By now, the plan to steal the next election is as plain as day — for anyone who cares to look that is. Why it’s plain for all to see — I’ll come to that. First, let me point out the stakes, and then the plan.
The stakes are that American democracy comes to an end — and so does any hope of American becoming a modern, civilized society right along with it. Trump steals the election — and then there probably isn’t another one. It’s taken America four years — just four — to get to camps, bans, raids, purges, and what all that, the classical sequence of Nazism was obviously going to culminate in: the final seizure of power and a democracy becoming a dictatorship. The Germans of the 1930s thought it couldn’t happen there, either, by the way.
The stakes are that Trump finishes the job of becoming America’s Saddam, Gaddafi, Putin — and then one of his weird, dead-eyed kids takes over. American democracy is gone for a generation at least — and even if Americans win it back, by then, America’s a permanently destabilized, poor, and broken country. Or is it already? Even more of one, then. But I digress.
Now let’s discuss the plan.
The plan is to sever the head and limbs of a democracy, rip its heart out — and then, for good measure, break its back. Sorry for being graphic, but — this is it, America’s last chance. The plan is to destroy a society’s ability to enact democracy, to be one. Like any good authoritarian plan, it consists of various elements, that combine to form a kind of multiple pincer movements, which tear the democratic body apart.
The first element of the plan is to sever the limbs of a democracy — whether or not it can vote properly. To suppress, stifle, and thwart a fair and free election, by making voting as difficult as possible. In this, what’s happening to the Postal Service is key. The Post has recently — and rightly — put it this way: Trump’s declared war on the Postal Service.
In any election, mailed-in votes tend to be crucial. In this one, they’re doubly crucial, because…there’s a pandemic. One which Trump himself has let spiral out of control. It should be obvious to see that people are going to mail in votes because voting in-person is risky. It is obvious, which is exactly why the Postal Service is already being throttled — being defunded and attacked. The less mailed-in votes there are, the fewer that arrive on time — the less votes there that count period — the better off the authoritarians are.
The second element of the plan is to destroy American democracy is the GOP attacking absentee voting, whether by elderly people, those overseas, or anyone, really. It recently brought two important cases before the Supreme Court, attacking the right of absentee voting. And it won, which tells us the Supreme Court is not on the side of expansive voting rights. And that tells us something chilling: the authoritarians have already succeeded at making it way, way harder to vote than it needs to be.
The broader purpose of all this is just what you think it is, to deter and suppress voting altogether.
That brings me to the next element of the plan — to rip the heart out of a democracy. To suppress and deter voting with violence and intimidation.
Trump’s shock troops may have left Portland, but “Operation Legend” — remember when these “Operations” weren’t used against Americans? — is fanning out across the nation. Where are the shock troops — the elite paramilitary unit of the ominously named “Homeland Security” — heading? To major cities in swing states that lean Democratic — like Chicago and New York.
Coincidence? Of course not. What are they going to do in those cities? Just what they did in Portland. Abduct people off the streets. Beat moms violently in public. Gas public officials.
The point of all that is something that survivors of authoritarianism know all too well: to make an example. This is what happens to people who cross me. They get beaten, brutalized, abducted. Voting against me is crossing me. Don’t cross me. I’ll hurt you. Think twice before you leave the house on election day. Think twice before you tell your friends to. Think hard and long before you attend that march, protest, rally. We’re watching you.
If the authoritarians are successful at this, they’ll ramp up the brutality and violence from the paramilitaries over the next 100 days or so, across the country, until people feel so intimidated, so cowed, that the vote is enfeebled. Remember, the point is to make an example — a loud, public, frightening one. It’s not to just hurt the people they’re beating and brutalizing — it’s to terrify everyone else, too. Into not voting, not acting, not speaking. It’s to rip the heart of a democracy. To terrorize a whole nation.
It’s a game of inches, not yards. They don’t have to stop everyone from voting — they just have to create an atmosphere of dread, fear, anxiety, panic, which shifts the vote in their favor just that tiny little bit, so then they can finish the final seizure of power.
Will they go that far? Are you kidding? Haven’t you learned anything yet? Sorry, I don’t mean to sound mean — but this is what authoritarians do.
That brings me to the third element of the plan — to break the mind and soul<strong”> of a democracy. By now, you can see Donald Trump crossing the last few lines left for any leader of a democracy to really cross: delegitimizing the upcoming election. Calling to delay it. Threatening to stay in office. “Joking” openly about a third term. Sending every signal, as nakedly as possible, to his Army of Idiots that if they back him, he’ll happily stay on for life.
What is Trump doing, by delegitimizing democracy? On the one hand, he’s telling his base: “Make sure you vote for me! Because this it! We’ll have what we wanted, which is that you were ignorant enough to make me your dictator!” On the other hand, he’s throwing what’s left of civil society into chaos and panic. What happens if Trump doesn’t leave office? What if he tries to delay the election? What the?
Sure, pundits and politicians can say: “We’ll never let him get away with it!” But let’s be fair — these are the same folks who’ve let Trump get away with bloody murder over the last few years. Trump’s got everything he wanted, from camps to bans to raids to purges. It’s eminently possible that this time, America’s leadership class — made of complicit Republicans and appeasing, impotent Dems — will finally reign in an aspiring dictator. But it’s also eminently plausible to think that they won’t, because they never have once so far, and don’t appear to have the will, the power, or the foresight to.
And yet sowing that chaos is just what Trump wants. Even if he doesn’t get to delay the election, his purpose has been accomplished: to sow chaos. In the midst of that chaos, he can go on with the other elements of the plan, unobserved, or at least not observed enough. He can sow a sense of fatalism in enough good Americans. He can amp up his base to a hysterical frenzy.
Authoritarians thrive on chaos, in chaos. Chaos is what lets them step in and say: “I alone can fix it!” Remember when Trump said that? Delegitimizing democracy means that now the fatal weakness of America’s politicians and leadership class is there for all to see: how on earth did they let it get this bad? That an election is being threatened? What the? And yet that’s the point: to threaten, to intimidate, to create uncertainty.
Delegitimizing democracy serves the triple purpose of exciting the Trumpists, of giving Trump a pretext to send all those shock troops across the nation, to deter and suppress the vote, to make the establishment look foolish, weak, helpless — and for the final leg of the plan.
To break the back of American democracy.
Remember when I observed that the Supreme Court’s already unsympathetic to expansive voting rights? Now connect all the dots above. Votes suppressed and deterred. A President who’s been delegitimizing voting, rights, democracy, for months. He loses the election. What happens next?
He contests it. Mounting challenge after challenge. These votes shouldn’t have counted. Nor those! And these — why, these votes in this state were fraudulent. And these votes in this city? My shock troops have evidence they were a fraud!!
‘The election was stolen from me!” cries Trump, like a textbook demagogue, seizing power.
“I’m not stealing it. I’m just taking back what’s rightfully mine! I told you that the vote would be manipulated, cheated — unfair to me! I won this election. So how can I be stealing what I won? I’m not! It was always mine to begin with.
“I’m not stealing the election. They tried to steal the election. The enemies of the people — the media, the opposition, the hated minorities, the city-dwellers!! I’m just taking it back!!”
Do you see how all this works?
I’m sure that you do, because I’d bet something close to this scenario has already crossed your mind more than a few times. Or maybe I should say: almost crossed your mind. Because what happens is that your gut says it, and then your brain shuts it down. “Impossible. It’ll never happen. Get a grip!” says your brain to your gut. Your brain, your rational side, is wrong. It has no experience of authoritarianism. None. How it works, how it plays out, or how to fight it. Your gut, on the other hand, can feel a bully, a coward, and a predator from a mile away. Your gut is right.
This is not going to be a normal election. It is going to be American democracy’s last stand. If the election is lost, that that’s it, for a generation. America will become something very much like Putin’s Russia — a sham democracy ruled over by a dictator, a society which is plummeting into violence, poverty, chaos, hate, and despair.
Let me add one more thing, in case your rational side still doubts all the above. Somewhere between 30 to 40% of Americans still support Trump, as baffling as the world finds that number. How can that many people still support this maniac? But they do.
And that’s more than enough to destroy a democracy for good.
It’s never taken a majority to ignite the chain reaction of a democratic collapse. Hitler never had one. Putin clambered his way atop the ruins of a broken Russia. In the Islamic world, it took a fanatical minority of just about 30% to plunge nations into dictatorship and long-term ruin. It only takes a fanatical enough, committed enough minority to really, genuinely bring down a democracy. It’s never taken a majority. Sadly for America, it’s outmoded electoral college system only aids that minority, giving them outsized power formally.
Why is the plan, as my friend Sarah Kendzior says, hiding in plain sight? Because there’s nothing that excites fanatics more than the idea of giving their savior power for life.
The plan is there for all to see so that Trump’s Army of American Idiots can slaver over it, and commit themselves to it fully, knowing this it it, the final showdown — and so that everyone else ends up demoralized, disheartened, apathetic, and fatalistic, if not outright terrorized, terrified, and panicked into submission.
Think about all that. And then you tell me. Is the plan to destroy American democracy going to work? The answer, after all, depends on you.