Years Of Living Dangerously

By this time in 2016, the national polls had tightened to around a 3% advantage for Hillary Clinton and Trump was well within the margin of error in critical swing states where Clinton’s support was still holding far below 50%. Today, Biden’s lead nationally still holds at around 9% and Trump is barely within the margin of error in crucial swing states where Biden’s support is near or above 50%. In addition, Biden is well within the margin of error in states that Trump was expected to easily defend. There is almost universal consensus that Joe Biden will win the popular vote. In this high-turnout election, a conservative estimate is that there will be around 150 million ballots cast. (On an unrelated note, one of the reasons for such high turnout may involve that fact that there are nearly 30 million Americans out of work who now actually have the time to stand in line for 7 hours to actually vote). If Biden’s nine point national lead holds, that would translate to a popular vote win of nearly 14 million votes. And even if the polls overstate Biden’s support by 100%, Biden would still win the popular by over 6 million votes.

However, even that 6 million vote margin may not be enough to prevent Trump from eking out another Electoral College victory with the help of massive voter suppression, election chaos, and the courts. Such a result would mean that Democrats would have won the popular vote in six of the last seven elections yet have only actually controlled the White House for half that time. And such a result would also mean the end of American democracy as we know it. Four more years of Trump, abetted by a sympathetic Supreme Court, would entrench minority rule for the foreseeable future and destroy the protections built for Americans during the New Deal and since.

The Republican effort to sabotage the election has been ongoing. But we are now headed down the home stretch and are just beginning to see the first signs of election violence promised from the right. In Texas, the Biden campaign had to cancel an event because armed Trumpsters tried to run their campaign bus off the road. Trump celebrated that action, retweeting a video of the surrounded bus and writing “I LOVE TEXAS!”. In Las Cruces, New Mexico, Republican poll watchers became overly aggressive and had to be removed from the polling station. In North Carolina, police used pepper spray on a peacefully assembled crowd that was holding a rally to get voters to the polls. A reporter was one of those arrested and children and the disabled were among those who were sprayed.

This is all a prelude to election day chaos. In Portland, armed right-wing gangs plan to show up at ballot drop-off locations. In Michigan, a judge has upheld the right to openly carry firearms into polling locations. An organization that tracks extremist groups recently wrote regarding the elections, “There is an increasing narrative and trend that groups are organizing to ‘supplement’ the work of law enforcement or to place themselves in a narrowly defined ‘public protection’ role in parallel with police departments of a given locale”. These right-wing groups are realigning themselves from an anti-government stance “to mostly supporting one candidate”, namely Trump.

Ron Suskind laid out the nightmare scenario, based on interviews with some present and former administration officials. He writes, “Disruption would most likely begin on Election Day morning somewhere on the East Coast, where polls open first. Miami and Philadelphia (already convulsed this week after another police shooting), in big swing states, would be likely locations…Conservative media could then say the election was being stolen, summoning others to activate, maybe violently…Violence and conflict throughout that day at the polls would surely affect turnout, allowing Mr. Trump to claim that the in-person vote had been corrupted, if that suits his purposes…No matter how the votes split, there’s an expectation among officials that Mr. Trump will claim some kind of victory on Nov. 4, even if it’s a victory he claims was hijacked by fraud…If the streets then fill with outraged people, he can easily summon, or prompt, or encourage troublemakers among his loyalists to turn a peaceful crowd into a sea of mayhem…If the crowds are sufficiently large and volatile, he can claim to be justified in responding with federal powers to bring order”.

While these armed right-wing gangs plot to disrupt election day, the Republican-filled courts are providing ever more creative ways to throw out legal ballots already cast, primarily by Democrats. Yesterday in Texas, a federal judge agreed to hear a case brought by Republicans that would invalidate over 100,000 votes already cast via what is known as “drive-through voting”. As Marc Joseph Stern writes, “the case landed in front of U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, one of the most notoriously partisan conservatives in the federal judiciary. Democrats have good reason to fear that Hanen will order the mass nullification of ballots as early as Nov. 2, when he has scheduled a hearing”. Hanen called the hearing without even waiting for a response from Harris County lawyers. As @nycsoupaw adds, “None of the defendants-a voter, a state legislator, and a judge whose name is on the ballot-appear to me to have standing under any established rule” and Republicans had been involved in the whole design of drive-through voting, making their arguments against it at this late date now rather remarkable. In addition, the Texas Supreme Court had already upheld the legality of this drive-through voting procedure.

Meanwhile, Bill Barr is getting on the action as well. The DOJ is in court trying to derail the lawsuits against the US Postal Service’s slowdown in delivering mail-in ballots. Things were reportedly so bad in Florida that Miami-Dade County’s state attorney has ordered “that all postal distribution centers be audited and any and all ballots that may remain in these centers be immediately transported to the Department of Elections”.

Even if Biden can overcome these obstacles and claim a clear victory, the country will still have to deal with a now unconstrained Trump for another two months. Trump will continue to use every tactic imaginable to hold on to power. That will certainly involve inflaming his supporters with even more outrageous contentions that the election was stolen from him. His recent executive order basically ending the non-partisan civil service will allow him to fire anyone who stands in his way and replace him or her with a yes-man (because we know it will be a man) loyalist. He has already floated the idea of firing Barr and FBI Director Wray if he wins simply because they have not been willing to publicly announce an investigation into Biden as Trump desired. If Trump loses, there is still nothing to stop him from firing those two and appointing sycophants who would actually try to indict Biden.

Meanwhile, Trump will be doing everything imaginable to line his own pockets as time runs out. That would probably include outrageous corruption for the benefit of foreign governments that support his businesses, similar to his efforts to kibosh the Halkbank prosecution for evading Iran sanctions as a favor to Turkish President Erdogan. There will be multiple trips to Mar-a-Lago and other properties in addition to the looting of our government by well-connected corporate kleptocrats.

Even if Trump does finally give in to a transfer of power, with the exception of the end of rampant corruption and self-dealing, not much will change on the Republican side with a Biden presidency. A recent analysis has shown that Trump supporters have strong authoritarian tendencies in addition to “shockingly high levels of anti-democratic beliefs and prejudicial attitudes”, according to Washington Post reporter Christopher Ingraham. Another study showed similar results, “that many Republican voters hold strong authoritarian and anti-democratic beliefs, with racism being a key driver of those attitudes”. Mike Lee, Republican Senator from Utah and supposed conservative thinker, has stated, “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospe[r]ity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that”. The current GOP candidate for Governor of Washington has also declared that “Democracy is a step toward socialism, which is a step towards communism”.

Those authoritarian tendencies will be supported by the right-wing extremist groups which will still be inflamed and threatening violence. In just the first three years of the Trump administration, 87 people were killed by right-wing violence. One of these armed right-wing groups tried to kidnap and execute a sitting Democratic governor after some sort of show trial. Egged on by their armchair general, Trump, who will be telling them Biden’s victory was illegitimate, it’s easy to see these groups getting even more extreme. As Vasabjit Banerjee notes, the threat of a rural insurgency in this country is real. “While the U.S. is not currently at the point of a full-blown insurgency, such insurgencies exist across a spectrum rather than being characterized by the crossing of a line, and consequently, it behooves us to worry now rather than when we get to ‘there’…The other major advantage for militias is the nature of local law enforcement agencies and national-level military and security forces. Local police forces in many states have a history of being either sympathetic to white supremacists and/or being infiltrated by these groups…the preconditions for insurgencies are already present”.

Similarly, the federal courts, now stacked with Federalist Society hacks, will also present a problem for a Biden administration. It is hard to understate just how much the rushed confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett in order to rule on the election and the recent federal court decisions changing the rules in the middle of an election and potentially disenfranchising hundreds of thousands have radicalized Democrats. Moderate Democrats like Chris Coons and James Clyburn now are openly discussing the option of court expansion. If the courts toss ballots that were legal when cast that ends up costing Democrats a Senate seat or two or start gutting political reforms that a Biden administration passes legislatively, the reaction could be disastrous.

The Trump administration has continually lied to and defied the courts, often in creative ways. But now, defiance of the courts is now being discussed on the left, although not by any Democratic party officials. Paul Campos, hardly a raging leftist, recently wrote, “Judicial reform can and should come in many forms: court expansion, term limits, and selective jurisdiction stripping are three of the most obvious. But there’s another weapon at hand, that’s been lying around like a loaded gun for 217 years now, ever since John Marshall crafted his wonderfully circular arguments to prove by geometric logic that federal courts have the ultimate say over what the law in this country actually is. That weapon is this: There is no reason that government officials should obey flagrantly lawless courts. The doctrine of judicial supremacy promulgated in Marbury v. Madison is just that: a judicially created doctrine, not found in the Constitution, and never formalized via legislation…Judicial supremacy, in other words, is a doctrine that makes sense under certain historical conditions and not others. Under current conditions — where the federal courts have been taken over by the pliant minions of a lawless anti-democratic minority, which, because it finds itself increasingly unable to win free and fair elections, uses its illicit seizure of those very courts to maintain and extend power — that doctrine needs to be treated explicitly as contingent by those resisting the current ongoing judicial coup”. In Minnesota, the response to the latest ruling from the 8th Circuit limiting voting rights is not to appeal that decision, but to segregate those late arriving ballots but also count them, essentially daring the courts to throw those votes out.

A Trump victory will be the end of American democracy. But even a Biden win in this election will simply stop the madness and the erosion of democracy from getting worse. All the pathologies of the current incarnation of the Republican party will remain, but even more inflamed, frustrated by their loss and outraged at any Democratic attempts at reform. The years ahead will still be fraught with danger.

Originally published at https://thesoundings.com on November 1, 2020.

Thoughtful discussions on politics and economics with some sidelights in photography and astronomy.

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