The tension is palpable almost anywhere I turn. We have an incumbent president who will not commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election. He blatantly claims that voting by mail is subject to widespread fraud, yet nobody had found any evidence to support his claim. He encourages “Trump trains” of flag-waving pickup trucks that not only harassed Joe Biden’s campaign bus caravan in Texas, but have begun to block freeway entrances near voting locations in democratically leaning precincts all across the country.
Trump encourages white nationalist groups of thugs such as the “Proud Boys” and other extreme right-wing provocateurs while sending teams of lawyers to challenge mail-in and early voting procedures in every swing state where the voting results may be critical to the election.
Dilemmas of Democracy
Consider that we probably face one of two post-election scenarios; neither looks great. Success of massive voter suppression and ballot voiding, or of his plan to demand that the Supreme Court intervene could result in Trump victory. Or, if the vote count demonstrates a huge landslide for Joe Biden, leaving little excuse for a court intervention, we may expect a surge of right wing violence never before experienced in an American election.
In either case, various jurisdictions cannot complete their ballot counts for at least a few days, if not a few weeks. That is not unusual, since for various reasons some states have always taken much longer to complete their counts. The upsurge this election of mail-in and early voting will make the vote-counting take even longer.
Trump seems to be claiming that we should know the results by the end of voting on November 4, or he will demand that the Supreme Court—packed by the Republicans’ duplicitous manipulation of the Senate confirmation process—decide the outcome by disqualifying all ballots not yet counted. Mail-in and early voting ballots are counted by different procedures in various states, some counts will be delayed more than others. Of course, everyone knows that Democrats have voted by mail or voted early in far greater numbers than Republicans have. Any such ballot-disqualifying gambit would distort the vote in the extreme to favor a Trump victory.
Sowing Chaos to Usurp Democracy
If, as most polling data suggest, Biden wins the election once all the ballots are counted, the extreme-right domestic terrorists will take to the streets with their camo outfits, AR-15s, and assorted other military-grade weapons in support of Trump’s coup attempt. Increasingly, they have been itching to violently express their xenophobic racist autocratic ‘values.’ Trump continues to encourage their anti-democratic actions, as he has throughout his time in office.
Like all the dictators he tries to emulate, Trump is performing the fascist playbook for gaining power. He and his white nationalist followers expect to take power by overthrowing democratic norms and electoral procedures while denying the election’s legitimacy. They will claim as they already have, that protesters who object to their usurpation of the electoral process threaten law and order. They hope to confront any protest by violent means while claiming to protect the nation from “radical-left anarchists,” Black Lives Matter “looters,” etc., etc.
If citizens who object to the fascist power-grab take to the streets to protest, they will become targets for attack by gangs of so-called militia and white nationalist gangs like the Proud Boys, et al. The only way for democracy to survive is for any protestors out there to remain non-violent and avoid direct confrontation with the violent thugs supporting the attempted coup.
Transition or Tragedy: Can the Institutionalists Save Democracy?
We face a deep predicament in all this. The strategy of autocrats is to exercise every corrupt tactic they can while accusing their opponents of the very illegitimate tactics and corrupt practices that they themselves deploy with abandon. As they play out their strategy, the official election results may not become available for weeks after November 4.
During that time, the forces of American fascism will try to take power by causing as much chaos as possible. After all, chaos has been Trump’s calling card all along. Violent confrontations between Trumpist gangs and peaceful protests will only make things worse.
Despite their fragmented character and small numbers, Antifa partisans will likely try to defend against the fascist thugs, giving Trump more justification for his claims about chaos from the left, even though he has caused most of it. Street violence will not end well, especially when so many police implicitly side with the racist thugs of Trumpism.
The institutions of democracy are only as good as the commitment of the people who enact them. We have a fake president who enacts fascism in his desperate attempt to stay in office and avoid prosecution for his various financial crimes. He does so by deploying the classic tactics of autocracy. One might hope that when it comes time for the transition to a new president in January, the institutionalists in the military, the courts, and even the Senate, will stand up to the attempted coup of the one-term fake president and force his removal from the White House.