The election is over, but what Trump does next could be the really scary partNovember 11, 2020
I can only hope that if you’re reading this, you’re lucky enough to not suffer — as I do — from an affliction that can best be described as “Too Much Online Brain.” You do not spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about whomever is the day’s “main character,” you do not particularly care about whichever brand did a bad tweet this time, and when it comes to our perpetual national crisis, you have not spent the past 48 hours agonizing — like some of us have — over whether or not the Trump administration’s latest authoritarian sweeps and theatrical refusal to accept the results of last week’s election actually constitutes a “coup” or something else entirely.
To that last point, however, I say: Who cares?
The debate over whether or not the president’s transparently corrupt attempts to remain in power beyond this coming January amount to a “coup” is really just a matter of semantics. The Trump campaign is deeply unlikely to succeed in its many, many lawsuits filed against various aspects of the voting process in several key states. Pentagon-shuffling notwithstanding, it’s hard to imagine even Trump ordering a phalanx of troops to … do … something? And either way, world leaders have decided to accept, y’know, reality, and are already referring to Joe Biden as the president-elect.
If this is a coup, it seems to be a stunningly inept one. And conversely, if it’s not a coup, the president and his enablers’ efforts to not only deny the election results, but the electoral process as a whole, sure do feel awfully … well, at least coup-adjacent. The whole charade is not so much an attempt to take over the government, as it is an attempt to implant the idea that Trump has been robbed of what should be rightfully his, and make it last long after Biden assumes office come January.
That, more than anything else, is the real danger here. While Trump and his GOP cronies all seem to recognize, to varying degrees, the futility of all this post-election saber-rattling, there are millions of Americans who are so utterly cowed by the president’s cult of personality that they will sincerely believe that he is, and will remain, the duly elected leader of the United States. Indeed, per one study, 70% percent of Eepublicans apparently don’t believe the election was “free and fair,” while another poll found that more than 85% of Trump voters simply do not accept Biden’s win as legitimate.
Whatever Trump is ultimately working toward — whether it’s actually remaining in power (maybe!) or using his recount effort as a last ditch cash grab (likely!) — his machinations are, deliberately or not, stirring up a truly dangerous and uncontrollable mixture of anger and distrust. It’s the sort of combustable formula for real chaos as things move ahead. What do you suppose happens when the majority of Trump voters simply don’t believe that President Biden has no legal authority over them — and are being actively encouraged to believe that by Trump, the man they just know is the lawful president? It doesn’t matter whether you call Trump’s current strategy a coup or not — either way, he’s very clearly setting the stage for the sort of schism that could violently warp the country for a generation at least.
That, more than anything else, is the crisis here — not the president’s flailing legal “strategy,” nor the GOP’s impolite refusal to congratulate Biden on his victory. Those are each plenty alarming in their own respect and should be addressed, sure, but the damage they’re doing is more ephemeral. Instead, the debate should be not over whether or not this is a coup, but over whether anything can be done to stop what’s coming next.