Trump doubles down on fraud;
purges the bureaucracy;
refuses to concede;
and flexes his populist muscle.
Will he promise Biden’s electors
they and their families will
be first to receive the
if they vote
WE PLAY CHECKERS, THEY PLAY CHESS
Donald Trump has been up to no good since early the morning of November 4th, when he appeared in the East Room of the White House to double down on his claim that only fraud would prevent him from winning the election. Or, if you have time for a longer version of the story, Our Leader has been preparing for this eventuality since the day after his Inauguration, when he sent poor Sean Spicer out with alternative facts to insist the crowd at The Donald’s swearing in was the largest ever in history.
Either way, long or short, it’s necessary to understand how the two press conferences, four years apart, relate to one another and to what Trump seems to be up to now.
On the one hand, his purges at the Pentagon and last weekend’s nasty demonstration of his supporters in Washington appear to be setting the stage for an autogolpe that would keep him in power for another four years
At the same time, his lawyer, the (Dis)honorable Rudolph W. Giuliani, seems to be spearheading a second track, which involves circumventing the Electoral College by creating circumstances that would call into play the XII Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1804, which provides for the House of Representatives to elect our next President in January if no candidate receives an absolute majority of the total number of electoral votes when the Electoral College meets next month..
The former, an autogolpe, would be the end of democracy as we know it; the latter a farce that would forever brand the GOP as the party of Greedy Old Plutocrats, willing to steal an election on behalf of one of their own, a greedy old plutocrat whose malignant Narcissism wouldn’t allow him to accept the fact that a majority of the voters had had enough of him.
Spicer’s first press conference is important now because it marked the beginning of Trump’s “Big Lie” strategy, which required undermining the credibility of the mainstream media so that whenever it challenged Our Leader’s alternative facts or called him a liar, his supporters would automatically assume that meant he was telling them the Truth.
It was a forward-looking and remarkedly sophisticated strategy for someone of Trump’s modest intellect and education—obviously decided on even before he took office. It would be interesting to know if Our Leader devised the strategy himself, as a result of his own reading and research into the techniques used by Hitler and Goebbels. Or was it handed to him by agents of the Big Lie’s most skillful contemporary practitioner, Vladimir Putin, a man Our Leader greatly admires?
That it’s been successful is beyond dispute. Trump’s whole presidency has been built on the lies his supporters believe, voter fraud being the most recent and most dangerous one.
While we think Trump’s refusal to concede the election is the stance of a desperate crook, fearful of what awaits him if and when he loses presidential immunity, they think it’s the stance of a resolute outsider, fighting to save his victory, and democracy itself, from the elitist, entitled snobs who’ve enlarged their slice of a shrinking pie, at the expense of the good, hard-working white men who built this country and are willing to fight to keep it.
One thing is certain. Trump has no shame and the longer this goes on, the less likely it is that Biden will be able to accomplish the goal he’s set for himself and his presidency: to end the rancor, repair the damage and reunite the country after four disastrous years of Donald J Trump.
What should be apparent by now is that Our Leader will not leave the White House without a fight. What’s not yet clear is how far he’s willing to go. Will he leave grudgingly if it becomes apparent to him that he can’t have a second term? Or will he take the country down with him, as Mary Trump has warned, destroying the government and our system rather than turning it over in one piece to his rightful successor?
Think Custer’s last stand at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Or Jim Jones and the Kool-Aid his followers were forced to drink in Jonestown 42 years ago this week.
What seems to be happening now is that Trump and Giuliani are trying the Twelfth Amendment gambit first, hoping it will succeed, while setting the stage for an autogolpe, the equivalent of nuclear war, if it doesn’t.
The XII Amendment strategy requires 37 of Biden’s electors not to vote for him when the Electoral College meets next month. That could happen in one of two ways.
The 37 electors could be enjoined from voting for Biden the day the Electoral College meets if Giuliani and his team of lawyers can persuade one or more of the federal judges Trump has appointed to issue an injunction—on the grounds there is sufficient evidence of fraud to stop the electors from voting until the courts can determine the validity of Trump’s claims, which could take weeks or months.
Or, Republican-controlled legislatures in states where Biden won the popular vote could appoint electors they know will abstain from voting for Biden or who agree to vote for someone else, which the Constitution permits because the Founding Fathers were afraid the unwashed masses might vote for an irresponsible demagogue unqualified or unworthy of being President.
What they didn’t anticipate was that the electors themselves could fall under the spell of an irresponsible demagogue who just might promise that, if they play his game, they and their families would be the first to receive something of immense value, such as the COVID-19 vaccine expected to become available in very limited quantities early next month.
While sidetracking 37 electors would be difficult, it wouldn’t be impossible. And if neither candidate has 270 of the electors’ votes when the Congress meets to count them in January, the Twelfth Amendment stipulates that the House of Representatives decides which of the leading candidates should become president.
Each state gets one vote, regardless of the number of seats it has in the House. Which means Montana, for example, with one seat in the House, has as much of a say as California with 53 seats or Texas with 36. While 10 House seats still remain undecided, it looks as if the Republicans will control 26 state delegations and the Democrats 24, which means Trump would almost certainly be elected for a second term.
It would be a perversion of any definition of democracy but entirely legal under the Constitution.
Trump’s other option appears to be an autogolpe, which the Oxford English and Spanish dictionary defines as a “coup initiated or abetted by a country’s elected leader, especially in order to establish absolute control of the state.”
It’s a word that’s never been used before to describe the actions or intentions of a President of the United States, which may be why there have been a number of think pieces in recent days debating the meaning of the word coup, as if what to call it is more important than trying to determine whether what Trump is doing is designed to accomplish it.
What he’s done thus far—his delegitimization of Biden’s victory by doubling down on his charges of fraud, refusal to concede defeat and denial of the briefings and resources Biden is due as president-elect; his on-going purges of his own appointees at the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security who are deemed insufficiently loyal; his withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, designed as much to further Russia’s geo-political interests as to demoralize the U.S. military and intelligence agencies; and the angry mob he summoned to Washington last weekend to demonstrate his ability to create havoc, should he choose to do so—all point to an autogolpe.
What should be disturbing to all Americans is that Trump could not carry out an autogolpe without declaring a national emergency, invoking the Insurrection Act and what’s left of the Espionage Act of 1917. One need only read accounts of the Red Scare of 1919-1920 to understand that Rule of Law is something we may think is sacrosanct but which our government has ignored more than once when our leaders feel threatened.
The Mueller Report and Trump’s impeachment trial this year should also have disabused us of another belief, that no one is above the law in the United States, which I suspect many Americans think is enshrined in the Constitution, like freedom of speech and religion.
It turns out that with an intellectually dishonest Attorney General like Barr and morally bankrupt Senate, presidents of the United States can obstruct justice, demand illegal favors of foreign heads of state and even violate our election laws by paying hush money to call girls who threaten to kiss and tell, without fear of being prosecuted, much less convicted, for their criminal activity.
Should Our Law and Order President declare a national emergency, which the Constitution permits him to do without Congressional approval, all bets would be off.
He could manufacture a pretext, not unlike what he and Barr did this summer, to encourage the white supremacist militias, for example, to attack Democratic party headquarters in states where Trump has accused the Democrats of stealing the election; then arrest party leaders and even elected officials for inciting the militias to violence; and then annul the election on the grounds that it was an affront to democracy.
Impossible, you say? Not according to a paper published two years ago by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School. Titled What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency, the paper says, among other things, Trump could, on his own authority, shut down the broadcast media and internet, and quite possibly order the arrest of anyone who criticizes his seizure of power.
This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down.
What will happen is anyone’s guess. Trump may not even have decided himself. But should he decide to go for the nuclear option, an autogolpe, only We the People will have the power to stop him–and ensure nothing like this ever happens again.
Our thoughts Sunday in The Weekend Swamp.
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