My liberal friends are relieved. I am terrified.
Democratic voters got what they wanted last Saturday: the electoral defeat of Donald Trump.
By this time next year if not sooner, Joe Biden’s win will look like a Pyrrhic victory.
Rather than pushing an affirmative platform of policy proposals, Biden’s entire campaign boiled down to opposition to Trump. This is the first time that a purely negative campaign has unseated an incumbent president.
I was skeptical of Biden’s decision to target disaffected anti-Trump Republican swing voters rather than shore up the progressive base, but it worked. That’s why he won personally, yet didn’t have coattails in the House (where Dems lost seats), Senate or state races. Many Republican voters, tired of Trump’s tweets and disgusted by his COVID buffoonery, voted straight red except for crossing party lines for President-elect Biden.
Going forward, there are several reasons to be scared.
First: Trump isn’t gone. He isn’t the quiet type. Coupled with his refusal to concede the race, Trump’s silence and that of his MAGA supporters is spooky. As previously discussed in this space, Trump is a desperate man fighting for his freedom. On January 20th he loses executive immunity, becoming exposed to the New York prosecutors who are gunning for him on bank fraud, tax fraud and insurance fraud charges that will probably land him in prison for the rest of his life. He will do anything — wouldn’t you? — to avoid that fate.
Trump’s Plan A, I believe, is his flurry of lawsuits related to supposed voter fraud and vote-counting irregularities. Trump doesn’t care about winning his cases. He wants to run out the clock by delaying ballot certifications past the December 14th electoral college deadline in enough states in order to trigger the 12th Amendment, which would grant him a second term via a vote in the new House of Representatives. Trump’s legal filings probably won’t prevail. But his odds are better than zero. This is why so few GOP politicians have broken rank — they know the SOB isn’t yet done for.
Plan B, because there is no other option that leaves him in the White House and thus out of prison, is for Trump to declare some sort of “state of emergency” in response to a real or imagined crisis (Antifa, coronavirus, ISIS, just the election having been “stolen”). Martial law, tanks in the streets, stay in your homes or you will be shot. We’ll figure out the election later…much later…never.
On-and-off Trump crony Roger Stone recently suggested that Trump invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, declare martial law, arrest Harry Reid, Mark Zuckerberg, the Clintons and journalists. Trump himself threatened to use it to crush the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer.
His armed redneck MAGA brigades may be deputized as the coup’s paramilitaries “to protect law and order.” He could pull it off; liberals are wimps and Trump has widespread support among local police forces and sizable support among the white nationalists and other reactionaries within the military. On the other hand, a presidential attack on democracy could unite the left and the mainstream right.
There might not be a coup. Trump might slink off into the night or fly into Saudi exile. Point is, I won’t breathe easily until he’s gone on January 20th.[Edit Added 11/10/20:]
Adding to the growing sense that a coup attempt may be in the works were Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, and the fact that no Republican not previously identified anti-Trump has come out to urge Trump to accept defeat and concede the election to Biden. “President Trump is 100-percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options,” McConnell said. Only one GOP senator, moderate Susan Collins of Maine, congratulated Biden on his win. While acknowledging that Biden won, Fox News continues to use weasel language like “if and when Biden takes the oath of office.”
Two other developments give cause for concern.
First, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Why would an outgoing administration fire a cabinet officer two months before the end of its term? Because it intends to remain in office. Esper was notable for refusing Trump’s order to deploy the military against BLM protesters in June. Trump will require a compliant defense secretary to stage a coup that cannot succeed without troops in the streets; he appears to have found such a figure in Esper’s acting replacement. Second, Attorney General William Barr ordered the Department of Justice to investigate voter fraud in the recent election, providing a fig leaf for Trump’s allegations that he was cheated.[/end of edit]
If that happens, Joe Biden’s problems begin. And ours become immeasurably worse.
Republicans will probably retain control of the Senate. Anyone remotely familiar with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows that it will be impossible to pass big-ticket Democratic legislation. The $15-per-hour federal minimum wage, public option for Obamacare, partial student loan forgiveness and anything that approaches a Green New Deal are all dead on arrival.
Biden hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet. But he is already the lamest of all lame ducks. Progressives will protest and attack Biden from the left, arguing that his centrist campaign failed to generate the Blue Wave necessary to get big things done. (They will be right.) Centrists, seeing that Biden’s presidency is doomed, that Bidenism never meant anything and will never accomplish more than to simply exist, will resign themselves to apathy.
The country will be in big trouble. It will have been over half a year since the last infusion of economic stimulus. Unemployment will be soaring, the long-term unemployed will face evictions and foreclosures, the sagging housing market will begin to collapse and securities markets, which have managed to teeter along through COVID, will start to feel the pain. And the coronavirus will be ravaging us through its second or third wave of death and disability, no vaccine yet available, in an insane for-profit healthcare system.
Biden and the Democrats will be in the worst possible position. The pandemic will be raging and the economy will be in depression. Democrats will be blamed for the mess left behind by Trump but they won’t be able to do anything to try to fix it. They’ll complain about McConnell but voters won’t listen.
Ordinary citizens will suffer the most. We need a huge stimulus package but we’re not going to get one. Gridlock will prevent the U.S. government from doing anything to save the planet, the economy or us.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)