I’m not an alarmist by nature. I’m not one of those people who worry a lot. I’ve never spent much time fretting about things over which I have little or no control. I can’t recall ever waking up because I was worried about something.
Until this morning. I woke up a little after 0500 this morning, worried. Why? Because Donald Trump is trying to break democracy — and I genuinely don’t know how alarmed we should be about it.
The more rational part of my brain is saying, “Dude, chill the fuck out. This is Donald Trump we’re talking about. Ain’t no way this guy could pull that off. He’s too stupid and too lazy to break democracy.” And I believe that to be true. If it was just Trump, I wouldn’t be worrying. But Trump has surrounded himself with venal, amoral, self-serving, dishonest, corrupt assholes. In other words, he’s surrounded himself with people just like himself, but smarter, more competent, and more energetic.
Even with that information, I wasn’t really worried. And then a friend — Sue Wilkinson, living in what I like to think is a small idyllic village in England — alerted me to this:
It’s a long video — sixteen minutes. If you skipped right over it and kept reading, I understand. But I’d encourage you to make the time to watch the whole thing at some point. It will scare the holy shit right out of you, but watch it anyway.
Because this is a thing we actually NEED to think about. Trump is actually PULLING THIS SHIT RIGHT NOW. He’s refusing to concede the election. He’s encouraging his followers to disrupt the election process and reject the results. Even though he has no evidence of fraud, he’s suing various states to overturn their election results. He’s actually accusing state governments — some of which are governed by his own political party — of committing crimes. He’s trying to stop the states he lost from certifying their results. And he’s got his pet Attorney General, Bill Barr, to ignore the Justice Department’s longstanding tradition of staying out of election investigations until after the results are in and certified.
But there’s more. Trump’s head of the General Services Administration has refused to sign the paperwork releasing the money and resources for Uncle Joe Biden’s transition team. In fact, throughout the federal government, Trump’s political appointees have ordered their staffs NOT to work with the Biden transition team. It’s like every Trump appointee in the entire government has their fingers stuck in their ears so they won’t have to hear that they’re out of a job. They are deliberately dodging their responsibilities to the America people.
And there’s still more. While he’s pulling all that other selfish undemocratic shit, Trump is also actively dismantling the US national security system. Yesterday Trump fired his third Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper (who replaced Trump’s second SecDef, Patrick Shanahan, who replaced Trump’s first SecDef, James Mattis). When asked about the possibility of being fired, Esper said this:
“I could have a fight over anything, and I could make it a big fight, and I could live with that. Why? Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real ‘yes man.’ And then God help us.”
To be clear, Esper was about 75% a ‘yes man’. Still got his ass fired. Lots of people expect Trump to also fire Christopher Wray, his third FBI Director (after Andrew McCabe, who replaced James Comey — and it’s worth remember that the FBI Director is appointed for a ten year term in order to keep the director separate from politics). Trump is also said to be considering firing CIA Director Gina Haspel (who is, that’s right, his third CIA Director).
None of this is a surprise. A lot of us thought this was a possibility. Even a probability. But even knowing that Trump was likely to pull this shit, I still wasn’t really worried. Until that video taught me something I didn’t know. I knew that if the election mess ended up in the House of Representatives, they could hold a contingency election. They could ignore everything that happened before — the popular vote, the electoral vote — and elect a new president all on their own. But I DID NOT KNOW how a contingency election worked.
It works like this: there are 50 states with 435 voting members — 232 Democrats, 197 Republicans, and a single Libertarian (5 seats are vacant). Each state gets a single vote. The individual members of the House vote to determine how their state will vote. For example, the 53 members of California’s delegation would vote to determine how California’s single vote will be cast. Montana’s three members of Congress decide how Montana’s single vote will be cast. Nebraska’s three members of Congress decide how Nebraska would vote. It doesn’t matter that California has eight times as many representatives as Montana and Nebraska combined, and represents nearly 40 million US citizens, whereas Nebraska and Montana represents a total of about three million. What counts is that Montana and Nebraska would get two Republican votes and California would get one Democratic vote. Democrats may have more members of Congress and represent more citizens, but Republicans control more individual states.
So IF Trump and his people fuck up the post-election process to the point where the decision has to be made by the House of Representatives, a minority of Republicans in the House could literally override the electoral college vote and the popular vote and install Donald Trump as POTUS. That’s fucked up, right there.
That could actually happen. I’ve no idea how likely or unlikely it is. I’d like to believe it’s highly improbable. But I believed Trump’s election in the first place was highly improbable. The thing is, it COULD happen. I’ve no doubt at all that Trump wouldn’t hesitate to break democracy if he thought it would help him. And IF it happens — IF Trump somehow retains the presidency — it would shatter the notion of representative democracy into thousands of tiny misshapen pieces. It would probably be impossible to put them back together again.
That’s why I was awake at five o’clock in the morning.