From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Is Trump Planning a Coup d’État?
Date September 11, 2020 5:59 AM
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[ Many observers—including Republicans—worry that he is.
They’re organizing now to stop him. Given the administration’s
record of embracing “numerous corrupt and authoritarian
practices,” huge numbers of Americans must be ready to take to the
streets] [[link removed]]

IS TRUMP PLANNING A COUP D’ÉTAT?  
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Sasha Abramsky
September 7, 2020
The Nation
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_ Many observers—including Republicans—worry that he is.
They’re organizing now to stop him. Given the administration’s
record of embracing “numerous corrupt and authoritarian
practices,” huge numbers of Americans must be ready to take to the
streets _

Illustration by Victor Juhasz // The Nation,

 

This summer, shortly after scores of camo-wearing, heavily armed
federal agents descended on Portland, Ore., to attack protesters,
Charles Fried, Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general, pondered the
implications of what he was seeing on the streets. What he saw scared
him; he remembered the use of paramilitaries by fascist leaders in
1930s Europe, where he was born, and he feared he was now witnessing a
slide into paramilitarism in the United States. (His family fled the
Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia.) Fried felt that President Trump
was using the Department of Homeland Security and other government
agencies in a way that was “very menacing. You might as well put
brown shirts on them. It’s a very bad thing.”

A Harvard Law School professor who still counts himself as a
Republican and a board member of groups such as the Campaign Legal
Center, Checks and Balances, and Republicans for the Rule of Law,
Fried has grown increasingly worried in recent months about Trump’s
willingness to stir chaos and violence as an electoral strategy in the
run-up to November’s vote and about the willingness of his attorney
general, William Barr, to burn the country’s democratic institutions
to the ground to preserve this administration’s hold on power. Like
earlier authoritarians, Trump could, Fried fears, utilize “agents
provocateurs, getting right-wing people to infiltrate left-oriented
and by-and-large peaceful demonstrations to turn them violent to
thereby justify intervention.”

Fried, a student of history who chooses his words carefully, has
concluded that Trump and his team are “certainly racist,
contemptuous of ordinary democratic and constitutional norms, and they
believe their cause, their interests, are really the interests of the
nation and therefore anything that keeps them in power is in the
national interest. Does that make you a fascist? It kind of looks that
way, doesn’t it?”

Michael Steele, a former chair of the Republican National Committee,
has come to share Fried’s conviction that Trump is a threat to the
Republic, although Steele believes the Trump cult is more about naked
political opportunism than any grand fascist ideology.

Steele bitterly resents Trump’s takeover of the GOP. He feels that
Trump and his acolytes are trying to drive genuine Republicans out of
their political home. As Steele piquantly puts it, “I come into your
house and shit on the carpet. I tear down your drapes, write on your
walls, offend the people who live in the house. Do you leave or kick
my ass out? I don’t know anyone who leaves their house without a
fight. What kind of America, what kind of country do you want? What
kind of leader do you want?”

Like Fried, Steele in recent months concluded that Trump, aided and
abetted by the GOP’s congressional leaders, is willing to “open up
a Pandora’s box of mischief” to remain ensconced in the White
House, Steele says. “He’s laying down the predicate—taking shots
at vote by mail and saying he already knows there’s fraud— and
therefore it’s likely he won’t accept the results of the
election.” For Steele, Trump is “the P.T. Barnum of the 21st
century, on steroids,” a man with a mastery of the art of
manipulation. “He doesn’t give a shit about the people of
Portland. He doesn’t give a crap about Chicago,” Steele avers.
“This is not complicated. I don’t know why people keep
overthinking this man. His goal is to protect himself. He uses the
system against itself.”

Heimat security: The president sent federal officers to counter
protests in Portland, Ore., this summer.
Noah Berger / AP Photo  //  The Nation
This summer, Fried, Steele, and other devotees of traditional
conservatism began coordinating with fellow anti-Trump conservatives
around the country, as well as with progressive organizations, to
strategize responses should Trump attempt to maintain power despite
rejection at the polls. Some participants formed the Transition
Integrity Project, which includes campaign experts such as Michigan
Democratic ex-governor Jennifer Granholm and Democratic Party
consultant Donna Brazile, along with Steele and other old-guard GOP
stalwarts. They fear that if mail-in votes are still being tabulated
weeks after the election and—as seems increasingly likely—barrages
of lawsuits are filed by the candidates’ campaigns, conditions could
be ripe for Trump to create maximum mayhem.

In their sobering 22-page report
[[link removed]],
they write of the potential for “escalating violence” if Trump
loses and refuses to bow out gracefully. Given the administration’s
record of embracing “numerous corrupt and authoritarian
practices,” huge numbers of Americans must be ready to take to the
streets should Trump and his henchmen try to illegally curtail the
counting of mail-in ballots. The administration could deploy
federalized National Guard troops to stop vote counts. Indeed, on the
day Joe Biden accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, Trump
suggested on Fox News that he could order federal agents, even local
sheriffs, into polling stations ostensibly to monitor fraud. Trump and
his allies could also challenge the results in numerous states
simultaneously, send federal forces into Democratic-controlled cities,
and through social media accounts and speeches, activate right-wing
paramilitary groups.

The report warns that a desperate Trump could push the American
republic to the breaking point. The authors even envision scenarios in
which Trump wins the Electoral College but loses the popular vote and
exploits the ensuing unrest, goading Western states into attempting to
secede from the Union.

Increasingly, election observers point to the possibility of Trump
using the courts to contest so many states’ ballot tallies that the
Supreme Court ends up as the ultimate arbiter, as happened in the 2000
election. In some scenarios he loses, but his campaign refuses to
accept state results, aiming to tie up the process so that states
can’t certify their results in time for the January inauguration. In
others he dispenses with the legal niceties and simply refuses to cede
power, banking on enough backing from quasi-military agencies
supportive of his agenda, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement
and Customs and Border Protection as well as law enforcement agencies
at the local level and militia groups, that it would take a military
intervention to bounce him from the White House. Something like this
scenario was outlined in an open letter to Gen. Mark Milley
[[link removed]],
the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by two Iraq War veterans,
John Nagl and Paul Yingling, in mid-August. “If Donald Trump refuses
to leave office at the expiration of his constitutional term, the
United States military must remove him by force, and you must give
that order,” they wrote.

But relying on a conservative-dominated Supreme Court or a military
that has been conditioned—for good reason—never to intervene in
domestic political disputes is hardly a surefire path to protecting
the country from Trump’s dictatorial ambitions. Which brings us back
to people power.

Two of the main organizations that have begun planning mass
mobilization are the Indivisible Project
[[link removed]] and Stand Up America
[[link removed]]. Between them, they have brought
together dozens of organizations and movements—from Public Citizen,
MoveOn, and the End Citizens United Action Fund on the left to
Republicans for the Rule of Law and Stand Up Republic on the
right—inspired by nonpartisan groups such as the National Task Force
on Election Crises. The goal is to build a grassroots legal and
political infrastructure capable of pushing back against efforts to
undermine the electoral process. As Trump’s attacks on it have
intensified, additional groups have joined this nascent pro-democracy
movement, including the Service Employees International Union and the
Sunrise Movement.

“We’re putting a lot of energy into this,” says Ezra Levin, a
cofounder of the Indivisible Project and one of the organizers
of Protect the Results [[link removed]] (a joint
project of Indivisible and Stand Up America). “Indivisible brings to
the table people power. We started in December 2016 in response to
Trump. Three and a half years later, we have thousands of locally led
Indivisible groups around the country. We’re teaming up with other
groups, including Stand Up America.”

Ezra Levin: Indivisible Project.
Levin is well aware that what they are planning isn’t a
run-of-the-mill protest; rather, they will have to coordinate a
national campaign capable of bringing millions of people into the
streets—and not just for a day but for weeks and potentially months.
They are going to have to develop a durable movement that could
operate like the democracy movement in Hong Kong or the movements that
peacefully brought down Communist rule in Eastern Europe a generation
ago.

Levin argues that Trump “can try to cling to power and use
extraconstitutional means,” but “the tool we have is people at the
local level. That’s how a democracy works. The one tool in our
toolbox is participation. We need mass participation in that
moment.”

Indivisible points to its demonstrated ability to mobilize huge
numbers of people to protest family separation early in the Trump
presidency and to activate the networks that marched in the streets
calling for impeachment in 2019. Those actions—along with the
Women’s Marches, mobilizations around the climate crisis, and of
course, recent outpourings of support for racial justice—have shown
that people power can shape events even in the Trump era. “There is
no referee in the sky who’s going to evaluate the evidence and give
[the presidency] to the pro-democracy forces,” says Levin.
“That’s not how this works. It is not a question in my mind
whether we’ll be able to get people to show up. The question is
‘Where do you take people?’” Sean Eldridge of Stand Up America
agrees. “We’re going to need all hands on deck,” he argues.
“There’s a lot of scenario planning and coalition building still
to do.”

Vanita Gupta: Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Some of this groundwork involves getting millions of people in all 50
states to sign up for SMS alerts. Some of it involves getting lawyers
to volunteer to help with election-related issues in the weeks
surrounding the vote. Some involves grassroots education
campaigns—for example, publicizing efforts by the administration to
undermine the Postal Service. Some is about talking with labor
organizations about the prospect of going on strike and gridlocking
the economy if Trump attempts to steal the election. “There’s
going to be litigation, mass mobilization, policy options by
governors, state attorneys general, members of Congress,” says
Vanita Gupta, the president of the D.C.-based Leadership Conference
on Civil and Human Rights [[link removed]].

Rahna Epting: MoveOn.
Protecting the elections, says Rahna Epting, the executive director
of MoveOn [[link removed]], “will take multiple different
tactics. People are starting to connect the dots—and all the work
that movements have done across the generations. People are starting
to come out. People will be inspired and motivated to protect their
country. Will we be successful? We’re going to fight like hell to
make sure we are.”
 

People power: Thousands gathered in New York City’s Battery Park to
protest Trump’s Muslim travel ban, January 29, 2017.
The Nation
“Iwrote an op-ed during the campaign of ’16 pointing out all the
similarities between Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump,” recalls Tom
Coleman, a former Republican representative for the Sixth
Congressional District of Missouri and now a member of the National
Task Force on Election Crises. (The op-ed was never published.) But to
his frustration, even as Trump’s actions as president seemed to
validate Coleman’s warning, his erstwhile colleagues in the GOP
didn’t distance themselves from the tycoon-cum-politician. Even
today, Trump’s attacks on the electoral system and his promotion of
civil conflict are met largely with silence from the GOP’s grandees.

“A concern is what we are seeing right now: federal law enforcement
in major cities engaged in actions with protesters that generates
civil unrest and battles in the streets,” says Trevor Potter,
ex-chairman of the Federal Election Commission and currently president
of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. “To me, it was a
far-fetched, hypothetical idea till we saw it in Portland. It could
lead to sufficient civil unrest [such] that it is, in fact, difficult
to conduct an election in those cities.” Potter worries that Trump
could declare a form of martial law in Democratic-
controlled cities
or pressure GOP governors to issue stay-at-home orders in their
bigger, more liberal cities. Some observers have mused about the
possibility of Republican governors deploying the National Guard in
the weeks surrounding the election. “On the election side, is there
a remedy when parts of the state cannot vote on Election Day for
reasons beyond their control?” Potter asks.

Trump has talked vaguely about the extraordinary powers he could seize
during a putative national emergency. He has demanded—and largely
won—increasingly politicized enforcement actions from the
Departments of Justice and Homeland Security and other key agencies.
And in recent weeks he’s leaned on legal advice from people such as
John Yoo, an author of the infamous torture memos used by the George
W. Bush administration, who advocates the use of executive orders to
exert virtually unfettered presidential power.

Coleman worries that, under the pretext of protecting federal
courthouses and other property, Trump is using federal agents “to
chill turnout in the election. People are going to be scared. And
where? In the major cities. And it’s to prepare his base to use
these forces, so if he contests the election [result], these forces
could be seen as an asset to be utilized.”

Stuart Gerson, who served as acting attorney general under President
George H.W. Bush, says this moment increasingly reminds him of Isaac
Asimov’s _Foundation _trilogy, which was about a “society based
on predictive behavior, and then along comes a character called the
Mule, who upsets the democratic applecart. Trump is the Mule. He
throws norms into a cocked hat. He is an egomaniac. The sun travels
around him. He thinks he’s Louis XIV.”

Black Lives Matter: Demonstrators near the White House protest police
brutality and the murder of George Floyd, June 3.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images  //  The Nation
 

Democracies survive when all major players respect the ground rules.
They crumble when significant players start to flout those rules—and
get away with it. Gerson has concluded that Trump is only too willing
to circumvent Supreme Court decisions, is perfectly capable of issuing
illegal orders to the military to attack domestic political opponents,
and would likely show no compunction in ignoring an election result
that doesn’t go his way. Each time he’s gotten away with crashing
through a democratic constraint, his ambitions have escalated. During
the impeachment hearings, Trump’s lawyers argued that as president,
he was above and outside the law. Postimpeachment, he has sought to
implement this theory of governance.

Organizers fear that Trump is prepping the ground for a de facto coup.
But they also hope that he can be headed off by a massive wave of
aroused and empowered opposition. There is, after all, a growing
public awareness of the existential threat to the country’s
democracy, with a drumbeat of warnings from Biden, Barack Obama, Colin
Powell, and other senior political figures. Levin, Fried, and the
others involved in Protect the Results are hoping that this will
generate an unstoppable electoral wave, resulting in such a thorough,
incontestable rejection of all that Trump stands for that his ability
to challenge the results will be chopped off at the knees.

“The more Trump turns up the temperature, [the more] he is angering
the public. They’re tired of the chaos, tired of his
mismanagement,” argues Epting. “We have to do everything we can to
make sure it is a landslide victory, to make it less likely he can
fight it.”

Trump will, Gerson believes, “ultimately lose. Either because he
spins the wheel and can find a face-saving way to move out into
history or [because] the wheel is spun for him. This is in our hands,
and there are democratic means to accomplish this peacefully. And it
is the public’s responsibility to act.”

_[Sasha Abramsky, who writes regularly for The Nation, is the author
of several books, including Inside Obama’s Brain, The American
Way of Poverty, The House of 20,000 Books
[[link removed]], Jumping
at Shadows, and, most recently, Little Wonder: The Fabulous Story of
Lottie Dod, the World’s First Female Sports Superstar. Subscribe to
The Abramsky Report, a weekly, subscription-based political
column, here [[link removed]].]_

_Copyright c 2020The Nation. Reprinted with permission. May not be
reprinted without permission
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Distributed by PARS International Corp
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_Please support  progressive journalism. Get a digital subscription
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