That’s what we keep coming back to these days, when people ask us if Trump really might try to pull one of the extra-crazy anti-Democratic measures he’s been batting around, just to try to keep himself in power.
How crazy is it going to get before it’s over? As crazy as Trump wants it to be, looks like.
And it’s getting to the point now among rabid Trump supporters where anyone close to the President who is advising him against doing a coup, is seen as being—and probably always having been—part of an ever-existing, ever-broadening plot against Trump. Which means that Trump’s lies are still working on them at least, which means there are a heck of a lot of people who are completely susceptible to propaganda out there.
That list of supposed plotters against the President now includes the Supreme Court, other politicians and judges he once supported, and maybe Attorney General Bill Barr, who wedged his way into the Trump Administration by literally arguing the President is the Justice Department, though now he just said in reference to the Presidential election:
“If I thought a special counsel at this stage was the right tool and was appropriate, I would name one, but I haven’t, and I’m not going to.”
However, Barr won’t be around after Christmas.
So a lot of what happens next hinges not just on Trump’s ego, sore-loser-dom, and never thinking of anyone but himself. It also has a lot to do with an assessment by him and others around him that some decent number of Americans might very well be willing to live under a dictatorship without complaining about it too much.
And we don’t just mean those ardent conspiracy theory believing Trump fans, who obviously largely would jump right in there. We’re also talking about swaths of the American public who might not really care all that much, because even though they might “get” it’s a bad thing, might also not “get” how Trump installing himself as a despot would have any significant impact on their day-to-day lives. “I’m not a political junkie”, one such person just told me today.
Now, Trump is denying he’s considering declaring martial law, in order to order the military to supervise a do-over of elections in several states he lost. (Presumably with a new “rule book” that he would write.) So that’s good, we guess. As long as we’re willing to take him at his word. Because he keeps Retweeting people who are urging martial law. So we suspect he’s just saying that for now because he doesn’t want to freak out the stock market…
Meanwhile, he continues to have the main proponents of that and other really nutso ideas over to the Oval Office. And they also discussed, according to the New York Times, attempting to seize voting machines, which are under the control of states, not the federal government. As well as launching one or more investigations with virtually unlimited resources directly out of the White House.
Although for most coup attempts, a country’s leader needs the cooperation of the military, and maybe the Justice Department, Trump could try to do it mostly with the assistance of the Homeland Security Department, which he has at times, begun to use as something of a domestic military force.
And also, he’s got a new Defense Secretary after the last one pushed back on his using regular duty U.S. troops to crack down on protestors this summer, and he’ll have a new Attorney General come January because Barr’s leaving. And we don’t know much about either of those replacements.
Then again, it seemed pretty far-fetched to us when politicians and pundits suggested to us that when President-elect Joe Biden prevailed in the Electoral College last week, there’d be some kind of stasis at least through January 6th, when Congress counts those Electoral College votes.
As if Trump might retreat to Florida, play golf, and enjoy his Christmastime between now and then. No way. In fact, the best thing that could possibly happen would be just for Trump to go off to Florida and then decide not to come back.
But no doubt, the normally routine counting of Electoral College votes and declaring Biden the President will be made by Trump a test of bending the knee. And each member of Congress is going to be put by the President to a loyalty test where they’ll have to go on record as approving or rejecting the votes of the duly elected electors.
This might even prove an extreme moment of crisis for vice-President Mike Pence. Because as President of the Senate, it’ll be his job to announce Biden the winner, just as Biden, as vice-President, announced Trump the winner four years ago. But Pence has ambitions, and his best shot at someday becoming President has always been after a Trump second-term, as a proxy for Trump, should Trump not have been able to wrangle permission from Congress to actually run for a third term himself.
However, with a Democratic controlled Congress, and quite a few of the Republicans who have a history of opposing Trump on things occasionally already saying they’re not going to go along with a challenge to the Electoral College; alternate slates, etc., Trump can’t really actually prevail going that route.
Yes, it’ll muster him some much-needed adoration and ego-massaging, but probably not much else.
At the same time, it’s alarming enough that a lot of members of Congress are likely to bend to the President’s wishes, and vote in support of X-ing out millions of votes that they don’t like because they didn’t get Dear Leader elected. Rejecting out of hand the results of the election, on the basis only of lies by the President and his cronies is bad enough.
The most common explanation we see of why they’re willing to do it, and also why more than 40% of House Republicans signed on in support of a ridiculous lawsuit by Texas to overturn election results in 4 states that weren’t Texas—is that they know that move won’t result in a win for Trump, so it costs them nothing politically to join in. Sure there are some “true believers”, but mostly, we’re told it’s just Representatives living in fear of the President and offending his voting base, especially since all members of the House have to run again a short two years from now.
But even if that is precisely why they’re doing it, it still underscores a much more sinister sub-reason. And it’s where we started out: they also assess that outside of Trump supporters, many Americans don’t really care that much anymore about maintaining a healthy Democracy, and don’t see how a dictatorship would change their lives one whit. This isn’t in the form of a grievance. Many of the people we know who fit into this category, who are more than a few, love their lives right now: their work, hanging out with friends, traveling around, going to parties, and they can’t be convinced any form of government is going to really change their ability to do that stuff at all. So why should they bother fretting over it?
So it’s not exclusively red-hatted Trump supporters those pro-Trump politicians are pandering to, it’s also people who don’t really care that much about what the government looks like. Because if it was ultimately only Trump’s base driving those Republican Representatives (mostly) to knowingly do harm to Democracy, and not also a layer of people on top of that who are simply indifferent, they might at least think twice about what they’re doing.
Now getting back to the question of why wouldn’t even Trump draw the line somewhere? Because he’s done so many things before, which each time, afterwards, supposedly smart people said “I never thought he’d do that.” If he’s really up against it and if he can, he will.
In fact, we can only think of three reasons he might not try something seditious:
- He perceives or is convinced pursuit any or all of these outlandish extremes will make him look foolish. Except so much he’s done so far has made him look foolish already, and that doesn’t seem to have affected him in the least except maybe to make him throw even bigger tantrums.
- Someone he listens to tells him it’s time to stop. And his mind is not then changed by someone else getting into his ear. And is there even such a person? Or people?
- He’s somehow convinced that preserving Democracy and the Constitution and also working on eradicating COVID-19 is more important than him and his grievances and lies and conspiracy theories. Fat chance.
- The stock market crashes and the economy starts falling apart. This could happen especially if Trump tries to pull some stunt like declaring martial law. But if a huge market plunge occurs, Trump could always blame it not on him, but the threat of a Biden administration. But so far Wall Street seems pretty OK with the concept of a Biden presidency. Then again, Wall Street hasn’t exactly proven it’d really care if the U.S. remains a Democracy or not. You’d think naturally it would. But it might not.
So since none of the things on that list seem likely, what does seem likely is Trump continuing to spiral faster and faster as he keeps losing over and over again and as the time he runs out of time comes nearer.