The Trump Can’t Be President So He’s Burning Down American Democracy
The last few weeks of the Trump Presidency may prove to be the most dangerous of all. Instead of conceding, or throwing in the towel, or giving up, he’s doubling down. On a coup.
He is not interested in conceding or giving up — because his movement was never about democracy in the first place.But by no means is the attempted coup over — and the goal isn’t what you might think it is, either.
We saw a dramatic display of that just last night, when Republican officials in Michigan refused to certify the vote. An outcry ensued. And Michigan’s Secretary of State, Jocelyn Brown, stepped in to reassure people that votes would be certified by the state if these officials wouldn’t do their jobs properly.
That’s where Trump’s coup strategy is headed now. Burning down American democracy. As much of it as he can. On his way out. To weaken it for… next time.
This part of the coup is about trying to stop the election directly, by intervening in the electoral college. That’s a big problem for America. Because the electoral democracy is an archaic, frail, vulnerable institution. You can see how just two officials threw a state’s vote count into chaos — until the Secretary of State stepped in.
Yo which leans heavily, aggressively Republican, is likely to decide it for them.
And then America’s in a nightmare situation — a proper constitutional crisis.
The problem is that there are many, many routes there. Last night, in a little-seen lawsuit, Trump personally named electors. He is going to try to punish them for doing their jobs, threatening them with legal action, and so forth. Could you afford to fight a court case against…the President of the United States?
Trump knows something too many American liberals don’t — in the majority of states, there are no laws enforcing the idea that electors vote the popular will. There is nothing much, in other words, protecting them. Trump and his fanatics know that they can try to intimidate them — and maybe even get away with it.
The name of the next game here is electoral abuse. See how those two officials in Michigan created a mini-crisis all their own? How they can escalate it even now?Anything could happen, more or less. The electoral college, at this level, as a bureaucracy, as an institution, is wide open to abuse, precisely because it mostly rests on norms, via state laws, not federal laws.
What happens if Michigan’s Secretary of State says the votes must be certified this way, but the Supreme Court says they don’t have to be? A constitutional crisis ensues. How is it to be resolved? One idea I heard floated was for the House not to seat representatives from Michigan in response. But that’s just retaliation — it doesn’t fix the problem.
What does that mean? Half of Republicans already think “the election was stolen” from them. Trump knows that a consolation prize worth walking away from the Presidency would be raising that number high enough to keep his movement again. Then he’s back in four years — or maybe Ivanka is, or Jared is, or Donald Junior is. Does that sound ridiculous to you now? So did the idea of Donald Trump as President in 2012. Don’t discount these possibilities just because they seem remote right now. In periods of social collapse, the improbable all too often becomes probable.
Trump would be quite happy settling for burning American democracy to the ground — as much as he can — because it sets up the roots of Trumpism all over again, maybe even stronger. Last time, the grievances were about failed elites, hated minorities, dirty, filthy subhumans — who were all standing in the way of Making America Great Again.
Think about next time. Now all those people stole an election from us. How much hotter will the fires of grievance and resentment burn? How much better a tactic to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes is there than to blind them with rage? Trumpism emerges stronger — if Trump can pull it off. Pulling it off doesn’t mean staying in office necessarily — that isn’t the point of the coup anymore. It’s to create the impression, the illusion, that “the election was stolen from us!!” To fan the flames of rage, so that Trumpists focus on that, instead of maturing, growing, learning. It’s to misdirect and exploit, as usual.
Along the way, so much the better if portions of American democracy are left charred ruins. If the GOP becomes a party that is outright hostile to democracy, period.Who is all that good for? Trump, his movement, the fanatics, the fascists, and authoritarians. All of these things leave a democracy scarred, weaker, eroded, corroded, corrupted — often for life. All these things mean Trump still has absolute power over the GOP, that he can mislead and incite his base, that outright authoritarianism is the explicit goal this side openly pursues, that America’s institutions of democracy are left weakened to the point that it’s more vulnerable next time around.
If that doesn’t make sense, think about the new norms and precedents all this sets. The President is a figure who won’t leave office. Who floods courts with authoritarian lawsuits. Who corrupts officials. Whose party winks and says, “shucks, I don’t know who won the election yet” — as electoral intimidation happens. His movement of fanatics believes the election was stolen from them.
The objective of all this is to create a constitutional crisis. And so those are seriously, seriously unhealthy norms and precedents, ones aimed at creating constitutional crisis, that are new in America, which are more in line with failed states — and yet that aim,
To really get all this, you have to see the point of burning down American democracy: it’s a good enough consolation prize for Trump because it leaves the nation even more divided, democracy weaker, politics corroded, its ideals corrupted, norms shattered, and in tatters — all of which makes finishing it off the next time easier. Lose a battle — but inflict enough damage — win a war.
there aren’t electoral machinations going on, random officials can’t create a crisis, Secretaries of State don’t have to step in, the courts don’t have to deal with challenges of which just a handful have to be successful, the Supreme Court isn’t stacked heavily against democracy, an entire side of democracy doesn’t believe in it anymore, and half of that side doesn’t think the election was stolen from them. All that is the coup working, not the system.
Trump is inching closer to sparking a constitutional crisis by the day. The system is indeed fending off Trump’s challenges, but that is not a system working. It is a system barely functioning. In a democracy, nobody should be able to nakedly, aggressively mount a full-frontal attack aimed at
constitutional crisis — especially not the President. All the approaches and tactics and strategies above should not have been able to happen in the first place. Trump should not be able to intimidate officials, punish electors, create mini-crises, mount endless legal challenges. That is all a soft coup, and it’s working — at least in the sense of Trump destroying as much of democracy as he can on the way out.
It’s crucial to understand this because too many Americans are operating with just that blithe assumption:its people do. And so he’s mounting a soft coup. The point of the coup isn’t necessarily to stay in power — though it’d be nice for him. It’s to weaken what’s left of American democracy, corroding, corrupting, and eroding whatever norms, rules, principles, and codes he can, while strengthening Trumpism, fanning its resentment, keeping it focused on grievance, blinding it with rage.