It's no longer a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Since there's almost zero chance Donald Trump is going to bring home a decisive victory on election night, we are left with the near certainty that he is going to contest the election, make baseless claims of widespread fraud, and refuse to cede power.
Trump himself made that perfectly clear this week—twice—and only one GOP senator had the guts to suggest Trump had gone too far: Mitt Romney of Utah. All the rest of them gave empty assurances that a peaceful transition of power would occur while being too cowardly to challenge Trump directly. They’re as good as useless.
It's a frightening proposition as we have all watched in utter amazement the amount of damage Trump has been able to do to our democracy in less than four years’ time. But I also believe we aren't without agency here, and there are a few things worth keeping in mind as we move forward.
The New York Times' Michelle Goldberg is right: Trump wants you to think you can't get rid of him. He's successfully scaring us, but he's also giving away the game so we can prepare. Ultimately, he's a bully and I feel certain that if he is stood up to, he will back down.
The standing up to him will have to come from multiple directions—but first and foremost, from military leadership, state election officials, and The People (that's us). We know from Times reporting that the military leadership is already sorting through worst-case scenarios of Trump potentially ordering them into the streets. Top generals are reportedly prepared to resign and Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley already issued a statement late last month that he foresees "no role for the U.S armed forces" in the resolution of a disputed election.
Former Gen. Barry McCaffrey expressed confidence on MSNBC Friday that military leadership would stick to that, saying he was "sure" U.S. soldiers would not be in the streets "for or against Trump."
McCaffrey and former Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards, who was also on the MSNBC panel, agreed that America's institutions were "bent but not broken." And while the resolution of a disputed election wasn't clear, what they did express faith in is the fact that at 12 PM ET on January 20, Donald Trump would no longer be president. Who would be was an open question—Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Chuck Grassley, etc. Gaming that out is beyond my bandwidth here. But the point is, that is constitutionally mandated.
Of course, what many of us fear is that Trump will somehow have managed to consolidate power before that time. I somewhat agree with McCaffrey and Edwards that the military is likely to stay neutral. I have some faith in Milley after his mea culpa regarding his participation in Trump's Bible photo op in Lafayette Park and subsequent statements since then. So the question is, what gets in the way of Trump both claiming power and somehow demonstrating that he has it and that The People are behind him? And while the lawyers in a half-dozen swing states will likely be duking this out in the courts, my supposition is that what is happening in the streets during that time also matters as a show of strength.
I keep going back to American-Russian journalist Masha Gessen's assertion that "power is performative" and that what looks to be real has its own momentum. The truth is, the liberal left is much better at organizing in large numbers than the extreme right. We have bigger numbers and are largely practiced in holding mostly orderly and peaceful rallies. The problem is the extremists Trump's already working to gin up.
I'm running out of time on this post because it's a bit of an end-of-week stream of consciousness. I'm also not an organizer. But my sense is that we need numbers in the streets, we need to be committed to peaceful assembly, and as much as possible, we need to avoid Trump's vigilantes. I have not worked out how to make all that happen but I am certainly open to input below in the comments. One thing that sticks in my mind are the female activists in Belarus who have carried flowers into the streets to signify both which side they are on and their peaceful intentions. This seems smart to me because it's such an overt and easily digestible demonstration of their intent. It also makes for great visuals.
Anyway, we all have to make decisions for ourselves and what is safe for us. There have gotta be different ways to participate in resistance that also don't involve flooding the streets. But I do believe we all need be thinking about how we might participate in shows of resistance to Donald Trump's corrupt power grab. And as Gessen has said, whether uniformed officers such as U.S. Marshals follow through with escorting Trump out of the White House may come down to whether they perceive him to be powerful.
Please, I invite thoughtful conversation below about different ways for us to demonstrate our resistance. We're all better off trying to game this out now so we don’t miss a critical window of opportunity to make our voices heard. Every one of us needs a plan and I'm encouraging us as a community to think about what it might be.