Squirrel eating a nut.
Squirrel eating a nut. You looked, didn’t you? (Image: Bureau of Land Management)

A lot of discussion the past few days about the ways that Donald Trump and his wacky band of funsters might throw multiple wrenches into the gears of this year’s election in order to Never Leave the White House and Stay President Forever.

It’s good to discuss this. It’s not impossible. Barton Gellman has a great article in the November issue of The Atlantic (published early on their website because of the urgency of the subject). It’s definitely worth reading.

The worst case, however, is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that un­certainty to hold on to power.

He certainly could, and it would be easier for the Republicans to get away with it if we just shrug it off and say “it can’t happen here, we’ve always had a peaceful transition of power where the loser concedes (even Al Gore conceded) and we inaugurate the president on schedule. It turns out a lot of that peaceful transition procedure happens because we expect it to work that way and all of the key players have ultimately agreed that it should work that way. There are ways to subvert the process, which Gellman describes in some detail. It’s kind of terrifying taken at face value.

Terri Kanefield responded to the article with a tweet thread that, while not dismissing the concerns, suggested a reason why this is being discussed right now: Trump is losing, and losing badly, and needs to make it seem like he’s stronger than he is by tossing red meat to his followers. Hence the “I’m not sure I’ll accept the results” quotes.

It’s the equivalent of Trump yelling “squirrel” to divert our attention. Unfortunately, some journalists are willing to take the bait (even beyond the unofficial state media outlets: Fox News, OANN, etc.). Another thing to keep in mind is that a blowout election doesn’t drive people to breathlessly read articles and click links. Even though many journalists do tend left in their politics, a close election – or the perception that it might be close – serves their interests in generating page views and subscriptions ordered.

I still think it’s a good idea to be prepared for the possibility of interference in the election process by the Trump campaign. My nightmare is that the TV networks will show Trump ahead – but too close to call – by midnight on Election Day, with millions of mail-in ballots still to be counted. Ballots that Trump has spent months trying to convince people would be fraudulent. As those are counted, Biden takes a significant lead in the popular vote, wins the Electoral College, but Trump and his aforementioned wacky band refuse to concede and refuse to leave.

One way to make that easier for Trump is to stay home and not vote. Kanefield is concerned about that possibility:

“Here’s the thing about democracy: If a majority of voters no longer want it, it will cease to exist.” She’s right. It would be the last democratic decision we make, to vote our democracy out of existence.

So vote. And stop telling yourself “it can’t happen here.”

Reading list add: It Can’t Happen Here

It Can’t Happen Here is a satirical novel written in 1935 by Sinclair Lewis. According to Wikipedia, “The novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a demagogue who is elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force….”