Have you ever considered what happens when Donald Trump loses in November? One year ago, his former attorney Michael Cohen testified before Congress that Trump would not accept electoral defeat this upcoming election. Sadly, he’s probably right: If there’s one thing Trump has been consistent about, it’s that he narcissistically refuses to accept reality whenever it’s in any way negative toward him. This is why Trump has repeatedly, and ridiculously, insisted that he won the popular vote in 2016. In his very first meeting with Congressional leaders, he told them he won the popular vote because “3 to 5 million people voted illegally, and I’m not even counting California.”
Despite images to the contrary, Trump still refuses to accept that his sparsely attended inauguration was anything except the largest in history. Trump is so mentally incapable of admitting defeat that he literally took a Sharpie marker to an official map rather than admit he got something wrong. Most people found that hilarious, while others thought it pathetic.
I found it dangerous.
Recent events have made Trump even more reckless than “usual.” His impeachment acquittal by Republican senators, despite overwhelming evidence, seemingly proved Trump’s own adage that he could murder someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any political support. Right after the vote, when Maine Sen. Susan Collins’ gave a jaw-dropping justification that Trump had “learned his lesson,” Trump decided to shed any pretense of caring about democratic norms, and fully embraced his goal of complete authoritarian corruption.
Trump has turned the Department of Justice into his own personal political hit squad. His Treasury Department, which refused to turn over anything to Congress, even under subpoena, quickly and illegally turned over private financial information on Joe Biden’s son. Trump has pushed out career public servants and replaced them with sycophants who place loyalty to him above the Constitution. Republican senators have willingly surrendered their power on just about everything, even allowing Trump to rewrite their budget through decree, and helped him pack the courts with unqualified toadies.
Now that the checks and balances are gone, Trump is in a great position to steal the next election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has done his part by refusing to allow any bills on election security to come up for a vote, while remaining silent as Trump openly calls for foreign hacking. It appears that voter suppression and gerrymandering are no longer enough. Yet even if all the dirty tricks fail, and Trump still manages to lose the election outright, Trump is very likely not going to step down.
Many call this line of thinking paranoid, but that’s because they give Trump and his GOP allies too much credit. Election night has always been the one time that the Republicans have had to come face-to-face with reality. Unlike trickle-down economics or climate science, elections are straight math, no matter your preconceived view. You can’t challenge an election.
Or so we thought.
As with so many other things, Trump is going to change that dynamic. There are many possible scenarios, but several have Trump likely calling the election for himself long before the votes are in. If the results are not breaking his way during the election, expect Trump to cry fraud. Washington Monthly put out a very plausible sequence of events of what might happen once this occurs. Trump would declare, probably through a tweet, that he is hearing “from a lot of people” that polling sites are “fixed” and “rigged” against him. After Trump claims fraud, the GOP leadership is almost certain to back him up. His chief bootlickers, like Sens. Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham, will call for bogus investigations.
If the vote comes down to a state like Florida, where the GOP is in full control, they likely won’t certify the Democratic winner. Even if it came down to a purple state that refuses to fix the election, like Pennsylvania, recall that our constitution requires the current vice president to certify the election results. Mike Pence, who is the most submissive veep in our nation’s history, will not do this if Trump instructs him not to. The GOP has likely already calculated this, because in that event, the decision would go to the House of Representatives, where each state gets one vote. Since there are more GOP controlled states than Democratic ones, the victor would most assuredly be Trump.
The Senate has already proven they won’t do anything to stop him, and the Supreme Court is packed with Trump’s people, like Brett Kavanaugh, who warned that he would not be impartial after his confirmation hearing.
So then what? What if Trump loses the election, refuses to leave, and the GOP doesn’t make him? Can you imagine a scenario where Trump loses the popular vote AND the Electoral College, yet is still in office after a 5-4 vote in the Supreme Court? What would you do in this case? I am seriously asking YOU: Then what?
I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I come home, read the daily dose of awful news from this administration, get angry, fire off a few posts, and then do something else to take my mind off of the political despair. But that is getting harder to do. Opinion writers tell me I’m being silly: Americans will never accept a dictatorship. Yet, for the most part, the populace has been staying silent. After all, it certainly doesn’t look like a dictatorship. We don’t have tanks rolling down the streets or violent militias patrolling neighborhoods—mostly, anyway. People still feel free to march and to protest, and we still have a free press where journalists don’t fear violent retribution—mostly, anyway.
Yet dictatorships don’t happen overnight.
Right now, Trump has merely “joked” about refusing to leave office—over two dozen times. Trumpian politicians are only recently starting to get more brazen, like introducing a book banning bill to imprison librarians. Trump’s promised government retribution for late night show mocking hasn’t started, nor has his unconstitutional declaration to end birthright citizenship. Although Trump says he can legally order the attorney general to do anything he wants (he can’t), and plans to go after Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, and Mitt Romney, he hasn’t—yet. But all of that is bluster, right? We’ll be okay. Americans always are.
If Trump remains in office after the next election, all of this will change. There will be absolutely nothing and nobody reigning him in. Meanwhile, Trump’s list of enemies, perceived and real, grows. As Americans, we have become more and more comfortable with his attacks on our Democratic institutions. We have become numb to his frequent attacks on his immigrant scapegoats and the free press.
We aren’t in a dictatorship yet, but it absolutely can and will happen here if we allow it, and sooner than you think. Right now, many Americans don’t want to speak out. They, like me, just want to go about their lives. The problem with that is if you wait until it gets bad enough to where you feel you have to speak out, only then will you realize speaking out will no longer be possible.
Consider this 2017 warning from Yale history professor Timothy Snyder.
The framers of the Constitution were worried that someone might come along who could be elected president who didn't have concern about the rule of law or about democracy. We are now in that situation.
Up until now, there is nothing in Mr. Trump's words or in his actions which would even suggest that he cares even a little bit about democracy or about the rule of law.
What I would say is that our institutions were set up for a moment just like this one, but they'll only protect us if we enliven them and if we support them.
You can watch Snyder’s full video below.
Authoritarian leaders like Trump count on two things: that you’ll despair, and that you’ll be quiet. Yet authoritarians can’t turn into dictators without a compliant populace. For me, becoming noncompliant means that my personal ban on discussing politics with friends, neighbors, and co-workers is over. I don’t have to verbally attack anyone to confront a blatant lie, but I will no longer be silent.
My “Christian” friends calling immigrants an infestation of MS-13 are on notice. How the hell is any of this Christian? Phony justifications by right-wing politicians for Trump’s plans to stay in office for a third term due to “lost time” will no longer be politely ignored.
I’m asking you, right now: What you are comfortable with doing, and what you are amenable to giving up? For me, it’s comfort. I can’t be upset that there aren’t mass protests in the streets if I’m not there myself. I can’t participate as long as I fear that one of my bosses or clients will see me. Not anymore.
There’s plenty of organizations to join or financially support that need help now, from Indivisible to Planned Parenthood to the ACLU, to name just a few. There’s even the main opposition party known as the Democrats, and the brave candidates who are risking everything to fight our slide into Trump’s tyranny. For far too long I have avoided getting too involved, because I feared it would interfere with my primary career. Those days are over.
Yes, I may anger some clients, and I may lose more than I gain, but I’d rather lose them than lose my country. The type of involvement needed, the kind of canvassing I need to participate in, and the speaking out that needs to happen will no longer allow me to hide. However, I feel if I don’t get involved now, it will only get worse. Trump has no trouble going after critics’ pensions, their families, and their income, using the courts and his executive powers to do so. Yet he has openly pined for the power of the dictators he fawns over—the ones who imprison their critics ... or worse. The more political power he is able to accrue, the more likely that may happen.
We need to stop him. Now. If you are in a government position, or even a military position, where you are being asked to do something that you know is wrong—such as permit or engage in corruption, or target dissent—please remember that dictatorships rely on our cooperation to survive. That cooperation can either be voluntary or coerced, but it has to happen in order for their plans to work. There may come a time you need to make a very difficult choice with real consequences. You don’t have to go along with something that is unjust just because you are expected to.
These are difficult times, but our nation has been through dark times before. There were always heroes who have pulled us through. Just look at Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. He showed us what a hero looks like, and has paid quite the price.
We are all soon going to face a test. We have a president who has turned his office into a cult of personality, who has repeatedly shown his disdain for the law, and who puts his personal interests above everything else. Is it any wonder that we are being prepared for the increasingly likely event that the president may declare martial law?
I ask everyone reading this to undergo the same uncomfortable self-examination. If Trump refuses to leave the White House, how much are you willing to sacrifice, and how much you are willing to tolerate? Our democracy depends on your answer.