I’ve been warning about Trump and the path to soft fascism–a fascism that keeps but eviscerates the substance of democratic forms–since 2015.
What the federal government is doing in Portland is just the latest step in that direction. Federal police action against the will of the local authorities is against the law. So is unidentified federal agents picking people up in unmarked vehicles.
I’ve feared that this is leading to an attempt by Trump to steal the presidential election which he is likely to lose if it is carried out fairly.
The Republicans have long been trying to tilt national elections in their direct with voter ID laws, purges of the electorate, gerrymandered congressional districts (which as we will see below could have profound consequences), the end of federal pre-clearance of rules changes, the tacit if not explicit alliance with Russia and the obstruction of justice to covert up which continues with Barr’s interference in the sentence of Michael Flynn and Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence.
But this many not be the end of what Trump with Republican support is prepare to do.
There are two scenarios in which I can imagine Trump declaring the November election, at least in some critical states, invalid in a way that leads to his stealing the election
1. He claims, on the basis of criticisms he has made for months, that mail-in ballots and the process of counting them is corrupt.
2. He sends in federal forces to quell “civil disturbances” in states on Election Day and then concludes that the vote in those states cannot be trusted because of those disturbances and the steps necessary to stop them
Or he does both together saying the he needs to send in federal forces to stop election corruption.
He’s most likely to do this in swing states with one of two goals.
1. Tilt the result by stopping people from voting. Imagine a federal occupation of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on Election Day with massive arrests of “protestors” and “radical elements” and “undocumented immigrants.” The chaos created by this action could disrupt voting substantially enough in the two large most Democratic cities that Trump could win the state.
2. Or he could try create enough doubt about the result to justify further actions to encourage political and / or mob action that blocks the reporting of electoral results from those states with the ultimate goal of throwing the election into the House of Representatives
The second strategy could be carried out in one of two ways.
1. There is, as far as I know, nothing that can stop a state from changing how presidential electors in each state are chosen up to the day set for the electors to meet and vote in the state capitols (the first Monday after the second Wednesday, which is December 14 this year.) So imagine that Trump claims that the chaos in PA and a few other other swing states controlled by Republicans makes the election results in those states doubtful. He then calls on the state legislature to exercise its constitutional power to decide how electors are chosen and to chose electors directly instead of allowing the popular vote in the state to decide which slate of electors get to vote.
Republicans will still control both houses of the PA General at that point and could decide to chose a slate of electors pledged to vote for Trump.
They will claim, as they recently did in trying to end Governor Wolf’s state of emergency that they can act without the approval of the Governor.
Although the current law that governs the choice of electors by popular vote was created by a legislative act signed by the governor and our state constitution says that all concurrent resolutions have to be presented to the governor, the Republican leaders of the General Assembly will claim that US Constitution gives the power to choose how electors are chosen to the “legislature” alone. One can make a very good case that by “legislature” the US Constitution means the branch(es) of government that hold the “legislative power” which includes the governor in so far as he has the power to veto laws. But there will be an intense legal controversy surrounding that claim.
The PA Supreme Court will no doubt rule against the General Assembly as it recently did when the House and Senate passed a concurrent resolution to end the state of emergency and then did not present it to the governor for his veto or approval. But the Republicans will appeal to federal court where one of the Trump selected judges may well hold for them.
At any rate Trump can win not just by stealing the electoral votes of PA but by creating enough delay that the state misses the hard and fast deadline to report electoral votes to Congress.
And that is important if Biden needs PA’s electoral votes (or that of other large swing states where a similar process could take place) to secure a majority of the electoral votes. If our electoral votes and those of a few others state do not get counted, then it is possible that no candidate has a majority of electoral votes.
If that happens the president is chosen by the House of Representatives with each state holding one vote, determined by a vote of the representatives from each state. At the moment a majority of state delegations in the House of Representatives has a majority of Republicans. If that does not change in the November election, then House will vote to elect Trump to a second term.
2. The other way to block a states electoral votes from reaching Congress is mob rule. Imagine that Trump’s complaints about the “corruption” in the election gins up the heavily armed Republican lunatics in the center of the state to mob the capitol and stop the process by which the PA electors chosen in the election meet and cast their votes. Or, even worse, they kidnap the electors themselves.
Again, the point is to stop our and other states from sending their electoral votes to Congress to be counted and throwing the election to the House of Representatives.
This may all sound fanciful. Who would believe Trump or the PA Republicans when they say that the election in our state was so compromised that the election results can be trusted?
What court or courts would allow the state to miss the deadline for sending electoral votes to DC?
What mob would storm the capitol or kidnap electors?
We know the answer to these questions.
The same Republican political leaders in Pennsylvania who have been either lying through their teeth or have deluded themselves into believing that COVID-19 is not a serious threat or that the Governor’s emergency orders and the order to wear mask masks in public violate our moral or constitutional rights.
The same political leaders who just tried to sidestep the Pennsylvania Constitution to overturn Governor Wolf’s state of emergency. And when they were thwarted they passed a amendment to that constitution that compromises the independence of the courts.
The same federal courts that have allowed challenges to the ACA that would have been laughed at ten years ago to move forward to the Supreme Court.
The same armed mobs that have been showing up state capitols including our own.
The same people who have totally lost their ability to evaluate evidence and arguments when they challenge Trump.
The same old white men who are so scared by the advance of people of color and women that have been driven to embrace a cult.
The same supine press that treats what has been going on in Harrisburg as politics as usual not the work of corrupt political mountebanks appealing to the worst elements in our political community.
Trump and Republicans have been gaslighting us, not just for the last four year but since 1994. They have been violating one tradition, one custom, one accepted interpretation of our Constitution, and one law after another, preparing their followers to accept anything they do as justified. They have been ginning up hatred so that they have a large enough base of support to rule even when they do not have a majority.
How many times have you said in the last four years that something Trump was going couldn’t be happening? And yet it was, with the full support of the Republican Party
How many times have you said that the Republicans in Harrisburg will not get away with their transparent attempts to block the votes of those without picture IDs or to undermine necessary public safety measures or go forward with a blatantly unconstitutional action to challenge Governor Wolf’s authority to issue a state of emergency or to claim that businesses should be opened during the COVID-19 emergency despite all the evidence we have that this has caused disasters in other parts of the country? And yet as they have gone ahead with actions and proposals utterly contrary to what most decent people think, people have come to treat their dishonest crazy policies as somehow normal.
So don’t think that that scenarios I’ve sketched here are unimaginable. They are bizarre, unacceptable, and crazy. But they are by no means impossible.
We are in a situation of maximum danger for our republic. We need to be prepared for the worst. And we need the political leaders on our side to be preparing now for possibilities that may simply unimaginable today.
If I were Governor Wolf I would be assuring myself of the loyalty of the National Guard now. I would be making contingency plans to use legal and other means to rebuff federal forces. I would be making contingency plans to protect electors and to provide security for their meeting on December 14.
And we have to do our part as well. We have to register, secure a mail-in ballot, and vote and do it early. The best defense against the possibilities I’ve laid out here is an election that function wells and one in which Trump loses by such a great margin in Pennsylvania that his claims about fraud as well as an effort to nullify the election becomes almost impossible.