Filed under: Analysis, Featured, The State
For the last few months, we’ve heard a chorus from Centrist and liberal media outlets that Biden is ahead and that Trump’s days are numbered. While people have floated the scenario that Trump may refuse to leave office, many, including Biden, have stated that this is a slim possibility, as the American State and military would simply move on with out him. But in the last week, there has been a drastic shift however, as Trump has openly announced that he is cutting funding to the Post Office, in an effort to attack mail-in voting.
A Fundamental Shift Towards Attacking the Election
When thinking abut the current scenario, it is critical for us to understand that something has fundamentally changed. The discussion has, up till this point, been centered around a scenario in which there is a clear Biden victory and Trump refuses to acknowledge the results of the election, and refuses to leave office. The American State has plenty of mechanisms to address this scenario, ranging from military intervention to get him out of office all the way to just changing the building where the President does business.
Within this scenario the fundamental question becomes whether there are enough elements of the State which are loyal to Biden, or to the system of American “democracy,” to effectively prevent what would, in essence, be a coup attempt. Within this simplistic scenario, the clear answer is that Trump does not command enough support within the military and federal law enforcement to motivate people within these agencies and departments to essentially commit treason.
This whole narrative, however, hinges on a single assumption, which has been proven faulty, that there would be no concrete steps taken to prevent the election from functioning. Within this simplistic scenario the limitations of Trump’s activities are confined to attempting to discursively de-legitimize the election by de-legitimizing mail in voting, but that the attempts to obstruct the election would effectively end there.
Since this discussion emerged at the beginning of this year, following Biden’s ascendancy to the Democratic nomination and the development of a clear trajectory which would lead to his victory, a number of elements within this dynamic have shifted dramatically. The first element, and this is the genesis of the current Trump administration approach, is the pandemic itself, which necessitates a fundamental rethinking of how elections occur. It is in this atmosphere that the attempt to de-legitimize mail in voting began to take root.
But, Trump has in the recent past begun to deviate from this discursive approach in three ways which lead to the development of a fundamentally different, and much more dangerous, scenario. The first deviation is the intervention in the postal system. Over the past month Trump has installed Lewis DeJoy, a long-time Republican donor and ruthless logistics executive, to be the Acting Postmaster General. DeJoy has, since being appointed, eliminated postal worker overtime, which has led to significant backups in the system, eliminated mail sorting machines at sorting facilities, which will further slow the mail down, demanded that states that are sending out mail in ballots pay first class mail rates and removing mailboxes in a number of cities, including Portland and Eugene, Oregon. This is happening in the midst of comments by Trump in which he admits that these moves are an attempt to obstruct the election.
This move to obstruct the election is being undertaken in order to bolster the argument that the election is flawed, which would allow Trump to refuse to acknowledge the results of the election, and would set us up for a scenario in which the election becomes indefinitely delayed as Trump stays in office. Now, none of that would be legal, but the question becomes, at that point, whether Democrats can build enough support for impeachment to remove him through another mechanism, or whether Americans come out into the streets to remove him themselves.
This move to obstruct the election is being undertaken in order to bolster the argument that the election is flawed, which would allow Trump to refuse to acknowledge the results of the election, and would set us up for a scenario in which the election becomes indefinitely delayed as Trump stays in office.
The second move in this divergence was the deployment of federal law enforcement to Portland. The operation in Portland was completely unprecedented. Traditionally, outside of DC, federal law enforcement is not involved in the direct policing of demonstrations, outside of passively protecting federal property, through the medium of the Federal Protective Service. In Portland the Department of Homeland Security was used as shock troops to put down the demonstrations, in a move which was legally dubious at best. The goal of this operation, however, seemed to be less about actually quelling the demonstrations, which could never have been accomplished with a deployment of the size that went to Portland. Rather, the deployment to Portland seemed to be a test run of a structure through which resistance could be put down, and in which they could test legal limits, limits of loyalty among federal law enforcement and the ability of elements of the DHS to operate in this specific capacity.
The third move, and this has been occurring throughout this administration, with the pace accelerating over the past year and a half, is the stacking of federal law enforcement and Pentagon positions with right-wing ideologues, such as Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli. Traditionally, people appointed to certain positions need to be approved by the Senate. Trump has been systematically bypassing this precedent by appointing people in an “acting” capacity. This concept of an “acting” capacity was meant to be used in cases in which a department secretary or appointed underling resigns or is incapacitated, and there is not enough time to get Senate approval for a replacement, in the case of a Senate recess for example. People who are in acting capacities need to be officially within the departmental line of succession in order to take on an acting role. To bypass the normal procedures the administration has been demanding that outgoing secretaries change the official line of succession to elevate these hard-line right-wing operatives in order to allow them to take on acting roles.
To bypass the normal procedures the administration has been demanding that outgoing secretaries change the official line of succession to elevate these hard-line right-wing operatives in order to allow them to take on acting roles.
Now, when we look at any individual element of this in isolation it is disturbing, but in aggregate the story shifts from disturbing to taking on the position of an existential threat. The gutting of the postal service is clearly an attempt to render the election invalid, which will cause a Constitutional crisis. The deployment to Portland was clearly an attempt to develop a hard-line federal approach to resistance. The stacking of agencies with hard right wing operatives is a move clearly structured to maintain loyalty within the federal bureaucracy in the case of a crisis of legitimacy. When we begin to think about this in aggregate these moves are not altogether different from the moves made by Putin during his consolidation of power in the early 2000s or from moves being made by the Bolsonaro regime in Brazil. The combination of challenging the legitimacy of the traditional mechanism of power transition, the consolidation of power over federal law enforcement and the deployment of these federal operatives in programs to test the limitations of federal police power all constitute moves that are commonly seen in regimes which are degrading into authoritarianism.
In this scenario, it seems more and more clear that not only will he not accept a loss in the election and leave office, but he is positioning himself to be able to resist attempts to remove him either through Congressional or street actions. Traditionally, this late into the first term, presidential administrations enter a period of stasis, where staffing stays consistent and in which moves which would cause political waves are avoided. Trump is taking the opposite approach; he accelerating appointments in federal law enforcement agencies and testing new repressive tactics. The more and more one looks at this the less able one is to conclude anything other than Trump is going to attempt to hold onto and seize power during the Fall.
The Coming Election Disaster
What has become increasingly clear is that this election is going to be a complete disaster. Due to the attempt to obstruct mail-in voting even the Post Office is warning that voters in 46 states will likely see delays in getting ballots, and that it is likely that many of these mail in ballots will not be counted. That is on top of the nightmare scenario that is likely to play out at physical polling stations, where social distancing, long lines, and “poll monitors,” which are being hired by the RNC to intimidate voters, are all likely to drive some people away.
The combination of challenging the legitimacy of the traditional mechanism of power transition, the consolidation of power over federal law enforcement and the deployment of these federal operatives in programs to test the limitations of federal police power all constitute moves that are commonly seen in regimes which are degrading into authoritarianism.
However, even in the face of all of this, there seems to be a rising determination in large parts of the US to do whatever is necessary to get Trump out of office. The recent moves by the administration, in response to the pandemic, the protests and the election have convinced a large portion of the voting public that Trump is an existential threat to the American political system. This has fueled a sort of hysteria within the political middle and moderate Left to take whatever actions are required to defeat him through the political system.
But, as we have seen thus far, the norms of the political system do not mean much to this administration. One of the things that the Trump administration has laid bare is that the protections and rights that many Americans assumed they had, many of the rules that provided checks on political power, were other than good faith agreements and political traditions which can be refused. As such, the possibility of removing Trump through electoral action is becoming farther and farther from reality as time goes on.
TRUMP: "We are going to win four more years. And then after that we'll go for another four years, because they spied on my campaign. We should get a redo of four years." pic.twitter.com/lBxbJZiv2M
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 17, 2020
Biden is carrying wide leads in many swing states into the final push of the election, and that lead continues to grow, albeit at a slower pace than before. There are few undecided voters in polling, and not enough room within the electorate for Trump to change the dynamics of the election. His response has been, as was discussed earlier, to consolidate control over the mechanisms of federal law enforcement and to directly, and admittedly, undermine the election, which will likely lead to a refusal to acknowledge the results. This means that the question of the election has shifted from one of electoral action to a question of what happens during the inevitable failure of that process. If this scenario develops along the current trajectory, then it is clear that the result of this election will be a Constitutional crisis.
In this scenario there are a couple of ways that this can play out. The first scenario revolves around the likely Democratic seizure of the Senate during this election cycle and expanding control over the House. In that scenario it is likely that a crisis will perpetuate through January, with Congress impeaching Trump almost immediately after being sworn into office. Now, for this scenario to come into being two conditions need to be met. First, Democrats need to win control of the Senate; if they do not there is no way impeachment would result in removal from office. Secondly, this whole scenario would only result from a situation in which Trump refuses to acknowledge the election results, and there is not massive street action to remove him from office.
If this scenario develops along the current trajectory, then it is clear that the result of this election will be a Constitutional crisis.
The other possibility, and this is increasingly likely, revolves around an immediate reaction by large portions of the American public to an attempt to steal or de-legitimize the election itself. At this point, there are large elements of the American public that view Trump as a direct and immediate threat. If these elements of the population mobilize, as they have increasingly been doing, then it is likely that we are going to see confrontational demonstrations in DC, and around the US, aimed at overthrowing the regime. Within this scenario the question becomes whether those in the streets have enough resolve to face down the attempts to repress the uprising. We have never seen a scenario like that in modern American history, but it is increasingly seeming like that is our near term future.
The Move by the Democrats
As any of us that have been involved in political organizing can attest, the moderate elements of any political initiative are almost always affiliated with, or connected to, the Democratic Party. These elements are the ones that are always attempting to capture the energy and pull it into the electoral system through attempting to force a focus on voting and policy. Following the conclusion of many political initiatives new recruits to these moderate factions are often pulled into the Democratic Party fold. This has constructed the Democratic Party along the lines of a network of moderate activists, rather than as a singular grouping in itself; we can see this in the ascendancy of democratic-socialists within the DNC, and their struggles with traditional moderate Democrats over positions of power.
The networked formation of the Democratic Party also sets the stage for a separation between the older, more moderate elements of the party, as typified by Biden, and the grassroots base of the party, which is often aligned with the Democrats due to a lack of a better alternative. This grassroots element has been particularly vocal as of late, with elements joining in militant anti-fascist and anti-police activities over the past two years. As the grassroots get stronger, propelled forward by both political events and groups like Indivisible and the Democratic Socialists of America, the separation between the traditional power structure of the DNC and the grassroots is only widening, with the only thing keeping them together at this point being a rejection of, and determination to eliminate, Trumpism.
As a result of these splits, a political crisis is likely going to lead to different elements within the Democratic Party network taking radically different approaches to a Constitutional crisis resulting from Trump refusing to acknowledge the results of the election. The traditional power centers of the DNC are likely to confine their approach to rhetoric and legalism, speaking out loudly about the attempt to steal or de-legitimize the election, taking Congressional action and filing lawsuits, which has already begun. The success of these methods will come down to the results of the Senate elections, with court cases taking a comparatively long time to play out, rendering them ineffective mechanisms of rapid response. If Democrats take the Senate, as was said before, it is likely that if the crisis persists into January, that they will move to impeach and remove Trump at the first opportunity.
However, the Democratic grassroots are likely to have a wholly different approach. Organizations like SEIU and the AFL-CIO could conceivably call for mass strikes, and it is likely that groups like MoveOn, the Sunrise Movement and Indivisible will likely call for mass demonstrations in DC to push Trump out. Now, of course these actions will be intended to be symbolic, but the reality of these events is likely to be different than this intention. Given the intense escalation of tactics since May, it is likely that if there are mass demonstrations in DC, and around the US, that these will have significant militant elements which will likely push the scenario outside of the control of these DNC adjacent elements.
If this occurs, this will place the DNC in a difficult position, as we have seen with the George Floyd Uprising. During this recent uprising the DNC has been hesitant to condemn even the most confrontational actions in order to not be viewed as opposing the uprising. At the same time they are working behind the scenes, and sometimes out in the open, to force the discussion to shift away from police and prison abolition and into the same failed approaches at piece-meal reformism that collapsed in 2014 and 2015. In this scenario they will not be able to oppose an uprising, which will in large part be comprised of their voting base. At the same time, they cannot be seen as supporting militant action, as that would de-legitimize legalistic and parliamentary approaches, which they will rely on if they take on the position of sovereignty. For them to validate militant street action would inevitably place their own hold on power at risk by encouraging this type of militant extra-parliamentary action.
Trump’s Loyal Factions Within the State
As was mentioned earlier, Trump has been appointing a large number of right-wing operatives to positions in the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense, in acting roles, with mixed success.
Within the DOJ Trump appointees have completely realigned the structure of the department and redefined the role of the Attorney General, changing it from a neutral legal enforcement position to a position which works in concert with the other elements of the Executive Branch, eliminating the traditional neutrality of the Attorney General. We have already seen the impacts of this, from the attempt to force a reassessment of the Roger Stone sentence to firing prosecutors investigating the Trump Organization to dropping charges against Michael Flynn. But, quietly, there has been an attempt to use the DOJ almost as a mechanism for the enforcement of political uniformity. The DOJ has undertaken “investigations” led by right wing attorneys on the Mueller Investigation, as well as used internal affairs processes to push people out of the FBI and other elements of the DOJ that are either against Trump, or not sufficiently supportive of his moves within the department.
Similar moves have been made within the Department of Homeland Security, some of which have been the subject of a recent Government Accountability Office report challenging the legitimacy of the appointments of Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli to acting roles within DHS. Within the DHS Trump has focused attention on consolidating control over the US Marshalls, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Naturalization Service (ICE) and the Federal Protective Service (FPS). In these elements of the DHS, Trump has appointed large numbers of dedicated supporters, and intentionally moved them up the line of succession in order to further consolidate control over these entities. These were the same entities that were deployed to Portland, and, along with the ATF, were deployed to Chicago, Kansas City, Cleveland and other Democratic controlled cities. Now, even though the attempt to control these specific elements of the DHS are transparent and clear, it is unclear what moves have been made in the other agencies within DHS along these lines.
Even though the attempt to control these specific elements of the DHS are transparent and clear, it is unclear what moves have been made in the other agencies within DHS along these lines.
Within the Pentagon these attempts have largely been unsuccessful, as was seen in June when the Pentagon entirely refused the idea that they would be deployed to quell domestic dissent. The reasons for this failure are rooted in the structure of the Pentagon. Within that space there are very clear lines of succession and a firm tradition of having the military stay out of domestic politics. This tradition forms the core of the entire narrative of the American military, as a “defender of freedom.” Within this world factions form and coalesce around specific figures who occupy high level positions, such as Colin Powell, David Petraeus and Jim Mattis, each of which were the figurehead for fundamentally different approaches to military strategy within the DOD. Trump’s appointees are not aligned with these powerful factions, and as a result, they enter their office marginalized and without any leverage within the military apparatus.
As such, if we are to indulge a bit of a thought exercise here, in a situation in which Trump refuses to acknowledge the election or leave office, it is likely that these agencies will have fundamentally different, and often fragmented, approaches. We have already seen that specific elements of the Department of Homeland Security have no issues being used as authoritarian shock troops, and that is likely to continue. If an uprising breaks out, it is likely that we will see these elements, along with the National Guard and local police, being tasked with putting down the uprising. The success of this strategy will come down to how elements of the National Guard and police respond, and it is likely that in this scenario we could see mass refusal of orders due to the politics of the situation. Without unchallenged support from other elements of federal law enforcement and the military, it is unlikely that these elements of the DHS will be able to successfully quell resistance, they are simply not numerous enough for the task.
We were out at Chad Wolf's house today in solidarity with every victim of DHS!
Every child taken from their parents
Every Muslim surveilled
Every protestor kidnapped
Every detainee at Farmville who has COVID-19 (OVER 75% OF THEM!) @IGD_News @PNWYLF @PopMobPDX @LaColectiVA703 pic.twitter.com/RQDpQ7oGD2
— ShutDownDC (@ShutDown_DC) July 26, 2020
The Department of Justice is likely, in this scenario, going to be used to institute a crack down, which we can already see beginning. Since May large numbers of people have been charged federally for actions taken during the demonstrations, many of which would have been, traditionally, low level local charges. We are also seeing a sharp increase in FBI harassment and rhetoric coming from the DOJ which is clearly meant to justify repression against anarchists and radical people of color. Though elements of the DOJ are unlikely to be on the streets during an uprising, it is likely that they will be used to disrupt organizing work and to engage in organized repression against militants and radicals.
The Pentagon, however, is a very different story. Elements within the Pentagon are clearly not excited with some of the approaches Trump has taken in regards to military action, specifically the attempt to use them to engage in repression domestically. These sentiments are being expressed by the aforementioned generals, all of which still have power within Pentagon circles, and these sentiments are likely going to carry over into the reaction the Pentagon has to events like this. There is good reason for this. If soldiers were deployed into the streets in response to protests, it is likely that this would cause a fracturing of the military, with different factions taking different sides, and would result in a de-legitimizing of the military as an institution within the American ethos. That is a huge price to pay for a President that many within the DOD view with derision.
It is difficult to imagine a scenario where there is not mass refusal of orders, on a number of different levels, by at least elements of these forces, in a scenario in which they are being ordered to defend Trump if he refuses to leave or acknowledge the election.
Rank and file soldiers, National Guard personnel and police are going to be a decisive factor in this scenario, if they are ordered into the street. As we saw in Egypt, the defection of the military fundamentally ended the Mubarak regime, and we are seeing similar events playing themselves out in Belarus right now. At the end of the day, many people within these institutions (mistakenly) believe that they are working to make the world a better place, depending on their understanding of this, and many of these same people are likely to have family and friends within the rebellion. It is difficult to imagine a scenario where there is not mass refusal of orders, on a number of different levels, by at least elements of these forces, in a scenario in which they are being ordered to defend Trump if he refuses to leave or acknowledge the election.
Now, this thought experiment is definitely a worst case scenario speculation, but increasingly it seems as if this worst case scenario is going to come into being. All of the elements are there for Trump to attempt some sort of, at least temporary, seizure of power, either through refusing to acknowledge the election or refusing to relinquish office. Former Trump associates have been sounding the alarm bells about this for years, and now it is becoming increasingly clear that they might be correct.
The Next Moves
Outside of the context of the Post Office, there are a number of things that we should be watching for. Many of the elements at play now are being carried out quietly, behind the scenes, with news of the moves reaching the press through leaks or resignations.
The first thing everyone should be paying attention to is expansions of the power of federal law enforcement, both within the DOJ and within the DHS. William Barr has been using the DOJ as a voicebox for far-right-wing conspiracy theories. Even though many of these conspiracies are absurd at face value, we can use these declarations as a way to determine the direction of DOJ activity. Recently, the entirety of the DOJ’s public presence has been centered around demonizing anarchists, after having shifted from a position of demonizing antifa. It seems as if the reasons for this rhetorical shift are related to optics; it looks really bad to publicly oppose anti-fascism, a political identity increasing numbers of Americans are embracing, often within the context of moderate politics. By shifting focus to anarchists the DOJ is attempting to isolate us from our allies, delegitimize us and then use that de-legitimization as an excuse for repression. In the coming months everyone should be paying attention to the ways in which this rhetoric shifts.
Secondly, everyone should be paying attention to the State response to any political resistance that emerges between now and mid-November, when an electoral crisis would likely emerge. In the coming months we are going to see tens of thousands evicted from their apartments, increasing numbers of people out of work and, if there is not another economic bail-out passed, likely some form of economic crisis. This is adding to the already tense situations around policing and the response to the pandemic, which is laying bare the structural inequalities within American capitalism. Just as Portland was a test run for federal repression operations, the responses to any upcoming political crisis will likely be a continuation of that experiment, with different tactics being tested for viability. In tracking the shifts to this response, we can gain some insight into the thinking that is fueling this activity.
Attorney General Bill Barr
Thirdly, we need to be paying attention to the political conflicts that are arising between state and local governments, on the one hand, and the administration, on the other. We have already seen acute conflicts emerge in relation to the pandemic, and the lack of response by the administration. We have also seen some sharp conflicts emerge around the deployment of DHS to Portland, and a verbal battle break out between Bil DeBlasio and Trump over the protests. There have also been lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign against Nevada, attempting to block mail in voting, while at the same time the campaign is supporting Florida expanding their mail in voting program. These conflicts, and Trump’s response, can provide some insight into the administration’s approach to elements of the state that are not in line with administration policy.
Finally, we need to pay attention to what Trump is saying. While it has become common for many of us to just tune him out; nothing he says is attached to observable reality, so we just write it off as another deception. But, the content of these deceptions matter. For example, this past couple of weeks he has been saying that he wants to undo elements of the Fair Housing Act to prevent housing projects from being built in suburbs, in order to “protect the suburbs.” Now, this is not only a clear racist dog-whistle, but it also provides insight into which elements of the electorate Trump is attempting to get to identify with him through the lens of racial animus. He also, as Politico phrased it, says the quiet part out loud often, meaning that he says, out loud, what they are trying to achieve behind the scenes. On this level, we have to take him at his word.
The Potential of Mass Resistance
For as much as many Americans like to pretend that civil liberties and the right to dissent is core to the American State, this is not the case. The very concept of the State is a concept grounded in the ability of the sovereign to impose decisions through force, through the police. Now, in our case that sovereignty lies in the hands of liberal democracy itself, and the liberal democratic state, just like any state, only functions to the degree that it is able to impose decisions within everyday life.
When the continuation of the State is challenged, the scenario becomes one of immediate material conflict in the streets.
We mention this in order to really bring the discussion around revolt down onto a grounded level. All throughout the liberal press there are discussions about different symbolic tactics, or tactics of economic disruption, and that is fine. But, at the end of the day, all of these discussions miss the point. If we can learn anything from the uprising in Egypt, or Lebanon, or Belarus, or Ukraine, it is that when political conflict breaks out the entire calculus shifts to a calculus of force. In other words, when the continuation of the State is challenged, the scenario becomes one of immediate material conflict in the streets.
If Trump attempts to refuse to leave office or rejects the outcomes of the election, the only possible responses are to not react or to mobilize on a massive scale; a small scale mobilization will likely be met with a heavy handed response by the federal law enforcement apparatus. In this scenario whatever limitations the state was still adhering to are likely to melt away, and the conflict is likely to break down to whether or not the administration is able to mobilize enough force to overcome the resistance.
As #generalstrike2020 trends, here's an interview we did w/ @GrimKim in @TeenVogue. From the mass strike that crippled the Confederacy, to revolts that took over cities + industries, the #GeneralStrike has been a powerful tool of the exploited + excluded. https://t.co/XlfI9cuGl1
— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) August 14, 2020
If we do not mobilize, and let this go unchallenged, it is likely that we will see the repression that we are already experiencing increase dramatically, as a pre-emptive strike against elements which could mobilize and fight back effectively. Essentially, if there is not a concerted push back, Trump will interpret this as a green light to continue, unchecked, along the same trajectory as he is currently headed, just with fewer limitations. That is a terrifying reality.
If we are able to effectively mobilize across a wide swath of social segments, industries and locations, it is possible that we could generate a crisis that would overwhelm the State’s ability to respond. In this situation the question becomes whether it is possible to persist in this disorganization of the State, putting the entire liberal democratic regime at risk of collapse, or whether the State will be able to contain the crisis. If they are able to contain the crisis, and Trump is able to prevail in this, again, the future will look really bleak, especially for those within targeted groups.
If we do not mobilize, and let this go unchallenged, it is likely that we will see the repression that we are already experiencing increase dramatically.
The question here comes down to one of capacities and compositions. The State has a limited capacity to respond to and contain crisis. Police exist in a numerically limited form which experiences attrition, and is already operating through the projection of force across space. In this sort of a broad social conflict, no one political or social grouping is going to be a majority on the streets, but if the composition of elements in revolt are able to act effectively and disrupt the ability of the police and associated forces to operate, then the capacity to contain crisis will be overwhelmed. The only question at that point becomes whether Trump leaves or the State collapses.
The Path Ahead
For Trump, this is a dangerous game he is playing. As we have seen, there are numerous elements within the State that are starting to operate contrary to the administration’s wishes, specifically within the social services, healthcare and military elements of the State. As a result, Trump is attempting to assemble loyal forces to come to his defense, but is just objectively coming up short.
The reality here is that, for Trump, the attempt to consolidate power and stay in office for any meaningful period of time is unlikely to be successful, but that does not mean he is not making a concerted effort in this direction, as was described previously. However, at the end of the day, the concepts of patriotism and assumptions of American political normativity are likely to make it next to impossible for him to maintain enough force cohesion among loyal and semi-loyal elements to be able to fight off a concerted political resistance from the streets.
For him to make this attempt is, in some ways, for him to reach a point of no return. Once he moves into this space he is also entering a scenario in which victory becomes essential for him. At the current moment, he could leave office, and would likely be charged criminally with some light financial fraud. But, if he chooses this path, which it seems likely that he will, then he is entering serious federal felony territory if he is removed from office. Any Democratic administration that follows this is going to have a mandate, and an obligation to their voters, to charge as many Trump administration officials as they can justify, in order to create an incentive to not repeat this behavior in future administrations, and to signal a return to “normality.” As a result, if he goes down this road, he is choosing a path that requires either total victory or total defeat, there would be no other option.
Mass collective refusal.
Mass collective defense.
Mass collective work + rent strikes. #GeneralStrike #GeneralStrike2020
No one is coming to save or "represent" us. It's up to us to fight for our own interests. https://t.co/y1WUb5wcXk
— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) August 14, 2020
On some level this is not surprising. All around the world, for the past ten years, we have been watching people attempting to overthrow their respective political regimes, with various outcomes. But, in all of these situations the sovereign is always faced with this sort of decision point. Dictators like Mubarak chose to resign and live the rest of their lives in relative comfort and isolation. Others, like Gaddafi, chose the other route, and ended up being removed, often violently, by their own people. Now, in the American context it is unlikely that conflict would rise to the level it has in Libya, but the metaphor still holds. Trump is faced with the decision between a life of comfort with some minor legal troubles or a life centered around attempting to not go to prison if he is removed from office.
There is another scenario, which is not something which has been discussed yet, and that is the negotiated exit scenario, in the mold of Nixon. With Nixon he traded resignation for a dropping of impeachment proceedings and a pardon from Gerald Ford. It is possible that this could be the route Trump would attempt to take if a significant crisis breaks out. This scenario would occur if the continuation of the administration were in doubt, due to actions from the street. In order to save himself, he might attempt to negotiate immunity for resignation from office and a concession on the election. It is this scenario, and only this scenario, which would allow him to make an attempt to stay in office, without needing to spend the rest of his life under indictment or in prison.
But, as was said before, all of this requires us to step up and meet the moment. We are at a pivotal moment in American history where the traditional foundations of the American political project, grounded in slavery, genocide and white supremacy, are starting to collapse. Just as with the fall of the Soviet Union, no regime falls on its own. It is up to us to mobilize, get out into the streets, and fight like hell if the situations arises, and to not back down in the face of repression. If we succeed in this moment openings will emerge to force fundamental changes to our lives. If we fail we will be condemned to living in an increasingly authoritarian climate, with no immediate routes of escape. As anarchists we often say that we are the harbingers of the future, and that this future is up to us to determine. This is the moment in which these declarations need to become concrete actions.
It is not certain that this reality will come to pass, but the more that the situation develops the more likely it is that we will have to mobilize a response to an attempt to seize power through a refusal of the election result. For many of us, the fact that Trump is refusing an election is not what is at issue. Rather, this fight for us is a fight against rising authoritarianism, a fight to realign power within the US and a fight to continue the struggles of the past year.
If this scenario emerges it will be a decisive scenario, one in which the future trajectory of American history will depart from. The American political project has been in a process of collapse since the end of the Cold War, but we are being faced with a decisive moment in that process. As such, we have to be ready, be prepared for what will come, because if we are not, not only will we be missing an acute political moment, the future we would be facing could be very bleak.
If Trump goes down this road, he is choosing a path that requires either total victory or total defeat, there would be no other option.
This is not a moment for us to celebrate. Whatever lies ahead it is likely to be difficult, dangerous and involve a level of tragedy that is difficult to imagine. Already, we have been seeing a rise in right-wing violence targeting participants in street actions, we are already witnessing a rise in militancy within elements that support Trump and we have been witnessing a distinct drift into the racist right wing on the part of the administration. Any resistance in the streets will be met with police force, that much is clear; the police exist to defend the state and impose its will.
But, if we have learned anything since the end of May it is that, with enough determination, and a solid dose of good tactics, we can fight and win against the State on the streets. These victories, though temporary, demonstrate that it is possible to challenge State power, to force the police off the streets and to make that area denial rise to the point where the future of the state is brought into question. The road ahead is going to be difficult and tragic, but if we are prepared and ready, we have shown that it is possible to rise to that moment.