The very scary way to four more years

See updates through October 16, 2020, at end of article.


Short of quoting the entire article, a massive article that in both its horror and its length is really too much to take in, I cannot do justice to Barton Gellman’s work, which fleshes out previous coverage of how a disputed election in November might play out.[1] We are very likely in very serious trouble:

Close students of election law and procedure are warning that conditions are ripe for a constitutional crisis that would leave the nation without an authoritative result. We have no fail-safe against that calamity. . . . The worst case . . . is not that [Donald] 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. . . .

Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum [between Election Day and Inauguration Day] and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged. . . .

An important thing to know about the Interregnum is that there is no umpire—no singular authority who can decide the contest and lay it to rest. There is a series of lesser officiants, each confined in jurisdiction and tangled in opaque rules. [emphasis added][2]

The ramifications go far beyond this and Gellman merely hints at them when he writes, “Suppose that caravans of Trump supporters, adorned in Second Amendment accessories, converge on big-city polling places on Election Day.”[3] Though certainly possible, even likely, this is not the first concern that comes to my mind. My concern is for what happens when and if it appears that Trump is indeed losing.

We have heavily armed white supremacist militia all but allied both with local law enforcement and with Trump, who have already made appearances on the street, have already been violent.[4] These militia will likely be joined by other militia groups that do not specifically identify as white supremacist. They believe, because Donald Trump says so, that the election is being stolen and that the Republican Party will forever lose power.[5] They will perceive that they have nothing to lose.

We do not know the aggregate strength, either in fighters or firepower, of these militia groups. But short of a nuclear-armed power, there is no creature more dangerous.

I remain skeptical that the Democrats really want to win.[6] To the extent that such skepticism is in any way warranted, one would have to expect that the Democrats will concede to avoid this scenario. Gellman, again, referring to a time when the Republicans were the party of Abraham Lincoln and the Democrats largely represented the old slaveholders:

Only once, in 1877, has the Interregnum brought the country to the brink of true collapse. . . .

Four states sent rival slates of electors to Congress in the 1876 presidential race between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. When a special tribunal blessed the electors for Hayes, Democrats began parliamentary maneuvers to obstruct the electoral count in Congress. Their plan was to run out the clock all the way to Inauguration Day, when the Republican incumbent, Ulysses S. Grant, would have to step down.

Not until two days before Grant’s term expired did Tilden give in. His concession was based on a repugnant deal for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, where they were protecting the rights of emancipated Black people. But that was not Tilden’s only inducement.

The threat of military force was in the air. Grant let it be known that he was prepared to declare martial law in New York, where rumor had it that Tilden planned to be sworn in, and to back the inauguration of Hayes with uniformed troops.

That is an unsettling precedent for 2021.[7]

The partisan roles with respect to the races may to some degree today be reversed. My expectation is that the outcome is the same.

Which means four more years of Trump. Even if Joe Biden wins.


Update, September 26, 2020: A Raw Story article cites a number of ways that the Democrats aren’t really resisting the Republicans,[8] a point I have also made.[9] It did not, so far as I could find, refer specifically to Elizabeth Warren. It does mention the other senator from Massachusetts, Ed Markey.[10] That said,

When you hear the word comity, especially in reference to the U.S. Senate, think of this privileged, legalistic view.

The absence of an actual stake is a serious barrier to Congressional action on problems affecting the poor and working class.[11] It also means we have further reason to expect that the neoliberal party to acquiesce to Donald Trump’s attempt to steal the election.[12]

Update, September 30, 2020: Following a televised debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden last night, it is now even more difficult to dismiss the fear of violence should Trump appear to lose the election:[13]

President Donald Trump thrilled members of the violent far-right gang known as the Proud Boys on Tuesday when he responded to a question from debate moderator Chris Wallace, about whether he would be willing to tell white supremacists and militia groups that support him to stand down, by instead telling that group to “stand back and stand by.”

Chris Wallace: “Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups…?”

President Trump: “Sure, I’m willing to do that…Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I’ll tell you what…somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.” pic.twitter.com/9gJ8qyO4hL

— CSPAN (@cspan) September 30, 2020

While the president’s reply struck some observers as more evidence of his inability to stem the torrent of half-digested thoughts and phrases that fly from his lips in an incoherent jumble, leaders of the neo-fascist group exulted on the social media platforms Telegram and Parler, seeing the answer as a call to inflict violence on left-wing antifascist activists and protesters.

“Trump basically said to go fuck them up! this makes me so happy,” Joe Biggs, who organized a Proud Boys rally that drew an embarrassingly small crowd of a few hundred in Portland, Oregon on Saturday, wrote. Biggs had reason to be encouraged, since Trump did stop short of actually condemning the group, pivoting instead to say: “But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem… this is a left-wing problem.”[14]

While I would be inclined toward the “inability to stem the torrent of half-digested thoughts and phrases that fly from his lips in an incoherent jumble” reading, the Proud Boys, a white supremacist militia group, clearly seem to be taking it as an endorsement.

Update, October 1, 2020: I’m noticing a curious thing in coverage of Donald Trump’s failure in a debate with Joe Biden to condemn the Proud Boys white supremacist militia group.[15] Folks are declining to call it a militia group, preferring to call it a gang.[16]

But gangs are merely a form of organized crime. Whether about drugs or the classic forms of shakedown operations, gangs are principally about profit. Militia groups are not merely about illicit profit; they are motivated rather by ideology (in the U.S., typically white supremacist and/or extreme right wing) and, like gangs, armed, often heavily. The Proud Boys thus count as a militia group. I have no explanation for the apparent squeamishness about the label.

An article on the Atlantic website, forthcoming in print, reminds me of another way, namely the Oath Keepers and similar groups, the distinction between police and such militia groups is being obscured. Members of these groups are often current or former military or police,[17] indeed they may join the military for the training.[18]

Update, October 13, 2020: I’ve been warning that right wing militia might take up arms on Donald Trump’s behalf.[19] My fears are already being realized.[20]

Update, October 16, 2020:

The trend leads [Alexander Reid Ross] and others in his research milieu to anticipate a more serious degree of violence in the days leading up to the election, even as the overall number of incidents dwindle. Some of the energies of would-be vigilantes may be getting diverted into caravans and rallies in support of President Trump, Ross said, pushing more extremist elements in the movement to intensify their actions. . . .

“The people who are talking about this issue now are harder-core than people who were even a month ago, which does not portend well for what we’re about to face,” [Heidi] Beirich said. “I sadly don’t think we’ll get through Nov. 3 without at least one major lone wolf attack.”[21]

Some also contemplate the possibility of violence if elections results are disputed.[22]

What they don’t seem to be forecasting is the sort of uprising that I fear.[23] This is “at least one major lone wolf attack,”[24] not entire right-wing militia groups taking to the streets, initiating the race war they have so long sought.[25] I think that the paleoconservative thinking may very well be that if Donald Trump loses, white supremacist militia groups may perceive that “it’s now or never,” that this will be their last chance for that race war, that if they fail to act, that “Blacks and browns” will take power at white expense, that accordingly, they have nothing to lose.

  1. [1]Max Boot, “What if Trump loses but insists he won?” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/06/what-if-trump-loses-insists-he-won/; Rosa Brooks, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Washington Post, September 3, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/09/03/trump-stay-in-office/; Chris Cillizza, “What happens if Donald Trump refuses to admit he lost in 2020?” CNN, May 6, 2019, https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2019/05/06/politics/donald-trump-2020-election/index.html; Democracy Now!, “What If Trump Refuses to Accept a Biden Victory? A Look at How Electoral Chaos Could Divide Nation,” August 3, 2020, https://www.democracynow.org/2020/8/3/nils_gilman_2020_election_scenarios; Amy Gardner, Josh Dawsey, and John Wagner, “Trump encounters broad pushback to his suggestion to delay the Nov. 3 election,” Washington Post, July 30, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-floats-idea-of-delaying-the-november-election-as-he-ramps-up-attacks-on-voting-by-mail/2020/07/30/15fe7ac6-d264-11ea-9038-af089b63ac21_story.html; Colby Itkowitz, “Trump won’t commit to a ‘peaceful transfer of power’ if he loses,” Washington Post, September 23, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-transfer-of-power/2020/09/23/be6954d0-fdf0-11ea-b555-4d71a9254f4b_story.html; Ed Kilgore, “How Trump Is Trying to Ensure an Early Election Night Lead,” New York, August 13, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/08/trump-voters-could-vote-in-person-and-give-him-early-lead.html; Eric Lach, “What Happens if Donald Trump Fights the Election Results?” New Yorker, August 21, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/campaign-chronicles/what-happens-if-donald-trump-fights-the-election-results; Kevin Liptak and Betsy Klein, “Trump floats delaying election despite lack of authority to do so,” CNN, July 30, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/30/politics/trump-delay-election-no-authority/index.html; Robert McCartney, “Here’s one way Trump could try to steal the election, voting experts say,” Washington Post, August 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/heres-one-way-trump-could-try-to-steal-the-election-voting-experts-say/2020/08/16/b5bf0c2a-de66-11ea-b205-ff838e15a9a6_story.html; Peter Nicholas, “Trump Could Still Break Democracy’s Biggest Norm,” Atlantic, June 16, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/06/when-does-trump-leave-white-house/613060/; Felicia Sonmez, “Trump declines to say whether he will accept November election results,” Washington Post, July 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-declines-to-say-whether-he-will-accept-november-election-results/2020/07/19/40009804-c9c7-11ea-91f1-28aca4d833a0_story.html; Isaac Stanley-Becker, “Claiming two years of his presidency were ‘stolen,’ Trump suggests he’s owed overtime,” Washington Post, May 6, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/06/claiming-two-years-his-presidency-were-stolen-trump-suggests-hes-owed-overtime/; Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers, “How Trump Could Lose the Election—And Still Remain President,” Newsweek, July 3, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/how-trump-could-lose-election-still-remain-president-opinion-1513975
  2. [2]Barton Gellman, “The Election That Could Break America,” Atlantic, September 23, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/what-if-trump-refuses-concede/616424/
  3. [3]Barton Gellman, “The Election That Could Break America,” Atlantic, September 23, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/what-if-trump-refuses-concede/616424/
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Donald Trump’s ‘brown shirts,’” Not Housebroken, September 12, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/30/donald-trumps-brown-shirts/
  5. [5]Barton Gellman, “The Election That Could Break America,” Atlantic, September 23, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/what-if-trump-refuses-concede/616424/
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Voting for complicity,” Not Housebroken, September 22, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/20/voting-for-complicity/
  7. [7]Barton Gellman, “The Election That Could Break America,” Atlantic, September 23, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/what-if-trump-refuses-concede/616424/
  8. [8]Sophia Tesfaye, “Democrats’ actions this week suggest they have no real intention to save our democracy,” Raw Story, September 25, 2020, https://www.rawstory.com/2020/09/democrats-actions-this-week-suggest-they-have-no-real-intention-to-pull-them-out-to-save-our-democracy/
  9. [9]David Benfell, “Voting for complicity,” Not Housebroken, September 22, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/20/voting-for-complicity/
  10. [10]Sophia Tesfaye, “Democrats’ actions this week suggest they have no real intention to save our democracy,” Raw Story, September 25, 2020, https://www.rawstory.com/2020/09/democrats-actions-this-week-suggest-they-have-no-real-intention-to-pull-them-out-to-save-our-democracy/
  11. [11]David Benfell, “The mysterious expectation that elites give a damn,” Not Housebroken, August 1, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/01/the-mysterious-expectation-that-elites-give-a-damn/
  12. [12]David Benfell, “The very scary way to four more years,” Not Housebroken, September 25, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/25/the-very-scary-way-to-four-more-years/
  13. [13]David Benfell, “The very scary way to four more years,” Not Housebroken, September 26, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/25/the-very-scary-way-to-four-more-years/
  14. [14]Robert Mackey, “Neo-Fascist Proud Boys Exult Over Trump Telling Them to ‘Stand By,’ Not Stand Down,” Intercept, September 30, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/09/30/neo-fascist-proud-boys-exult-trump-telling-stand-not-stand/
  15. [15]Zak Cheney-Rice, “We Can Probably Stop Asking Trump If He’s a White Supremacist,” New York, September 30, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/09/trump-tells-proud-boys-to-stand-by-still-white-supremacist.html; Robert Mackey, “Neo-Fascist Proud Boys Exult Over Trump Telling Them to ‘Stand By,’ Not Stand Down,” Intercept, September 30, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/09/30/neo-fascist-proud-boys-exult-trump-telling-stand-not-stand/
  16. [16]For examples, Robert Mackey, “Neo-Fascist Proud Boys Exult Over Trump Telling Them to ‘Stand By,’ Not Stand Down,” Intercept, September 30, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/09/30/neo-fascist-proud-boys-exult-trump-telling-stand-not-stand/; Jason Wilson, “Proud Boys are a dangerous ‘white supremacist’ group say US agencies,” Guardian, October 1, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/01/proud-boys-white-supremacist-group-law-enforcement-agencies
  17. [17]Mike Giglio, “A Pro-Trump Militant Group Has Recruited Thousands of Police, Soldiers, and Veterans,” Atlantic, November 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/right-wing-militias-civil-war/616473/
  18. [18]Lois Beckett, “How the US military has failed to address white supremacy in its ranks,” Guardian, June 24, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/24/us-military-white-supremacy-extremist-plot; Leo Shane, III, “Signs of white supremacy, extremism up again in poll of active-duty troops,” Military Times, February 6, 2020, https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2020/02/06/signs-of-white-supremacy-extremism-up-again-in-poll-of-active-duty-troops/
  19. [19]David Benfell, “Bloody November,” Not Housebroken, September 9, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/08/bloody-november/; David Benfell, “The very scary way to four more years,” Not Housebroken, October 1, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/25/the-very-scary-way-to-four-more-years/
  20. [20]Moriah Balingit, “Armed militia helped a Michigan barbershop open, a coronavirus defiance that puts Republican lawmakers in a bind,” Washington Post, May 12, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/coronavirus-michigan-republicans-whitmer/2020/05/12/54975e1a-9466-11ea-82b4-c8db161ff6e5_story.html; Eric Cortellessa, “US far-right extremists are now calling social distancing a Nazi policy,” Times of Israel, April 17, 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-far-right-extremists-are-now-calling-social-distancing-a-nazi-policy/; Mike Giglio, “A Pro-Trump Militant Group Has Recruited Thousands of Police, Soldiers, and Veterans,” Atlantic, November 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/right-wing-militias-civil-war/616473/; Bryan Armen Graham, “‘Swastikas and nooses’: governor slams ‘racism’ of Michigan lockdown protest,” Guardian, May 3, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/03/michigan-gretchen-whitmer-lockdown-protest-racism; Fred Kaplan, “Is America in the Early Stages of Armed Insurgency?” Slate, September 8, 2020, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/09/america-insurgency-chaos-trump-violence.html; Robert Mackey, “Neo-Fascist Proud Boys Exult Over Trump Telling Them to ‘Stand By,’ Not Stand Down,” Intercept, September 30, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/09/30/neo-fascist-proud-boys-exult-trump-telling-stand-not-stand/; Mary B. McCord, “Armed Militias Are Taking Trump’s Civil War Tweets Seriously,” Lawfare, October 2, 2019, https://www.lawfareblog.com/armed-militias-are-taking-trumps-civil-war-tweets-seriously; Luke Mogelson, “The Militias Against Masks,” New Yorker, August 17, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/08/24/the-militias-against-masks; Joshua Partlow, “Politics at the point of a gun,” Washington Post, July 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/07/28/conservative-armed-militias-protests-coronavirus/; Rashawn Ray and Rebecca Shankman, “How COVID-19 is changing the gun debate,” Brookings, June 17, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2020/06/17/how-covid-19-is-changing-the-gun-debate/; Kayla Ruble, Laura Vozzella, and Devlin Barrett, “Whitmer plotters also discussed kidnapping Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, FBI agent testifies,” Washington Post, October 13, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/ralph-northam-gretchen-witmer-kidnapping-plot/2020/10/13/26b4e31a-0d5f-11eb-b1e8-16b59b92b36d_story.html; Kelly Weill, “Sixteen ‘Boogaloo’ Followers Have Been Busted in 7 Days,” Daily Beast, October 9, 2020, https://www.thedailybeast.com/with-the-gov-gretchen-whitmer-busts-16-boogaloo-followers-have-been-busted-in-7-days/; Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett, and Abigail Hauslohner, “FBI charges six who it says plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as seven more who wanted to ignite civil war face state charges,” Washington Post, October 8, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/michigan-governor-kidnap-plot/2020/10/08/0032e206-0980-11eb-9be6-cf25fb429f1a_story.html
  21. [21]Laura Bliss and Marie Patino, “Tracking the Shifting Shape of Far-Right Political Violence,” CityLab, October 16, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-16/is-far-right-political-violence-getting-worse
  22. [22]Laura Bliss and Marie Patino, “Tracking the Shifting Shape of Far-Right Political Violence,” CityLab, October 16, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-16/is-far-right-political-violence-getting-worse
  23. [23]David Benfell, “Donald Trump’s ‘brown shirts,’” Not Housebroken, October 1, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/30/donald-trumps-brown-shirts/; David Benfell, “The very scary way to four more years,” Not Housebroken, October 13, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/25/the-very-scary-way-to-four-more-years/
  24. [24]Heidi Beirich, quoted in Laura Bliss and Marie Patino, “Tracking the Shifting Shape of Far-Right Political Violence,” CityLab, October 16, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-16/is-far-right-political-violence-getting-worse
  25. [25]Michael Kimmel, “America’s angriest white men: Up close with racism, rage and Southern supremacy,” Salon, November 17, 2013, https://www.salon.com/control/2013/11/17/americas_angriest_white_men_up_close_with_racism_rage_and_southern_supremacy/; Luke Mogelson, “The Militias Against Masks,” New Yorker, August 17, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/08/24/the-militias-against-masks