It should be obvious that Donald Trump is pulling out all stops to ensure his reelection. We can’t expect him to leave office quietly, regardless of how much he is trounced in the election. He’s been laying a lot of the groundwork already, claiming with of course no evidence that millions of mailed in ballots will somehow be rigged. He claimed that millions of “illegals” voted in the 2016 election with of course no evidence too. In his post-truth world where any evidence that doesn’t agree with his point of view is “fake news”, he can’t be expected to see things objectively. As with his malignant narcissism, we can’t expect him too. He’s no more capable of discerning truth than his false claim that his inauguration had the largest crowds ever on the national mall.
He’s also a president that has no respect for norms and is busy pushing the envelope to the maximum extent. A wannabee dictator, he is running on “law and order” and if that means sending unmarked federal agents to Portland, Oregon to throw protestors into the back of unmarked vans, well, where’s the problem? His buddy Philippine president/dictator Rodrigo Duterte had no problems telling his forces to shoot suspected criminals, screw the legal process. Trump seems compelled to see what he can get away with, and many people are taking notes. We must not allow it.
Portland is just the first city to experience this unwanted policing. It appears these are agents from Custom and Border Protection. They don’t appear to be trying to round up “illegals” but to prohibit citizens from exercising their constitutional rights to protest. It is likely that these agents are not legally allowed to do what they are doing, but like Duterte it doesn’t bother Trump. He is haphazard about obeying courts that strike down his many actions. In short, Trump plays a game of dare me and sees if he will suffer any consequences. For the most part, he won’t. By not removing him in January, Republicans in the Senate effectively put him above the law, at least until he is out office.
We are clearly in uncharted constitutional waters and it’s likely to get worse before and after the election. Trump expects that he won’t be held accountable, so why not push all envelopes? While he’s president anyhow he’s immune from most criminal charges and lawsuits, so he has plenty of incentive to remain. And if you don’t have any scruples, all’s game.
How do we deal with all of this? The answers are largely unknown. It will probably require a lot of intelligent tactics by his opponents. One thing that may help is not to inflame things, which is what Trump wants. Putting unmarked “police” in Portland has already had the obvious consequence of enlarging protests. This gives Trump an excuse to add more police and to keep upping the ante. There is some logical limit as the number of these police is limited. Too much civil unrest though could give Trump the excuse to deploy active duty troops to “keep the peace”, which is not legal but again that’s wouldn’t stop him.
So protesters can help by reducing tensions. This is not forever. We are closing in on three months until the election. Some of their tactics so far are at least innovative: a “wall of moms” and a Naked Athena confronting police. The optics of his forces tear-gassing moms is very bad. Trump feeds on conflict, so the less of it that presents itself; the likelier he is to find other things to distract him. Trump needs plenty of distractions because without them it’s easier for us to focus on the 140,000 or so who have died due to his bungling of the coronavirus outbreak, or the double-digit unemployment.
Trump is destined to lose massively in November, and bring down much of the Republican Party with him. So the real question is whether he can still retain power somehow. Legally, it’s moot. At noon on January 20 unless he wins reelection he is no longer president. Whether President Biden is sworn in our not, Biden would be president. If Biden died unexpectedly, his chosen VP would be president. It would then fall to Nancy Pelosi, assuming she retains her title of Speaker of the House. So the only issue is whether Trump could pull off some sort of coup.
Thankfully, the answer is likely no. Anyone who acted for him will be in violation of the law, as their terms expires when his does. It is true that our military in general leans more to the right than the left, but a true occupation of government would require the military’s active consent. Given how huge the country is, it’s hard to see how it could be carried out. Occupy all fifty state capitals too? There is no reason to think the military would do anything other than what they’ve always done: follow the orders of the Commander in Chief.
But as I have noted before, we can assume it will get very ugly and Trump will pull out all stops. It’s possible a massive vote against him will force him to accept reality, but given his condition it’s unlikely. So it will amount to his followers abandoning him. His cabinet won’t want to serve an illegal administration and risk criminal charges. Republicans in Congress are likely to abandon him too. No one really likes Trump, so he will be abandoned.
That won’t mean he won’t press his hardcore supporters. White guys with guns are likely to make shows of force here and there and they likely can’t be brought down until Trump is out of office. It might take the armed forces to find and kill these insurrectionists, leaving Biden with the worst possible mess to try to clean up. The period between Election and Inauguration Days are likely to be the most politically fraught and dangerous in anyone’s living memory.
The country should survive it somehow, with lots of trauma. Hopefully enough of the rule of law will remain to hold accountable all those who encouraged and ordered these events. Unlike President Ford, President Biden should not use his pardon powers to clean things up. Instead, the fundamental weaknesses in our constitutional system need to be addressed through appropriate legislation that hopefully a Democratic congress will provide.