What? What is happening?
–Fox News anchor Sandra Smith on hot mike after a guest denies media projections that Joe Biden had won the presidential race.
This election was lost by the Democrats. They cheated. It was a fraudulent election. They flooded the market. They defrauded everybody on ballots…. This is a very important moment in the history of our country. They’re bad people. They’re horrible people. And they’re people who don’t love our country.
—Donald Trump, on speaker phone, gaslighting to applause from Republican state lawmakers gathered in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Okay, I’ve lost track. Which constitutional crisis is this?
As I wrote previously, Donald Trump, our amoral Midas and unrepentant super-spreader of both COVID-19 and corruption, befouls everything he touches, including our far from perfect democracy, grabbing at ballots as if they were random vaginas, with the leadership of the GOP letting him get away with it because he is their star performer.
And get away with it he does. To be sure, the dozens of legal challenges he has initiated have been thrown out, but that hasn’t prevented him from launching new ones and pursuing other avenues to reverse his election defeat.
If anything, Trump sells himself as a man of his word, which is reportedly why his reality-challenged base loves him, although of late, less certain that they do, he has felt compelled to plead with them to “like me.” Judging from the results of the election, which was depressingly far closer than the mainstream media initially projected, they responded to his plea. Not only did they vote for him this time around, they continue to cling to the lie that the election was a fraud.
The shock of defeat appears to have dimmed some of the golden boy’s luster as well as whitened his faux blond hair and lightened his spray-on tan. Still, not only has Trump not conceded, he has, at current count, mounted over thirty-eight unsuccessful lawsuits to overturn the election or, at best, stall his ouster from office. Undaunted, the self-avowed stable genius’s latest Wile E. Coyote move has been to pressure Republican state legislators to choose pro-Trump electors when the Electoral College convenes this month. Having apparently failed at that, his only hope now is a Supreme Court Hail Mary. It doesn’t matter that he may fail; it’s the smoke, mirrors, and gaslight that ultimately count. None of this suggests that Trump is even remotely entertaining conceding.
In fact, it’s highly likely Trump will never concede, despite media speculation that his reticence is actually yet another of his three-dimensional chess gambits, the current one, according to some pundits, designed to make possible his own Murdock-like media empire to sustain his brand until he (or one of his felonious spawn) runs again in 2024. All this Occam razor-rejecting media confabulation refuses to accept the simple fact that toddler Trump is throwing a tantrum and that the true intent of his intransigence is to remain in power by any means necessary.
So, let’s Sweeney Todd this nonsense and cut to the gist. Well before the election, Trump telegraphed that he would not accept its results, repeatedly insisting that if he lost, it would only be because the election was rigged. Thus, the perilous situation in which America now finds itself, while new, is not news. This does not mean that Trump’s media kingdom has not already arrived. However, instead of offering endless hours of dishonest reporting, it specializes in alternate reality television, which is why we have had to sit through four seasons of “Celebrity Dictator.” The question is, will it be renewed for four more? Short answer: Quite likely.
As if to assure us that fears of a Trumpanista coup are not so delusional after all, Mike Pompeo confidently asserted before reporters that Trump will serve a second term, election results notwithstanding. Or should we assume that our piously rapturous secretary of state is merely pulling our leg, for surely, like his master, he has seen the indelible writing on the wall, or more precisely, on 80 million ballots, no matter how much Trump and his enablers try to scrub them clean.
No, Trump and his minions appear deadly serious in their maneuvering to hijack not only the election but our already frangible democracy. The seriousness of all this shouldn’t blind us perfidy of pardoned felon Mike Flynn recommending that Trump suspend the Constitution and declare martial law , or of Joe diGenova, another Trump loyalist, declaring that fired DHS election security official Chris Krebs be executed for debunking the myth of rampant voter fraud.
The yes-men and yes-women who serve(d) and protect(ed) Trump possess varying reserves of sycophancy. When he has exhausted their reserves or grown impatient when they finally screw up enough courage to challenge him, he fires them and swaps them for even more egregious bootlickers. Case in point: He has fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and other high-ranking Pentagon officials. Esper notoriously had held his tongue when Trump invaded Lafayette Square for a tear-gassed fueled, Bible-brandishing photo op. A few days later, he announced that he would oppose Trump if he attempted to invoke the Insurrection Act that would allow him to deploy federal troops in response to civil disturbances.
Upon learning of his termination, Esper (“Yesper” to his critics) ominously warned, “Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real yes man. And then God help us.”
Memo to Esper: God is dead, or, draping herself in the First Lady’s notorious hand-me-down, too preoccupied to really care.
But we should. For we have good reason to.
It’s not as if the nation hasn’t faced this particular potential constitutional crisis before. As Seymour Hersh wrote in The Atlantic in 1983:
In April of 1974, Joseph Laitin, a public-affairs official who had served in the Johnson White House, telephoned [Defense Secretary James] Schlesinger…. Laitin broached some of his fears: Was it possible for the President of the United States to authorize the use of nuclear weapons without his secretary of defense knowing it? What if Nixon, ordered by the Supreme Court to leave office, refused to leave and called for the military to surround the Washington area? Who was in charge then? Whose orders would be obeyed in a crisis? “If I were in your job,” Laitin recalls telling Schlesinger, “I would want to know the location of the combat troops nearest to downtown Washington and the chain of command.” Schlesinger said only, “Nice talking to you,” and hung up.
Afterwards, Schlesinger was reportedly so concerned about the potential for a coup that he phoned the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ask that none of them respond to any order from the White House involving the use of military force without informing him first. As Hersh writes, “Schlesinger’s overriding concern, in case a [Constitutional] crisis did arise, was that the armed forces would follow their inherent loyalty to the Commander-in-Chief.”
It is doubtful that Esper’s replacement, Christopher Miller, and other newly appointed Trump loyalists in the military share Schlesinger’s concerns.
Significantly, while the media have expressed concern over the consequences Trump’s recent overhaul of military brass may have on the projection of U.S. military power overseas, it has demurred on what it may mean for America domestically. Perhaps, say the pundits, Trump will attack Iran – which would be an odd decision on his part since he has actually moved to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has, to give the devil his due, succeeded in keeping America out of wars, albeit if more by accident than design. But, as the assassination of the lead scientist on Iran’s nuclear project makes clear, he may opt to roil the waters via proxies.
Still, we’ve been conditioned to expect U.S. presidents to play their wag-the-dog card, though usually before an election, not after they lose one. As if to oblige, American presidents love to rain terror in perpetuity on their perceived overseas enemies. What these pundits appear reluctant to acknowledge the prospect that Trump may be planning to sic his military loyalists on his American enemies or, forever the showman/strongman, project the appearance that he will. Given Trump’s penchant for imperiously petulant behavior, can we really expect that he won’t enact the very scenario that Laitin and Schlesinger worried about almost a half century ago and toward which Esper’s invocation of divine intervention seems to point? Moreover, even should Trump fail to enlist sufficient military support for his coup, can we dismiss the possibility that he will seek to mobilize white militias and white supemacist-infiltrated law enforcement agencies to his treasonous cause?
Nixon plotted to convince his enemies that a mad man occupied the White House; Trump, a real sociopath, has struggled to convince both his enemies and allies that he is a “stable genius.” However, for all his Machiavellian machinations, Nixon, in defeat, opted not to adopt a scorched earth policy. Trump, on the other hand, gives every indication that in his fall from power he has decided to do precisely that, and take democracy down with him.
Four years into the Trump presidency, it’s about time we took him at his word. With Trump, to borrow the words of another sociopathic Donald – Rumsfeld, there are no “unknown knowns,” only “known unknowns.” That is, we know Trump will do something despicable, even if we don’t exactly know what it will be.
Trump has lied to us so often that when he does actually tell the truth, we simply can’t tell. (Does the Washington Post even continue to count his lies anymore? If so, how long before they reach COVID-19 fatality levels?) The mainstream media seem to doubt whether our pouty propagandist really means when he refuses to concede. It’s all show, a stunt, another con from the master grifter. After all the hours of Goldwater rule-violating armchair psychoanalysis of Trump’s alarming sociopathic tendencies, the media now tell us never mind. Trump’s behavior and the constitutional crisis it has ignited are simply another poorly scripted episode of the political dramedy/satire House of Trump and its uproarious spin-off, The Fart of the Steal (starring Rudy Giuliani). Their assumption: Our democracy will triumph despite these challenges.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Some three weeks after the election, between trips to the golf course, Trump still squats in the White House, shitting on civility and tradition. And while some of his enablers appear to have grudgingly come to their senses, announcing that they will cooperate with the transition and privately urging him to concede, Trump emphatically has not.
But what if Trump does concede after all, or is forcibly expelled from office? What happens then? Apparently, nothing of consequence. Biden and other establishment Democrats have let it be known that they have no intention of launching federal investigations of Trump, lest the move “further divide the nation,” preferring “to heal” it rather than enforce the rule of law. (Certainly, I’m not the only one to find it ironic that while Democrats fret about exacerbating national division, Republicans, many of whom have won reelection using the same election process that elected Joe Biden president, have no qualms — nor sense of irony — about arguing that the election was a sham, as if their own groundlessly questioning of its legitimacy will somehow unite Americans.) The last thing America needs, these Democrats tell us, is another Civil War, but if the history the nation’s past dealings with treachery is any guide, monuments to Trump may one day replace those to Lee and Davis, serving as yet another example of the cowardly and pragmatic accommodation with which our political elites reward treacherous behavior in order to “heal” the nation’s scars. Why bother to worry about Trump pardoning himself when those “horrible people” who “stole the election” will, essentially, through their curative and adhesive mercy, produce the same outcome.
Remember, this is the same Democratic establishment that under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi once suggested that Trump was not worthy of impeachment – because, get this, it would be “divisive”! And then botched the process once it did.
But really, should we expect anything less considering the anticlimactic fates of our nation’s previous unindicted war-criminal presidents? Should we take any comfort in the fact that they were given a “stay-out-of-jail” card not only as they waged illegal wars in foreign lands but, in doing so, against the very Constitution they had sworn to protect? True, if Trump does not pardon himself before leaving office or resign and have Mike Pence to do so for him, he will still potentially have to face state charges for his crimes. But does anyone seriously believe that if convicted he will see the inside of a prison cell? The rampant inequities that plague our legal system and the politically opportunistic and fear-inspired need to mollify Trump’s rabid supporters suggest otherwise.
But that’s the least of our worries. The real concern is the prospect of a divided nation where Proud Boys (or is it now “Proud Goys”?) and militias lurk on “stand by.” In a cautionary open letter to General Mark Miley, who accompanied Trump during his siege of Lafayette Square and later publicly apologized for it, Army officers John Nagl and Paul Yingling write:
[T]he clock will strike 12:01 PM, January 20, 2021, and Donald Trump will be sitting in the Oval Office. The street protests will inevitably swell outside the White House, and the ranks of Trump’s private army will grow inside its grounds. The speaker of the House will declare the Trump presidency at an end, and direct the Secret Service and Federal Marshals to remove Trump from the premises. These agents will realize that they are outmanned and outgunned by Trump’s private army, and the moment of decision will arrive.
At this moment of Constitutional crisis, only two options remain. Under the first, U.S. military forces escort the former president from the White House grounds. Trump’s little green men, so intimidating to lightly armed federal law enforcement agents, step aside and fade away, realizing they would not constitute a good morning’s work for a brigade of the 82nd Airborne. Under the second, the U.S. military remains inert while the Constitution dies. The succession of government is determined by extralegal violence between Trump’s private army and street protesters; Black Lives Matter Plaza becomes Tahrir Square.
At this point, whether Trump concedes or not is moot. The damage is done. According to a Reuters/Ipso opinion poll, 52% of Republicans believed that Trump “rightly won” the election, while only 29% believed Biden did. Similarly, a Vox/Data for Progress survey of likely Republican voters found that 73% of likely Republicans said suspicions of voter fraud prompted them question Biden’s victory, 55% believed that Biden benefited from voter fraud, and 65% agreed with Trump’s decision not to concede. In effect, Biden will begin his term as a lame duck.
In the end, even if, without formally conceding, Trump finally vacates the White House (after, possibly, signing his own pardon), and we manage to finesse ourselves out of yet another constitutional conundrum, and even if circumstances force Trump to trade in his marigold tan for an orange jumpsuit, division and denial will continue to mark the next four years, and beyond. Indeed, even if Trump fails to maintain his hold on the White House, his legacy will linger. For while a few of his Republican allies may privately disapprove of his behavior, most still publicly support him, believing that he and the hateful divisiveness he arouses comprise a winning strategy for an increasingly melanin-phobic America.
So even in his loss, Trump wins. And that is the exorbitant price we will have to pay for Trump’s art of the steal.
1) It does. As of September 11th, the number stood at 23,035 “false or misleading claims.” But that was two months before the election and the avalanche of lies that followed it. One also wonders: Does the Post count just the lie or is the number of times it is repeated added to the total? Or, to paraphrase the axiom mouthed by various dictators and propagandists, does the same lie repeated often enough become a single lie?
2) Maybe diGenova, is on to something.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.