Posted November 4, 2020
Kit Wainer’s essay “A very ‘American` coup” dismisses as alarmist and very very improbable a Trump success in stealing the election. Wainer bases his confident prediction on several arguments: That when it appears to his Congressional and Party supporters that Trump is losing, they will turn away from him. That the military and key parts of capital will not support him. That his vigilantes, militias, and 2nd Amendment people, while dangerous, are disorganized and weak. Thus that if Trump attempts a coup, he will end up abandoned and alone.
Though Wainer doesn’t dwell on them, his intelligently argued fantasy has implications as to action by the anti-capitalist left. Namely that since Trump stealing the election is no threat, tactical support for the lesser evil makes no sense. That our task is to support the Green Party in this election, and also prepare for the period ahead resisting the Biden capitalist brand and seeking to build the movements and political party that are necessary to replace capitalism.
To be sure our task is to build the movements and party, but for me Wainer’s analysis is an oblique attack on those who propose that we consider whether to support a lesser evil a question of tactics not immutable principle. In addition, his analysis of Trump is dead wrong, choosing evidence to support his view and ignoring a world of evidence that contradicts it, for example the lack of any mention of the police and federal courts. And his singular focus on voting Green is counterproductive, and not responsive to the challenges we face and the opportunities we have.
Contrary to Wainer, Trump could succeed. But he also could be stopped. Recent coups around the world have been stopped by determined popular mobilization. The anti-capitalist democratic left should have been involved in building that mobilization for at least the last six months.
Still, even for this election it’s not too late. Chances are that we face a considerable period of struggle and uncertainty as the ballots are counted, the battles ebb and flow in the streets and rage in the courts, the police attack the left, and the still President Trump repeats in a concentrated way what he has done over the last period: foment fear and violence, encourage police attack, encourage his armed base into the streets, and order the Federal forces including the military into action. Contrary to Wainer, the military will likely obey, though reluctantly, our best hope in a very measured way with weapons holstered.
In this scenario the anti-capitalist democratic left has obvious short term responsibilities – to build and participate in determined non-violent self-defense and street action. As to the long term we might start rethinking the way we operate in elections and the way we contribute to building movements and a contending left party.
Why Trump Could Succeed
It drives many sane and composed observers into anxiety ridden days and sleepless nights — Trump could win.
For one, Trump could win the election outright through Constitutional if not ethical maneuvers. Trump won in 2016 and he has solidified his base if perhaps alienating independents and some “moderate” Republicans. And not one poll finds a Trump outright victory completely impossible. All polls report the swing states quite close and the red states solidly red, such that Trump could win the election but surely not the popular vote if counting is fair. Though for historians and us it would be tarnished by voter suppression, many of its means now constitutionally permissible under doctrines of state rights to insure ballot integrity.
Secondly, he could outright steal the election, even if way behind on election night for he has substantial assets, few liabilities, and immense personal motivation.
Trumps Actual Assets: These include the police and the Federal Courts, especially the Supreme Court. While “A very ‘American` coup” has not a word on ether the police or the Court, they are now solidly reactionary and will keep him in power unless stopped by overwhelming popular resistance (the resistance to be discussed later).
The police over the last decades have militarized and have intensely politicized, their reactionary conservatism now grown to fever pitch with the BLM protests and the unexpected sudden rise of the abolition and close cousin defund/replace movements. In most cities they have for some time acted with impunity and are still out of control. They are now organized regionally and nationally at both executive and union levels. And they despise the left and its liberal enablers. Last but not least: For quite some time the alt right and militant Christian evangelical warriors have both infiltrated the police and like Trump cultivated them. In Portland the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer are buddy-buddy with the officers who protect them when the march.
As to the Federal courts, the District and Circuit Courts of Appeals are split, sometimes handing down a pro-democracy opinion. As to the Supreme Court, it is now 6-3, and its militant conservative majority well experienced in the role of super legislator, making law as they see fit. They will have plenty of opportunities to do that. For Trump is probably the most litigious person on earth (in 2016 he was either plaintiff or defendant in 3,000 open cases in this country). He, the Republican Party, and his loyalists at the U.S. Justice Department have already filed hundreds of cases all over the country. Expedited they have quickly mostly won in the Supreme Court. The only progressive victories were very partial and appear issued for the purpose of protecting the court’s legitimacy.
Just as worrisome, there’s of course the case Bush v Gore 20 years ago, when the Court reversed the Florida Supreme Court orders that the votes be counted, thus handing the Presidency to Bush. The decision was legally absurd, relying on a very odd reading of an odd doctrine that had been rejected for 200 years. But decision was made and the court and country survived. The Court is likely to do it again. Though twenty years ago the Republican case seemed so ridiculous that no one expected the Court to rule in their favor. Now we know better and have time to organize.
Trump’s liabilities according the Wainer: Wainer contends that the military and capitalist elite will likely impede Trump and that his armed supporters are weak and disorganized. I find this assessment to be superficial, that it relies on trivial evidence and ignores the situation, the facts on the ground, likely to exist.
As to the military, Wainer concluded that it was likely to stay in their barracks, ignore Trump’s order to dominate the streets in the various places Trump found required them, basing this assessment on reports that the Officer Corps including camp commanders despised at least disliked Trump.
Yes, the military might split, they might stay in the barracks, if the orders were given on January 21st, 2020, if Trump had not been sworn in as President and Commander in Chief. But in conditions prevailing in the aftermath of the election, with Trump still President, with chaos and violence in the streets (probably greatly exaggerated in the media), with the majority of the people fearful and craving stability, the military will very likely obey the President’s orders.
The military Officer Corp is deeply committed to the military chain of command, especially the duty to obey the Commander in Chief. We can expect them to obeying orders from the elected President serving out his term. As Garrett Reppenhagen, the head of Veteran’s for Peace, told me in an interview: So, you know, it’s not an ethical, moral institution to begin with, so don’t think they’re going to … do the right things and follow their conscience when ordered to do something. Be prepared for that. And, if it’s possible and it serves the purpose of the military, I think that they’ll occupy American streets if the opportunity arises.”
Finally, Trump remains President till Jan 20, 2021, and he might try to reshape the high command in the two and one-half months remaining in his term, as he would certainly do try if he wins his second term. For near are whole history the U.S. military high command has been comfortable in a bourgeois top down system with the trappings of democracy. If Trump steals the election, we could be living under a fully committed Trump supporting military force.
As to the capitalist class, most may despise Trump. But in the situation at the moment — the cities in chaos, the pandemic advancing, economic activity plummeting — they may come to welcome a law and order response, to stabilize, to return to business as usual. In addition Biden might well declare a national lock down to stop the pandemic, killing the economy if temporarily. And Trump will likely fulfill his campaign promise to support s big stimulus/COVID relief package, as will Biden, but under Trump much more generous to corporate America and especially real estate interests.
As to the armed vigilantes, militias, and Trump’s Second Amendment people, yes they are poorly organized but they will very likely show up, conspicuously armed, in the swing states and maybe other states to intimidate voters and vote counters. And in every state, if Trump attempts to steal after the election and protests erupt, the they will do what they can to instill fear in prospective protestors, especially those older or in families. Importantly, Trump’s armed forces include provocateurs of various stripes bent on provoking violence, sufficient amounts to give an excuse for the police to descend on the protestors and then prevail on mayors and governors to call in Federal help.
Many will particularly the Republicans. Wainer’s rosy prediction that most formerly loyal Republicans will break from Trump if he seems to be losing is a wish unlikely to come true. For the same reason that many have stuck to him now, that Trump and his base will massacre her, him, or they in the next Republican primary.
Finally in assessing Trump’s possibility of maintaining office, one can’t ignore, as Wainer has, his personal motivation. For Trump is cornered and without options. If he becomes a private citizen, he will face multiple prosecutions, law suits, possible bankruptcy, even convictions, and humiliation. Though some have speculated that he will shepherd his family into an airplane and fly off to a country without an extradition treaty with the U.S., where he can live high off his secret bank accounts. Others argue that for Trump this would be worse than death, depriving him of the adulation and reassurance that he so needs and has come to expect, first on his TV show and then as President.
In considering all this, could Trump succeed in stealing the election? Sure, several clear paths to Trump’s victory are easily discernable. He could win it outright through voter suppression. He could win it in the Supreme Court. And he could win if he and his supporters and the provocateurs and the police generate sufficient violence and chaos and fear so that a majority of people come to crave stability and order and hunker in their homes as the police, army, and sanitation crews clean up the mess and restore order.
What Could Still Be Done
This piece was completed on election day. We will soon have a lot more information on how the various forces are maneuvering.
As to immediate action, unless Trump does what no one expects, concedes on election night we must join with the people, groups, and movements building local coalitions across the country to mobilize to stop Trump and protect the election. In Portland the Defend Democracy Coalition is circulating a national pledge:
- We will vote.
- We will refuse to accept election results until all the votes are counted.
- We will nonviolently take to the streets if a coup is attempted.
- If we need to, we will shut down “business as usual” to protect the integrity of the democratic process.
The Portland coalition seeks to reproduce the forces of the George Floyd/BLM protests that marched and resisted the police and Federal troops in Portland for close to three months. Though this time around with one important difference, that the Coalition is insisting on radical non-violence including non-violent self-defense to disable the various provocateurs. The Coalition’s opening action is scheduled for the afternoon and early evening of November 4th — a non-violent rally and march, as a start for what will likely be a protracted campaign to stop Trump’s coup and prepare our forces to struggle for what amounts to a radical Green New Deal.
In working in these local coalitions we can discuss further action challenging Trump autocracy if he prevails and also discuss how a united left can fight and force a Biden administration to take meaningful action on racism, climate change, public health, jobs, poverty, and labor, reproductive rights among others.
Over the longer term the anti-capitalist left, certainly Solidarity, need rethink its strategies for building the movements and political force/party necessary to achieve that better possible democratic and sustainable world. (Proposals for rethought strategy are discussed in my essay “Dump Trump, Fight and Force Biden: An Electoral Strategy for the Left” that can be found in the Solidarity webzine at solidarity—us.org.)