donald Trump? Trump has been our gorilla in the china shop president, gleeful in breaking norms and rules. Given his advanced case of narcissism, as I speculated in an earlier post, he is unlikely to go quietly. In fact, he will go kicking and screaming, and will do his best to initiate a fascist state before then.

This week’s events alarmed most of us, which were preceded by last week’s alarming events with the death of George Floyd, unquestionably murdered by three officers of the Minneapolis police. You can watch all 8:46 seconds of it online, if you have the stomach for it. The murder caused predictable demonstrations followed by some looting and violence. Never one to miss an opportunity, Trump used the event to move us more dangerously close to fascism. He threatened to deploy active duty troops wherever needed, supposedly to restore order. There is a law called Posse Comitatus that prohibits just this, but of course Trump never seems to be concerned about his law breaking. He may use the Insurrection Act instead which other presidents have used, for example, to force integration in Alabama public schools but which most scholars agree is out of line for these events.

Chances are if it is even a fig leaf excuse, he will use it, which suggests dark days ahead. It was brought out on Monday when he ordered the Secret Service and Park Police to clear Lafayette Square of protestors who were peacefully demonstrating, all in order to stage a photo op in front of nearby St. John’s Church holding a Bible held upside down. To show what a man he was, the forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and a dangerously low helicopter hovering over protestors.

Clearly Trump hasn’t read the Bible, but even if he were a Christian he wouldn’t be the first Christian to ignore Jesus’s advice to turn the other cheek. In pursuit of the Christian evangelical voters, his forces also pushed out a pastor of the church. All this was made much worse because the order apparently given by our Attorney General supplicant Bill Barr and endorsed by our Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Esper later seemed to walk remarks that active duty troops should be used to quell unrest.

The next day Trump engaged in another obscenity by staging himself next to a statue of Pope John Paul II, who must be turning in his grave in the Vatican. Meanwhile, protests continue. Even our little city of Northampton, Massachusetts had more than a thousand people protested in front of the police department. Our chief of police took a knee with protestors. A huge dance is underway nationally and there’s really no way to know how this will all turn out. For most of us with a lick of common sense, we know it’s likely to get much worse, not better.

Trump is feeling the heat, of course, but all he knows how to do is double down. None of this actually helps him get reelected, so it’s counterproductive. He and the Republican Party are hoping with enough voter suppression they will eke out a win somehow. Trump didn’t win in 2016 with his base; he just managed to convince enough other voters in a few swing states (just 80,000) to pull off his unlikely victory. To win he will have to persuade more than his base, but it’s clear he won’t bother. From the day of his election he’s believed that he can win reelection with just his base, which is slowly diminishing.

All this plus a COVID-19 pandemic. It has officially caused more than 100,000 deaths in the United States. Just his handling (or rather lack of handling) of that is enough to doom his reelection, but it only gets worse from here on. A country that has five percent of the population and 30% of its deaths is obviously doing things catastrophically wrong. A twenty percent unemployment rate won’t help either. As the deaths mount up, it will just shrink his base, which are disproportionately old and white. Many seniors seem to have woken up and Biden now leads among them, perhaps because the sense Trump would go after Social Security and Medicare if reelected.

But of course the election won’t matter if you can neatly create a dictatorship before then. Trump realizes he can’t stop the election and he is likely to lose it, but that doesn’t mean he can’t claim it was rigged and see if he can use the armed forces to ensure that he retains power. He seems to be doing all the things that wannabee dictators are doing, just ineptly. It remains to be seen whether the military would be true to the people or Trump. It sure looks like these demonstrations are being used by Trump to see what he can get away with.

In any event, if you’re not having trouble sleeping and you aren’t reaching for the antacids, you should be. There are some signs of hope, but it’s hard to know how much to read into them. George W. Bush, for example, spoke up for protestors without actually criticizing Donald Trump. Any Republicans left who are looking for cover for mildly rebuking Trump can site Bush. Barack Obama doesn’t seem to be staying on the sidelines either. We haven’t heard from our only other living ex-president, Bill Clinton, but hopefully he will pile on the criticism too.

None of this is likely to matter to Trump, but it is likely that whatever he attempts he may find himself hastily walking back. It may be that his ever-expanding line of privilege will finally make too many key Republicans turn against him. A bully’s power is actually very fragile. Republicans may be already sensing the electoral disaster likely to take many of them out now less than five months away. Some may be more scared of being voted out of office than hanging with a losing Trump.

As screwy as today’s events are, I know in my gut that the time between Trump’s defeat and the inauguration of his likely successor will be the most dangerous time for our country since the Civil War, or perhaps in our country’s entire history. It’s time to stock up on the antacids. It’s also time for many of us to show the backbone we haven’t, particularly many people of privilege, i.e. white and moneyed guys like me. This likely won’t be solved at the ballot box, or by liking someone’s tweets, but by uncomfortably personal, face-to-face, civic engagement likely happening tonight in a city near you.