USA vs. Trump: Endgame.
or: "how serious do i need to be about planning to get out of the country"
Hello, everybody. At T minus 12 days, 538 gives Biden an 87% chance of winning the election. But the thing to remember is that winning the election is only the beginning.
As I see it, Trump's endgame plan to stay in power is like:
- Plan A. fake a Biden scandal to depress turnout.
- Plan B. go really hard on voter intimidation and suppression.
- Plan C. if that doesn't work, get the courts to disenfranchise people and disqualify ballots in close states, hoping to get the supreme court to make the final call.
- Plan D. if that doesn't work, get state legislatures to ignore their voters and send in Trump electors to the Electoral College.
- Plan E. if that doesn't work, use the false narrative he's created among his cultists to insist the election was stolen from him, order them to start an insurrection/civil war. There are thousands if not millions of heavily-armed Trump fanatics who are itching to start shooting liberals and just waiting for the signal from their god-emperor.
- Plan F. if that doesn't work, he's still got 11 weeks between election day and inauguration day to use his power to just inflict as much damage as possible on the country out of pure spite and to sabotage the incoming admin
(Note what was never anywhere in this plan: "be popular by governing well", by, for example, getting a second stimulus through the Senate. Ha ha! The very idea!)
Let's go through all these plans and game out the possibilities.
Plan A, Fake a Biden Scandal
Plan A seems to have already failed. Trump already got himself impeached over it once. The extremely fishy story with Rudy Guiliani and the laptop repair shop (which reputable journalists wouldn't touch -- even the reporters at New York Post refused to have their names on it) was likely intended to support the bogus investigation he was trying to pressure Ukraine into announcing.
It's not working because nobody outside the Fox News bubble fucking cares about Hunter Biden and Ukraine. (I suspect those in the bubble don't really care either, except in as much as they love having a "whatabout" to all of Trump's scandals). Trump only thinks this is a winning argument because he's so deep in consuming his own propaganda. Fox News caters their stories to flattering his ego and he watches and believes them.
Inside the Fox News bubble they really think hunter biden's laptop is gonna save them. They also think polls are all fake. It actually reminds me of 2012, when the Fox News believers were convinced Bengazi and the "un-skewed" polls would guarantee Romney victory. (It turned out the polls were off, in that they underestimated the Obama vote.)
The actual facts of the case don't support that anything out of the ordinary happened with Burisma; a Senate investigation found no wrongdoing. We can all see Trump raging in public against his own justice department for failing to launch an investigation, when there's nothing to investigate.
I believe the Bidens are probably corrupt, but probably like, the average amount of corrupt for politicians. even if all the accusations are true it would be, like, 1/5 of the amount of corruption that the trump family crime syndicate gets up to in an average week. "look! my opponents are almost as corrupt as me!" is not really a winning argument. of course it doesn't need to win, it just needs to depress turnout to make the race close enough to steal.
Anyway, we can see Plan A isn't working because Biden maintains a strong lead in swing-state polls.
Everybody is like "Clinton was up in polls in 2016 too, that doesnt' mean anything" but there's a huge difference: Clinton's best swing-state leads in 2016 were "six points" but that six points was "45%-39%" which means a huge number of undecided voters. The undecideds mostly hated both Clinton and Trump and the majority of them decided at the last minute to take a chance for the devil they didn't know.
Biden's leads look like "52%-46% which is similarly "a six point lead" but being above 50 means there aren't enough undecideds to make you lose. There's also the fact that democrats are not checked out or overconfident this time, Biden is not widely hated like Clinton was, and Trump has an actual record to defend instead of being an outsider. (An indefensible record, which is why he keeps trying to change the subject to pseudo-scandals.)
(my prediction in my earlier post that Biden would be a weak candidate in the general election seems to have been proven incorrect. His strategy seems to be "look reasonable and watch trump self-destruct", and it seems to be working. I'm very happy to have been wrong.)
Finally, any surprises in the final weeks of the campaign are mattering less this year because 40 million people have already voted. Which brings us to:
Plan B, voter suppression
...is in progress. The "poll watchers", the trump gangs there to intimidate people, the endless lawsuits to invalidate votes, prevent early voting, prevent mail-in votes, DeJoy's sabotage to the post office so mail-in votes arrive late, the removal of drop boxes, etc. They're going to try to scare away as many people from voting as possible, while trying to invalidate as many votes as they can.
Also looming over us is the threat of foreign election interference. It happened in 2016, Mitch McConnell has successfully blocked congress from doing anything to prevent it, and now it's happening again. However, it's unclear how many votes Russian interference actually moved last time. I assume Russia's main goal is to help Trump sow doubt on the legitimacy of the results, rather than to move votes per se.
The best way to fight back against Plan B is to get out the vote, preferably early voting. This seems to be working, as we have record early voting numbers. People figured out that all the threats against the post office meant that early in-person voting was the best way to avoid COVID while also avoiding mail-in ballot fuckery.
We can look at the early voting and see that at least we're probably not in a world of voter apathy and low turnout. If the strategy was to depress turnout that at least seems to be failing.
But Plan B is still in progress, and we are fighting it now. Remember, the election isn't November 3, the election is right now. It just ends on November 3. Vote if you haven't already, get everybody you know to vote if they haven't already, and if you live in a swing state, help people get to the polls.
I wrote postcards to Georgia encouraging early voting, I've also been volunteering for voteriders.org to help people get the ID they need so they aren't turned away by restrictive voter ID laws.
Not only does early voting help people avoid long lines, avoid Trump "poll watchers", and avoid questions about counting of mail-in ballots, but early in-person voting also reduces the chances of a situation where Trump appears to be ahead on Nov 3 before all the mail-in ballots are counted. Which brings us to...
Plan C, The Courts
so we know for a fact, as much as we can ever be sure about anything, that Trump will declare premature victory on Election Night, before all the votes are counted. Every strategy from here on depends on Trump creating and sustaining a false narrative that he's the "real" winner, and the election was "stolen" from him by "corrupt" democrats. He's been pre-emptively whining about this every day for the last six months, so his supporters already believe it.
There's a saying that "the most important purpose of elections is to convince the loser that they lost". Trump will never be convinced he lost. His ego won't allow it. And even if it did, he's in so much legal trouble as soon as he leaves office and loses presidential immunity. Presidential pardons don't work for state crimes, and the Southern District of New York is closing in on him for his decades of crimes. Assume he will fight like a cornered animal, and doesn't give a shit about any amount of damage to America or any number of American lives.
If there's a Biden landslide, which is what will happen if the polls are accurate and everybody's votes are counted, then it's a lot harder for Trump to get anybody outside the hard-core to buy into his narrative. It really depends on what Fox News does, because they create reality for 40% of the country. If the results are so clear that Fox News doesn't go along with Trump's victimhood narrative, it's over. Skip ahead to Plan E or Plan F.
But let's say it's not a landslide. Say the electoral college depends on one or two states. States like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where results are still being counted for some days after Nov 3, and where there's already been a lot of litigation over ballot-counting rules. Such that there's any room whatsoever for ambiguity in the results. This is where it gets really dangerous.
Republicans are clearly hoping to challenge ballots all the way up to the supreme court, in a repeat of 2000. This is why they're in such a rush to confirm judge Barrett before the election. Trump expects his supreme court appointees to be personally loyal to him and help him steal the election.
It was a 4-4 SC non-decision this week that let Pennsylvania continue to count ballots after election day. Assume with Barrett confirmed it would have been 5-4, which is alarming because it would be the supreme court overturning a state supreme court's interpretation of that state's own constitution. This indicates that the court with Barrett will not be "conservative" or "originalist" or respectful of "state's rights" but will be a highly activist court, actively looking for ways to invalidate votes.
I think this is currently Trump's most realistic chance to stay in power, so it's the scenario I'm currently most worried about.
Barrett is going to be confirmed, so there's really no defense against Plan C other than "win by such a margin that throwing out every slightly questionable vote in Pennsylvania doesn't change the outcome"
I think people accepted the supreme court picking the president in 2000 because A. both the popular vote and the Florida vote were perceived as being tied for all intents and purposes, and B. a lot of voters perceived the two candidates as being so similar as to be basically interchangeable, which is clearly not the case in 2020.
Everybody is going to be pissed. There's no way the losing side accepts the court results relatively gracefully like they did in 2000.
Plan D, the Electoral College loophole
This is a rather exotic possibility, but apparently there's a legal path for a state legislature to simply ignore the will of its voters and choose its own electors to send to the electoral college. In this case, a Republican state legislature choosing Trump electors to send. There might even be dueling slates of electors, if the governor validates one result and the legislature another. Most of this has never been tested in the modern era, and the scenarios that can be gamed out go from "weird" to "utterly farcical", but there's nothing in the Constitution that actually stops this. The closest we came to an undecidable Electoral College was I think the 1876 election which sent Rutherford B Hayes to the white house as part of a terrible compromise that ended Reconstruction.
One would hope that even Republicans would think twice before subverting democracy in such a blatant way. but I don't think anything is beneath Republicans anymore. It really depends on how much ambiguity there is in the margins, i.e. how many votes they can find an excuse to de-legitimate. It also depends on how much state legislature republicans are buying into Trump's alternate universe where he was "cheated" and thus how much they can justify to themselves that they're "fixing" the vote.
It will be perceived a lot differently depending on how blatant the vote theft is. If it's close to a tie like in 2000, where they only have to throw out a couple hundred questionably-spoiled ballots in one state, then I think the Republicans probably get away with it. Versus, if Biden wins the popular vote by ten million votes and is ahead by hundreds of thousands in multiple swing states, and the courts or electoral college still try to change the result, then there will be a wide perception it's illegitimate.
What we normal people, who are not judges or legislators, can do in a Plan C or Plan D scenario, is make it very clear that:
- the result of the vote is sovereign and non-negotiable
- we interpret any attempt to override it via court or legislative shenanigans, as an illigitimate coup
- we pressure all our elected officials at all levels to remember their oaths of office and hold firm against this coup attempt.
- we will not respect the authority of a government installed by such a coup
- we are ready to shut down the country with mass protests, general strike, civil disobedience etc.
(I'm getting my "COUNT ALL THE VOTES" protest sign ready now.)
At this point, if we back down, we lose. If we hold firm, there's a chance that they back down, and we win. If nobody backs down, then this might escalate to violence. At that point, we're way past worrying about votes or laws, and into the "whose side will the police and the military take?" part of the attempted coup. Which brings us to...
Plan E, Civil War II
Three Percenters, Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, Q-anon true believers, miscellaneous "anti-government" "militia" who all suddenly turned out to be pro-government as soon as there was an openly white-supremacist authoritarian president.
(There's also boogaloo movement, who seem a little more complicated, in that they're legitimately more "anti-government" then they are "pro-Trump", but more than anything they're "pro-civil-war" so you'd still really rather not see them gather in your town with guns.)
A lot of these guys are itching to shoot "antifa" "communist" "terrorists" ( = liberals, minorities). They're just waiting for their god-emperor to give them the go-ahead. ("Proud boys, stand by"). There have already been scattered incidents of trump-inspired terrorism, shooting sprees, going into BLM protests looking to start a fight so they can shoot somebody in "self-defense", etc. and a willingness of Fox News to make heroes out of anybody who kills a BLM protestor.
(These guys thrive on urban legends about an "Antifa Bus" supposedly coming to their suburb to loot and burn things. Never mind that that's never actually happened and is based on no evidence; the militia goons are all hyped up on crying "wolf" to themselves. They've invented a threat that they're "defending" us from, much as the original Nazis insisted they were "defending" Germany from Bolsheviks and Jews)
So basically, if plans A through D didn't work, all Trump has to do is tweet "Help help I'm being overthrown by a corrupt deep state and fake votes from illegal immigrants, save me using your Second Amendment Rights" and he has a ready-made paramilitary.
How bad could this get? It really depends on what the military and the police decide to do, because they have the most guns.
One possibility is that there's a lot of individual Trumpist terrorist attacks, a string of Oklahoma City bombings and El Paso shootings, that murder a lot of people, but that the military and police don't go over to their side. Without institutional help, the paramilitary isn't large enough, or organized enough, to stage a real civil war. There's an ongoing low-level terrorist insurrection threat, possibly some rural area that tries to break away from the USA and form an "ISIS"-like state, but there's no risk of them actually winning. They just turn public opinion even further against Trumpism with all the murders. (we can expect Trump to pardon the terrorists as "patriots")
My greatest fear is that many police officers are known to be trump supporters, and have been seen openly collaborating with "militia". A merger of official police with pro-regime paramilitary has historically been one of the final steps of a fascist takeover.
One thing that gives me a little hope is that the military isn't very pro-trump. The joint chiefs of staff pushed back pretty hard against Trump calling in the national guard to DC and tear-gassing protestors. Surveys of the military show a majority of soldiers don't approve of Trump.
(We may have a situation where you'd rather see national guard in your town, because they're protecting you from the local police. Seems weird, but that's how it was during de-segregation in the south, too.)
So if Trump is losing and tries to order the military to do something unconstitutional, I think they stick with the constitution rather than take his side. In a plan C that probably means going with what the courts decide. But in a really blatant election theft scenario like plan D, I honestly don't know what to expect. If there's a split, we could be looking at not just a terrorist insurgency but an actual Civil War II.
Somewhere in-between scenarios C, D, and E, there's a possibility that the government might have to make a deal with trump: "you leave power willingly, and in exchange, we will not prosecute you for your crimes once you're out of office." It's hugely corrupt, and of course i'd rather see him go to prison, but if there's a chance for a deal like this we should probably take it, to prevent bloodshed, much as I hate to negotiate with terrorists.
Plan F, Wreck Shit Out Of Spite
If we made it this far, which I dearly hope we do, then we're still not out of the woods. Trump has realized he's lost at this point. But it's still November or December and Biden doesn't become president until late January. Trump still has the powers of the presidency but A. he's primarily motivated by a desire to punish Americans for "betraying" him, B. he's got nothing to lose, and C. republicans will be eager to hamstring the incoming administration.
This will be an extremely dangerous period. We can only hope that the military decides to quietly ignore Trump's orders if he tells them to, like, bomb California or something. Or that republicans will care enough about their post-trump careers that they hold the 25th amendment over him during the lame duck period. Or something.
On the other hand, he might just focus on using the lame-duck period to loot as much money as possible from the federal government into his privately owned businesses, line his pockets, pardon his criminal buddies, and get petty revenge on his personal enemies. Which would suck, but if it keeps him distracted from directing actual violence at blue states I'll be breathing a sigh of relief.
Say we survive all that and Biden becomes president
Then the choose-your-own-adventure looks like this
if we get a narrow Senate majority, then we can pass some minor stuff (e.g. coronavirus relief funding) through 50-vote "budget reconciliation", but all of the priorities we desperately need
( -- major legislation to deal with the climate emergency, restore voting rights, reform police, expand health care, for starters -- )
are dead on arrival unless we end the filibuster.
Obama was way too nice to republicans, trying for "bipartisanship" long after republicans had demonstrated they'd shut down the government rather than letting him implement a law. And from what I know of Biden's temperament he's even more eager for "bipartisanship" than Obama was. So I think Biden will be too much of a nice-guy to want to end the filibuster.
Biden just wants things to go "back to normal", that is pre-Trump normal, ignoring the fact that the government wasn't working then. (And the government's inability to address fundamental economic problems was what created the conditions for Trump to come to power.) Going back to "normal" is just continuing the slow death spiral of our system.
But, who knows. Biden might die partway through his term. I think a hypothetical President Harris would be less scared of playing hardball with Republicans. One of the standard Republican attack lines against Biden has been that he's a "trojan horse for the extreme left", which, like, damn, I can only hope that's true! When they say "extreme left" they mean people like me!
If the Republicans keep 51 senators, then the Biden admin is over before it starts. Mitch McConnell is going straight back to his 2014-2016 strategy of preventing the government from doing anything. We can undo Trump's executive orders and we can slow down the rate at which things get worse, but we can't actually fix anything. Forget about passing a law, forget about passing a budget. Forget about appointing judges, supreme court or otherwise. They might not even let Biden fill his cabinet positions, since those depend on senate confirmation. Forget about even passing coronavirus relief; Mitch McConnell is happy to keep Americans suffering if it reduces the popularity of a democratic administration.
The Supreme Court
Looming over all of this is the 6-3 "conservative" supreme court majority, regardless of who controls the Senate. "Conservative" is in quotes because, as I've already argued, they're likely to "legislate from the bench" in favor of authoritarianism. For example, assume Roe v Wade is toast even in a Biden administration, and abortion goes to the states to decide. (Although TBH that's almost the case already practically speaking; there's what, one abortion clinic in all of Louisiana?)
In as much as "legislating from the bench" takes place in the gaps and ambiguities of actual legislation, we can cut off some of this judicial activism and protect some of our gains in civil liberties IF we actually get the ability to legislate. Part of the reason control of the Supreme Court has gotten so important is because Congress basically doesn't pass laws anymore, leaving legislating-from-the-bench as the only kind of legislating. We can change this, without court-packing, if we win the senate and end the filibuster such that real legislation is possible again. For example, we might be able to save the ACA by restoring the individual mandate, making it a "tax" and therefore constitutional according to precedent. We could do similar things with restoring the voting rights act, protecting LGBT rights, etc.
If there are 51 Republican senators, then the supreme court will just chip away at our civil liberties in case after case, with no legislation to stop them.
Beyond that, there's a lurking possibility that the 6-3 majority may decide to revive an obscure principle called the "nondelegation doctrine", under which most executive branch agencies are technically unconstitutional! We've been kind of ignoring their maybe-unconstitutionality because everybody agrees the modern nation-state can't function without executive branch agencies. But a sufficiently ideological court could strike at the basis of the administrative state, which would be... all kinds of interesting.
Worst of all, regardless of the Senate composition, even if we pass progressive laws at a state level, the activist court can make them "unconstitutional" and overturn them. This Supreme Court will be the most lasting damage of Trumpism.
If Trump stays in power
I don't even like to think about this, but...
If Trump was to win re-election legitimately then that would probably mean the swing states are re-electing republican senators, too; but if he clings to power through some of the possibilities in plans C, D, or E then there's the slim possibility of a second Trump term with a Democratic senate. This would be pretty weird, and seemingly unlikely, but we could check his worst impulses while waiting out the clock. Pass coronavirus relief through congress and dare him to veto it. Block his worst appointments. Continue a federal stalemate while pursuing reforms on a state level. Stuff like that. Most two-term presidents are greatly weakened in their second term, with a hostile congress. Horrible, but possibly survivable.
Beyond that, we're left with... the nightmare scenario: Trump in power with Republican congress, 6-3 Supreme Court, no further worries about re-election, and (if plans C,D, or E) precedent established of successfully negating the clear will of the voters and getting away with it. I don't see anything to save us from full fascism in this case.
Expect military occupation of "anarchist jurisdictions" (i.e. every large city in a blue state), expect ICE's ethnic cleansing to kick into high gear, expect the already-existing border concentration camps to expand. Expect elimination of voting rights to secure permanent republican minority rule, expect civil rights to be rolled back to 1950 if not 1850, expect journalists to be jailed for telling the truth, expect dissidents to disappear into unmarked vans not just once or twice in Portland but everywhere, and permanently. Expect brownshirts shooting liberals in broad daylight and being charged with no crimes. Expect them to try to "make Q-anon real" with mass arrests and show trials of political enemies.
(They may or may not start aggressive wars of expansion to distract from the misery and oppression at home. Some fascist countries did, some didn't. We might be an isolationist fascist regime like Spain rather than an expansionist one like Japan.)
I have no idea how America comes back from that. History tells us that fascist states are unstable, they tend to burn themselves out pretty quickly. But they can still last for decades. Perhaps it's better not to hope for "America" to come back, but for a new nation to eventually rise from the ashes of the Trumpreich.
In 2016 I considered, but quickly rejected, the idea of leaving the country. I decided it was better to stay and keep fighting, for the sake of people less privileged than me. Stay and protest, stay and vote, stay and donate, stay and volunteer. That's still a valid argument.
But there's a certain point where a country is SO fucked that there's nothing you can do except try to escape to stay alive. My first responsibility is to my immediate family. If it looks like my family is personally in danger, I'm getting us out.
Will we get to that point, either during a civil war, or during a full Trumpreich?
I'm white, male, and relatively rich; in the worst-case scenario, I could probably survive the Trumpreich by keeping my head down, hiding my opinions, and "passing".
My Chinese-American wife, though? and her family? and our mixed-race kid? In a scenario where the Trumpreich decides they need to stir up some racial hatred against Chinese people? Yikes.
But where would we go? Most countries are currently closed to Americans. Our total failure at containing coronavirus has made us international pariahs. The UK is open to Americans but is facing most of the same problems we are.
(And if the Trumpreich turns out to be the expansionist type of fascist state... well there's never been an expansionist fascist regime with nuclear weapons before. There's nowhere in the world that's safe from that.)
Most likely we'd be looking at selling our house, most of our possessions, quitting our jobs, and bouncing from country to country, quarantining for a while here, applying for visas there, until we could get to somewhere like British Columbia or New Zealand or... ???
But then, what about all my trans friends? All my Jewish friends, Latino/a friends, gay friends, coworkers, more distant relations...
Can I get not only my immediate family out of the country, but all of them as well? Can I say to them "good-bye, I'm leaving you here to die while I save my immediate family?"
Is it more ethical to stay and use what resources and privilege I have to try to help as many of them, who are at higher risk than us, escape the Trumpreich?
Postscript: Don't Turn Away
We all like to think America is special, America is safe, "it" Can't Happen Here, etc. (Never mind that "it" already happened here, for centuries; we called it slavery and Jim Crow, we didn't call it fascism because the word hadn't been invented yet)
But we're living through History again. The end of "The End Of History". Nobody wants to live through History; living through History sucks.
The next month will tell us whether this chapter of the history book is titled "2016-2020: The Last Pyschopathic Gasp Of White Supremacist Bullshit Before America Finally Wised Up" or whether it's titled "How America Fell And What We Can Learn From Their Mistakes"
There's a temptation to say "That's so unthinkable, I'm not going to think about it". But it's important to think about the unthinkable. It's not like the Trumpreich victory is the end, fade to black, the words "GAME OVER" appear on screen. Sometimes it's easier to imagine that it is, easier than the pain of imagining having to go on living in that timeline. "We're so screwed that I refuse to consider it, I'm just going to black it out" is what my brain wants to say. A defense mechanism.
But lots of countries have had coups, civil wars, military takeovers, dictatorships, etc. Lots of people have died in those events, but lots more have lived through them to tell about it. People do live through the ends of countries and of systems of government.
It's important to keep a clear head and engage with what I'd actually do in that scenario, being still alive and with my family still counting on me.