Hold onto your hats on January 6th

It sure would be nice if it were January 20th already. Unfortunately, we still have more than two weeks to go. To no one’s surprise, Trump isn’t going quietly. In the interim he plans to make things as dangerous as possible for our country. It’s also likely that once out of office he’ll spend most of his time trying to undermine the Biden Administration, aided and abetted by plenty in Congress who in the meantime will make one last quixotic attempt to overturn the election on Wednesday.

Wednesday is when Congress counts the electoral votes submitted by the states. Like on the day electoral votes were cast in state capitals, Trump plans to make mischief. He is urging his supporters to protest in Washington, protests that have effectively carried on for about a month as his supporters seem to have taken up long-term residence at the Hotel Harrington. Members of his party in both the House and Senate are planning to object to the votes submitted by certain states that gave Biden a majority in the Electoral College. They are alleging numerous ballot fraud issues, none of which have passed the muster of state or federal judges or various recounts (three times in parts of Georgia) where the alleged voter fraud took place.

Since the House will be controlled by Democrats, it won’t go anywhere but the process may take a couple of days to play out, since votes for each state can be challenged and each challenge requires two-hour meetings by both houses of Congress. You can bet Trump is working the phones to get more Republican senators to fall in line in this doomed effort. All this plus the planned protests on Wednesday raises the likelihood of violent protests.

The Capitol is a very secure building but even it is under potential threat. I haven’t read any news stories about what if anything is being done to add extra security to the Capitol. I sure hope it’s quietly being done. Presumably all the Capitol Police will be there. If I were DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, I’d be quietly putting all DC police on this beat too, and have DC’s National Guard ready and waiting. The game here might be to shut down Congress so no counting can finish. It technically wouldn’t keep Trump in power as his term expires at noon on the 20th and would leave Nancy Pelosi as the acting President. But it could spark the large-scale civil unrest that many groups like the Proud Boys seem to want to unleash. A government in anarchy is at least not one controlled by Democrats, or anyone else for that matter.

We’ll see how much of this worst-case scenario unfolds, but it’s all because Donald Trump is incapable of accepting his defeat. And that’s because he suffers from malignant narcissism, a condition that is seemingly shared by many of his supporters. With a few exceptions like Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, those supporting Trump in Congress know their protests are pointless and won’t change the outcome. This is just a flanking maneuver for the one thing they truly care about: being unchallenged in a 2022 primary.

So, my worst-case scenario seems to be happening much later than sooner, but is underway nonetheless. The process is designed to sort through these issues much earlier, which is in fact what occurred. It was just that Trump was incapable of accepting the results.

What if anything should be done in response? What’s playing out, on a macro level, is really the reaction of Republicans realizing they are moving toward a permanent minority status. Unable to broaden their coalition because compromising their principles is a non-starter, all they have left that they haven’t tried is to unconstitutionally wrest power away from those to whom voters have granted it. In other words: to break the law and perhaps start a new civil war in the process. The mere idea of permanent minority status is unacceptable and it appears any means necessary to keep it from happening is okay with them. As for Trump, it’s all about protecting his fragile ego which can’t abide with the shame of being certified a loser.

But things may get worse before Congress counts the electoral votes. If voters in Georgia elect two Democratic senators on Tuesday, control of Congress passes narrowly to the Democrats (with a split Senate and with Vice President Elect Kamala Harris the tie breaker), effectively one-party government. A lot of this may be self-inflicted. Trump himself has already suggested these Georgia runoff election outcomes will be illegitimate. Many of his minions have urged Republicans not to vote in the election, apparently blaming Trump’s baseless voter fraud claims, making this scenario all the more likely.

The uneasy and tacit rules of governing seem to be becoming unglued. Democracy itself appears to be breaking down in the United States. All this feeds the outcome that Trump supporters seem to clearly want. In other words, chaos is not a bug in their system, it’s now a feature. Even if they don’t prevail this time, by breaking precedents they are creating a future where they expect to get their way regardless of how the voters vote.

This should be and is terrifying. Hold onto your hats.

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.

Trump is planning to lose

It’s clear to me that Trump is planning to lose the election.

The evidence is hard to miss. His campaign is going broke. He’s not advertising at all in some of the swing states he won last time. To the extent he is advertising, it is down in the Deep South where some states like Georgia look to be in jeopardy. He seems uninterested in debating Joe Biden. His only interest is in holding rallies that only his supporters attend.

He’s also not doing any of the things you would expect a candidate to do to win an election. He’s not moving toward the middle. He’s not telling voters his wonderful plans for a second term; he has none.

But recall that Trump did not expect to win in 2016 either, and saw the campaign as an opportunity to rebrand himself and his image. It’s easier to see now because the New York Times story on his tax returns has documented that he was losing money. The Apprentice gig had dried up and he was piling up massive loans to overseas lenders. He was likely flabbergasted to win as it wasn’t in his business plan at all. From his governing style, it is clear he was not interested in the actual mechanics of governing a country.

The 2016 campaign was a lot of fun, though. He could do what he likes to do best: hold rallies, tweet, yell at opponents and fake enemies and promote himself as the smartest and best person in the world. That’s what he’s been doing during his presidency as well, based on how he is spending his time. Actual governing continues to bore him and he just tunes it out.

So, Trump’s planning to lose should be good news, but in Trump’s case, it’s not. He realizes he’s going to lose the popular vote and the Electoral College massively, but he’s not convinced he can’t stay in power somehow anyhow. He should have “his” new member of the Supreme Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in place to hear challenges to the election. With a 6-3 conservative court, three of whom he appointed, the odds look better than they should.

He’ll try every possible path to overturn the will of the voters. He’ll try to twist states with Republican controlled legislatures to award their electoral votes to him against the popular vote in the state, a possible but dubious strategy which is actually legal, in many cases. He will spin up all sorts of spurious lawsuits, making the case that the votes were rigged and that only votes cast on Election Day should count, unless, of course, mail in ballots favor him in a particular state. It’s all going to be a huge mess and he’ll hope “his” court will twist all sorts of rules to make him president anyhow. If he succeeds, it will effectively end our republic.

In addition, you can expect him to try to foment civil unrest, unchaining groups like The Proud Boys he told to “stand back and stand by” at the first presidential debate. He thrives in a climate of fear and distraction. but it’s unclear whether much of this will materialize if he loses. In any event, the clock will be against him. The Electoral College meets on December 14, not in Washington but in fifty state capitals. If some states manage to cast their electoral votes for him when they should have gone to Biden, it likely won’t be enough to deny Biden the presidency. Trump’s own foot dragging on his own reelection suggests he’ll bank it all on some last-minute Hail Mary unlikely to work.

Trump is likely to also try tactics tried out in Washington, D.C. and Portland, Oregon: placing National Guard troops in many cities to control civil unrest. As governors control the National Guard, it’s hard to see how this would work unless he somehow overrides their authority. It’s unlikely that either the National Guard or our active military would do much to occupy state capitols and keep the Electoral College from meeting. If it happens at all, it is likely to be a muted and ineffective response. In any event, if we need the National Guard to quell unrest, it will probably be to quell unrest from right-wing fringe groups like The Proud Bois.

A more likely result will be calls from some states to secede from the country. This does nothing to make him president, but does allow certain states to express their dismay about the direction of the country. There doesn’t appear to be the passion for a new confederacy in the South there was at the start of the last Civil War, and any new confederacy would be a much more shrunken version. The only real pivotal event would be some sort of military occupation of the U.S. Capitol to keep the Congress from certifying the results of the election. With no certification though, Nancy Pelosi would become acting president.

So, most likely Trump is checkmated. There are too many loose ends, too many improbable things that have to happen, and too little time to do it. He’ll likely slink out of the White House at the last possible second. All of Trump’s actions so far have been to build a case for why he will lose. You’ve heard many of them: rigged ballots, the deep state, Never Trumpers, etc. His goal is to leave office with the hanging question that the election was illegitimate somehow. Most likely when gone he will refocus his efforts for a run in 2024, God help us.

Which is Trump’s way of winning. The presidency has never interested him, but he is very much interested in saving face, staying in the news and in everyone’s mind. Those of us hoping his defeat will mean seeing and hearing much less from him are likely to be disappointed. The best we can hope for is he spends years fighting civil and criminal charges, maybe ends up in prison, and that Twitter cuts his feed. If a criminal conviction looks likely, I expect he will simply flee the country. He lives by his own rules and won’t be held accountable. He had better hope that Vladimir Putin will be willing to take him in.

In any event we will all need extra antacids after November 3, not fewer.