By Brent Korson
For four years, there’s been no serious question about how Donald Trump would react if he lost the 2020 election. Over the 1400 days since his presidency began, every anti-democracy act, anti-factual tweet and anti-reality statement has accumulated into an ironclad case for how his presidency would end (be it 4 years or 8 years). He would sow chaos, agitate his followers to violence, deny the reality of being forced to leave office and drag the country down with him to failure of imagination level depths. America would remain held hostage, but with exponentially higher stakes.
We’re on day 15 of Trump refusing to coordinate transition resources with the incoming Biden administration. The domino effect upon each passing day without this critical transfer exacerbates all dangers, from potential, to definitive (any and all COVID-19 related information resulting in more needless deaths). By effectively leaning on a single government employee, GSA (General Services Administration) Head Emily W. Murphy, to “ascertain” whether to facilitate the peaceful transfer of power to President-Elect Joe Biden, Trump is actively creating one monstrously interlocking national security threat during a several month period already notorious for leaving the U.S. vulnerable.
While the four-year long countdown clock to post-November 3rd volatility was always ticking, knowing it was coming doesn’t make it less surreal now that we’re in it. Even through the fog of this 77-day interregnum, the potential for civil unrest remains clear for every hour that Trump refuses to concede and lies about election fraud for a diehard base, some of whom are facing federal charges for plots to kidnap and execute Democratic governors. The question is less whether Trump can steal the election, but rather, how dangerous might things get during this precarious moment?
From A 4-Year General Outline Of Chaos To The 77-Day Specific Blueprint Taking Form
On election night, Trump said the thing he’d spent months warning he’d say on Election Night: “The only way we are going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” In response, efforts to potentially mobilize nation-wide protests as early as Wednesday, November 4th, were planned months in advance by the Indivisible-led “Protect The Results” coalition of 150 plus progressive groups.
The Protect The Results website, launched in June, laid out a (tentative) post-November 3rd plan, “We’re building a coalition of voters ready to mobilize if Trump undermines the results of the 2020 presidential election.” A find-an-event location map is still regularly updated, “These events are tentative and dependent upon activation of the Protect the Results coalition if Trump takes action to undermine the results.“
Even though Trump had done just that – undermine the results – Protect The Results held off on peaceful protests once it was evident that counting all mail-in-votes could take days. By Friday, November 6th, Protect The Results planned to activate an augmented plan. Come Saturday, 1pm ET, rather than protests, they’d mobilize celebratory marches, tweaking the event name to “Voters Decide: March To Celebrate & Protect The Results.” Fortuitously, at 11am, the networks made the official call for Biden. What followed, all day and all night, in all 50 states, were spontaneous outbursts of pure joy and relief; literal dancing in the streets. The collective national exhale had finally come – for Democratic voters, at least.
Just Because A Coup Being Attempted Is Likely To Fail Doesn’t Mean It’s Not A Coup
Joe Biden is the President-Elect and there’s nothing Trump can (legally) do, be it frivolous lawsuits or threatening state electors, to stop him and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris from assuming office on January 20th. However, we’re now living through the part where on top of a losing President refusing to concede and stalling transition efforts, he has entered into the decimating-leadership-at-multiple-departments-phase, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and several other top Pentagon leadership roles.
With “coup” being such a loaded word, mainstream media has been struggling with whether to call what’s taking place a coup. However, just because a coup is being attempted and likely to fail, doesn’t mean it’s not a coup. However we describe it (self-coup, coup-in-progress, attempted-coup), the President is actively trying to overturn the results of a democratic election, just as he said he would. Now is not the moment to parse words. There’s a limited amount of time to accurately name and faithfully describe what’s happening with the necessary and appropriate level of urgency required. There were always a multitude of moving parts that could detonate during the interregnum. This is the shortlist of some of the most combustible –
GOP Protecting, Enabling and Democracy Eroding
One of the more consequential X factors before Election Day was how elected GOP officials would react, and likely contort themselves, in the face of a Trump loss. The verdict was immediate and exceeded even cynical expectations of how anti-democratic their denial of democracy would be. Though it’s no surprise that a political party defined by cult-like nihilism would cast political fortunes with a leader they fear and whose supporters they need (and also fear), they’ve created newly inextricable links to Trump’s historic, anti-democracy disinformation campaign against the Electorate. This is the post-November 3rd Republican leadership response –
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration”
- Attorney General William Barr: “While most allegations of purported election misconduct…would not impact the outcome of an election…that is not always the case.”
- GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “Let’s not have any lectures about how the President should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results…President Trump is 100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.”
- GOP House Minority Leader McCarthy: “Don’t know if he’ll [Biden] be President January 20.”
- GOP Senators: 4 out of 51 have acknowledged President-Elect Biden won the election.
- GOP Congress: 6 out of 198 have acknowledged President-Elect Biden won the election.
- GOP Governors: 6 out of 26 have acknowledged President-Elect Biden won the election.
All Eyes on Barr: Trump’s All-In Hope On The Fever Dream Of Undoing The Election
Attorney General Bill Barr has been, and remains, Trump’s most dangerous weapon. On October 7th, ProPublica uncovered an internal DOJ announcement allowing exceptions on a decades-long policy preventing prosecutors from investigative steps that could publicize and interfere with the election. This explained the September 24th dry run when a U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania publicly announced investigating whether local elections officials illegally discarded nine mail-in ballots. The Justice Department press release, noted seven ballots for Trump. Trump’s communications team soon tweeted, “BREAKING: FBI finds military mail-in ballots discarded in Pennsylvania. 100% of them were cast for President Trump. Democrats are trying to steal the election,” a campaign official tweeted.” On September 30th, Pennsylvania’s top election official confirmed it was human error.
On November 9th, days after Biden had already won, Barr stepped in (again) to overturn another decades-long, DOJ policy designed to (again) prevent interference that could affect the election. In his attempt to find “illegal votes,” somewhere…anywhere, he told federal prosecutors they could “pursue substantial allegations of vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections in your jurisdictions.” Before day’s end, Richard Pilge, DOJ’s election crimes branch director, resigned in protest.
On November 13th, 16 assistant U.S. Attorneys staged a rebellion in the form of an internal DOJ memo to Barr. The AUSAs, who’d been directly assigned to monitor the kind of election interference Barr was seeking, stated that they saw no evidence of “vote tabulation irregularities,” and asked him to rescind his November 9th memo which, in their words, ”thrusts career prosecutors into partisan politics…and is not based in fact.”
Barr’s Attempts To Co-Opt The Military At Lafayette Square and The Insurrection Act
A week after George Floyd’s murder on May 25th, Barr’s summer of tyranny began. His outsized role overseeing the terrorizing of peaceful BLM protesters at Lafayette Square on June 1st via a hodgepodge of militarized federal officers is well-documented. However, some underreported parts remain which could shed light on worst case scenarios for a Trump / Barr endgame.
State-sanctioned violence underscored the depths Barr would plumb to perpetuate Trump’s only notable platform policy: us vs. them. For a few days in D.C. last summer, the nation came perilously close to the brink of those depths when both encouraged then-defense secretary Mark Esper to deploy thousands of active-duty, armed U.S. military troops to the nation’s capital. Units of the 82nd Airborne were mobilized from North Carolina to the Virginia suburbs, just miles from Washington, D.C. Soldiers on standby were issued bayonets and live ammunition.
The only thing that stood in the way was Esper’s decision to push back on the Trump / Barr pressure to invoke The Insurrection Act. Reports confirmed Trump seeking to invoke the 1807 law (authorizing U.S. military on U.S. soil, typically meant for natural disasters or terrorist attacks), which would deploy active-duty military troops to respond against the American people. He addressed this in a speech, also notable for ongoing references to the Second Amendment. Esper, seeking to separate himself from the militarized show of force, sent the troops back without consulting Trump.
Though activating the troops was a bridge too far for Esper, he still joined Trump, Barr and General Mark Milley Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, (in army fatigues) for the clearing-by-violence photo-op stroll from the White House to St. John’s Church. Esper publicly apologized the next day. Milley needed a week. In between those two apologies came James Mattis’ interview in The Atlantic, where Trump’s former Defense Secretary said he “tries to divide us”, is an active threat to the Constitution, and compared his actions to Nazi tactics.
Not so fun fact: Barr oversaw federal response the last time The Insurrection Act was invoked (in 1992 when he was AG under George H.W. Bush during the Los Angeles unrest following the acquittal of the officers who beat Rodney King).
Also lost in this flooded news zone was the September 17th report that the latest whistleblower to emerge was in response to behind the scenes plans at Lafayette Square. D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco was the senior-most D.C. National Guard officer on the ground that day and the liaison to U.S. Park Police. In an ongoing investigation into law enforcement and military officers’ actions on June 1st, DeMarco told lawmakers that, “defense officials were searching for crowd-control technology deemed too unpredictable to use in war zones and had authorized the transfer of about 7,000 rounds of ammunition to the D.C. Armory.” Hours before the brutal beatings of protesters, “federal officials began to stockpile ammunition and seek devices that could emit deafening sounds and make anyone within range feel as if their skin was on fire.”
The heat ray weapon may sound familiar; this summer the New York Times reported that in the run-up to the 2018 midterms, amidst the Trump administration’s “caravan” propaganda, they were considering using a “heat ray” on migrants at the U.S.- Mexico Border. The idea was dropped after mentions of humanitarian concerns needed to be cited.
The other rogue law enforcement part of Summer 2020 was Trump’s nation-wide blitzkrieg of militarized federal officers frankenstein’d from various agencies in cities engaged in peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. Unbothered by a global pandemic, Trump spent his summer cosplaying “law and order president”, dividing the country further apart by telling his violent supporters to show up at peaceful protests, encouraging local law enforcement to be reckless and dispatched ominously outfitted agents to cities in order to generate election campaign ad “law and order” content.
Those thousands of troops, some deployed by acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, were a mishmash from agencies including ICE, Federal Protective Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and even BORTAC, their equivalent of a SWAT team with no experience in crowd control. Many were camouflaged, without identifying insignia, and captured on camera multiple times pulling protesters off the streets and into unmarked vehicles – which is problematic when the country is seeing an onslaught of armed civilian militias. This was in addition to Barr’s tapping the DOJ to send U.S. Marshals for the purpose of “protecting federal property.”
Wolf is yet another Trump lobbyist-turned-appointee with no experience in the department he’s running. Trump’s preference of replacing department heads with “acting” leaders has allowed him countless opportunities to circumvent Senate approval, installing them for 210 days. Wolf is the first to max those 210 days and is now simply acting an illegal capacity according to more than one judge.
New Defense Secretary, Pentagon Purge And A Lingering Threat Of The Insurrection Act
On November 9th, Trump’s first post-election-loss firing was Esper. By tweet. Typically, the Deputy Defense Secretary would be next in succession. Instead, David L. Norquist was bypassed with the (non-Senate confirmed) appointment of Christopher C. Miller, pulled as director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). While Miller has a deep military background, he’s never served in the senior ranks of Department of Defense (DOD). Esper, in an interview conducted November 4th, that was published hours after his firing asked, “Who’s going to come in behind me?…It’s going to be a real ‘yes man.’ And then God help us.”
On November 10th, leadership of the top three DOD officials either resigned in protest or were forced out: the Pentagon’s acting policy chief, the chief of staff to the new defense secretary and the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. All three were replaced by Trump loyalists, the last two with no military experience. General Milley remains in his position at JSOC.
It’s entirely possible that Trump and Barr haven’t discussed pushing The Insurrection Act a second time with the new Defense Secretary and it’s too soon to know which side of history Miller will be on. Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin worked with Miller when she was a Pentagon official in the Obama administration, and recently during his time at NCTC. In her response to his hiring, she felt it worth pointing out, “It is critical that he, and all senior Pentagon leaders, remember that they swore an oath to the Constitution, not any one man,” she said. “With that oath comes a commitment to the peaceful transition of power. All leaders must decide what they will do in the next 72 days. I strongly urge Acting Secretary Miller to remember that the country and the military he has dedicated his life to are counting on him to do the right thing.”
On November 12th, Trump brought up the possibility of a military strike against Iran to Mike Pence, Pompeo, Miller and Milley. The supposed reason was an inspection report showing Tehran had ramped up the capacity to make nuclear weapons. None of this is news; Iran has been stepping up that very capacity to make nuclear weapons since 2018 when Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran treaty which had been designed to slow them down.
On November 17th, Miller authorized a Trump demand that Esper refused to acquiesce to: a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Iraq, too, will see a drawdown leaving both countries with 2,500 U.S. soldiers remaining.
Before the election, Michael Cohen articulated what would happen if Trump lost – “there will never be a peaceful transition of power” and “would even go so far as to start a war in order to prevent himself from being removed from office.”
The Intelligence Community and Election Security Community: 3 out of 4 Department Leaders Were Under Threat Of Being Fired – One Already Has.
Leadership in three out of four intelligence agencies and one in election defense were always likely to be fired before Trump leaves office on January 20th. Along the way, ODNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence), FBI, CIA, and most recently, CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency), rocketed to the top. Pre-election, three Directors had already been fired or pushed out along the way (FBI Director James Comey, DNI Dan Coats and DNI Joseph Maguire).
None of these agencies stood the chance of a positive, working relationship with Trump. The common thread running through each department is obvious: for a criminal president (before and while in office), intelligence departments are a diametrically opposed, inherent existential threat. They’re required to deliver uncomfortable truths (many topics, notably Russia), not spin their findings when delivering public assessments (also many topics, also Russia), and most critically, their inability to neutralize a national security threat when that threat happens to be the Commander in Chief.
ODNI: The one agency likely to be spared Trump’s wrath is ODNI, led by John Ratcliffe. Now that Trump bumped both Dan Coats and Sue Gordon, Deputy DNI (his designated successor) in one fell swoop last year, followed by Maguire (all three for not sufficiently protecting Trump from impeachment), Ratcliffe is safe in his job. The former GOP Congressman and Trump cheerleader throughout Russia-related televised hearings is the second DNI to lack any intel or national security experience whatsoever. (Ratcliffe’s successor for several months was first – Trump donor-turned-ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell).
The first time Trump nominated Ratcliffe, the only relevant example he could list was created whole cloth, sinking his nomination. And yet, the GOP Senate confirmed him the second time around. Ratcliffe’s yes-man status has been on full display before and after the election, from simply deciding to not brief Democrats on election threats to distorting public election interference warnings, blindsiding FBI Director Chris Wray and CISA Director Chris Krebs as they stood next to him. Part of Ratcliffe’s ongoing loyalty test is publicly attesting to the charade with statements like, “ODNI would not have contact with any transition team until notified by GSA administrator [Emily W. Murphy].” Of the myriad casualties derived from transition stonewalling, this will be the first time that an incoming President, will be starting day one with potentially no intelligence briefings on any national security threats facing the United States.
CISA: Created in 2018, the federal agency under DHS auspices, CISA is the unsung hero of a successful 2020 election with no major cyberattacks. For two years, Krebs has overseen unparalleled efforts, coordinating with all 50 states, to ensure that what was shaping up to be the most fraught and hackable U.S. election managed to stay on course. CISA’s work continues, responding daily to disinformation on their rumor control website and Twitter account. On November 12th, Krebs retweeted an election expert, “Please don’t retweet wild and baseless claims about voting machines, even if they’re made by the president. These fantasies have been debunked many times, including by @DHSgov @CISAgovon this excellent site/resource, Rumor Control. cisa.gov/rumorcontrol.”
That same day, the White House pressured the resignations of Bryan Ware, CISA’s assistant director for cybersecurity and Valerie Boyd, assistant secretary for international affairs at DHS.
Later that day, CISA and election infrastructure government partners released a joint statement, (bolded theirs) “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history…There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised… While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should too.”
Krebs was tweet-fired on November 17th with Trump cramming eight lies into one sentence, “The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud – including dead people voting, Poll Watchers not allowed into polling locations, “glitches” in the voting machines which changed votes from Trump to Biden, late voting, and many more.”
CISA Deputy Director, Matthew Travis, who would have been Krebs’ successor, was forced to resign under White House pressure, putting CISA Executive Director Brandon Wales as acting director.
CIA: Director Gina Haspel has been able to hang on since her 2018 appointment by sidestepping or watering down uncomfortable truths about Russia for Trump. That’s ended now that he wants to go from declassifying some Russia-related intelligence to outright exposing sources and methods. Trump and Ratcliffe have already done this several times, cherry picking information designed to unwind and distort Mueller’s overwhelming evidence of Russian coordination. Although she appears to have located her red line by pushing back, reporting confirms just another inane loyalty test since Trump already gave Barr the unprecedented ability to declassify anything from any intelligence agency last year.
FBI: Director Chris Wray has found himself in the inevitable position of likeliest to be fired by Trump, if Haspel doesn’t beat him to it. While he’d managed to lay just low enough since taking over from Comey, Trump has normalized musing out loud that his second FBI director should do more to lie for him, whether on Russia or the 2020 election.
Trump’s Ongoing Trial Balloons for “Civil War-Like Fractures” and “Martial Law”
The potential for violence in Trump’s America was promised long before taking office. Prior to 2017’s “American Carnage,” his proclivity for chaos was manifest in a 2014 Fox interview, “When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster, then you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.”
Trump has been fond of trial balloons to normalize threats of some form of civil war. On September 30, 2019, less than a week after Nancy Pelosi announced impeachment investigations, he retweeted (and misquoted) a Fox contributor, “If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.’
He’s also floated trial balloons by laundering them through surrogates, clearly using coordinated talking points. Michael Caputo, a GOP lobbyist who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, was rewarded with a job in April. Fitting the Trump administration dual pattern of lacking experience combined with willingness to lie, Caputo became assistant secretary of public affairs at HHS in order to spin CDC coronavirus reports. His four-month stint ended after a Facebook live appearance where he accused CDC scientists of “sedition” for not producing rosier reports on COVID-19, invoked political violence, “when Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” followed by explicitly recommending armed uprising, “The drills you’ve seen are nothing. If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.” Caputo is currently on medical leave.
Barr was bullish on sedition back in September, telling (and shocking) prosecutors to consider utilizing the charge for protesters that commit violent crimes, as well as Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan because of the city’s police-free zone taken up by activists.
Roger Stone, Trump pardon recipient, managed to plant the seeds of two Trump suggestions in a single interview with professional conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Discussing the delusion of the Democratic party rigging the election, “I don’t want to overplay the facts, but, if someone will study the President’s authority in the Insurrection Act and his ability to apply — impose — martial law if there’s widespread cheating… Force will be met with force. That’s the way this is going to have to work.”
Martial law is not as far-fetched as it may seem. At the height of this summer’s BLM protests, (particularly in Portland), Oregon Senator Roy Wyden saw the possibility of Trump’s law and order fantasy fully realized. In July, Wyden said, “Unless America draws a line in the sand right now, I think we could be staring down the barrel of martial law in the middle of a presidential election.”
Rioting Police Throughout The BLM Protests
What we saw this summer in the police response to overwhelmingly (97%) peaceful protests probably should have given us more of a collective pause. There doesn’t seem to have been a proper national reckoning with the fact that, day after day, for weeks on end – American police rioted throughout the country against peaceful protesters. There’s been no shortage of phone captured video footage – a criminal defense lawyer compiling a crowdsourced twitter thread of police violence on video reached 800 incidents by the end of August. To be clear, the police violence part wasn’t new – the police knowing they were being filmed at all times and attacking peaceful protesters was new. If there’s civil unrest in the months ahead, how American police will respond is an open question.
Boilerplate White Supremacists, Boogaloo and QAnon
The “boogaloo” movement – the armed, loose-knit, right-wing, white supremacist group that’s gained traction in social media groups – had already begun to move offline this summer to hijack the BLM protests for their own violent agenda. A February news report – pre-dating both the COVID-19 surge in America, as well as the protests – warned of the patchwork group of white nationalists. Participants are anarchist, vigilantly pro-Second Amendment members of citizen-militias preparing to stoke violence and chaos to initiate a second Civil War. Their plans to mobilize were deterred once coronavirus stopped outdoor gatherings. But they were quick to pivot, according to an April report, “US far right seeks ways to exploit coronavirus and cause social collapse.” Just before the protests, the accelerationist group shifted tactics to exploit the COVID-19 moment in efforts to “sow chaos to hasten the collapse of society and build a white supremacist one in its place.” When the protests began, they immediately took advantage of the newfound opportunity.
While QAnon and boilerplate white supremacists aren’t necessarily bent on civil war and the collapse of society as we know it like Boogaloo, all three groups have been designated by the FBI as posing domestic terrorism threats. Wray testified in 2019 that “within the racially motivated violent extremist bucket, people subscribing to white supremacist-type ideology is certainly the biggest chunk of that.”
Nonetheless, DHS, ODNI and the FBI have been sitting on an updated, months-late report confirming that “white supremacists present the gravest terror threat to the United States”. “Anonymous” author, Miles Taylor (former DHS Chief of Staff) has admitted, “The White House didn’t want us to talk us about domestic terrorism because they worried that… we would alienate many of the president’s supporters.”
Disinformation From Fox, Facebook, Trump And A Still Woefully Unregulated Internet
The post-election headlines are an inevitable manifestation of what may be the single largest ongoing disinformation campaign:
- “Republican distrust of news may be helping election misinformation spread”
- “Four viral videos falsely suggest ‘voter fraud’ led to Biden’s victory”
- “Stop The Steal’s massive disinformation campaign connected to Roger Stone”
- “Misinformation by a thousand cuts: Varied rigged election claims circulate”
- “Study considers a link between QAnon and Polling Errors”
- “Newsmax, a once-niche conservative network, is luring audiences by refusing to declare an electoral winner”
- “Fact-Checked on Facebook and Twitter, Conservatives Switch Their Apps – Since the election, millions have migrated to alternative social media and media sites like Parler, Rumble and Newsmax”
The disinformation wildfires around “a stolen election” and violent conspiracy theories like QAnon have the potential to merge into their own kind of collective delusion superfire, if left unchecked. Qanon has been a volatile variable for more than a year, while the election part of the months-long conspiracy theory of a “rigged election” is only a few weeks old. The more disinformation about the election runs rampant (exacerbated by all the usual players from Trump to Facebook), the likelier it is to fuel conspiracy theories steeped in “deep state” un-logic. Because aggrievement plays such a crucial role in reinforcing these dangerous fantasies, it’s hard to imagine a more profound one than their leader’s second term being stolen. Then there are the other disparate groups from Proud Boys to Boogaloo to boilerplate white nationalists, all bent on violence. Though they may be less conspiracy-based and more violence-oriented, all of them exploit disinformation as a means to justify their ends of vigilantism.
At the core of the disinformation crisis is one common denominator: where are people getting their bad information? All roads, more often than not, lead to the same bad actors: Facebook, Fox and Trump himself. The other right wing “news” outlets and social media sites play a massive part in creating the reality-free bubble, but those three generate and spread disinformation at a disproportionate rate. Add in the misinformation factor and this is how millions of Americans could possibly think this President is attempting to stop a global pandemic.
Whether it’s local news stations that air propaganda (Sinclair) national networks (Fox), social media bubbles (Facebook and Twitter), new social media networks (Rumble, the Mercer-backed Parler) extremist right wing cable channels (OAN), extremist right wing websites (Newsmax, Breitbart), algorithms designed to reinforce belief systems (Google, YouTube) – these interconnect into a near impenetrable feedback loop. Somehow, the fault lines Trump will be exploiting in the next two months go even deeper than could have been anticipated before November 3rd. It’s why President Obama, when asked last week by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg about “this malevolent new information architecture,” responded, “I think it’s the single biggest threat to our democracy.”
The 3.5% Rule
A lot can happen in 60 days. Aside from these key people and departments who have already, and will continue to play disproportionate roles in the remainder of this lame duck period, there’s one other potential moving part that could play a substantive role.
On February 12th, one week after Trump was acquitted by the Republican Senate at his (witness-less) Impeachment trial, Jason Stanley, Yale professor and authoritarianism expert, discussed the only way he saw how a democracy could push back in our current climate.
“There need to be mass protests,” Stanley said. “The Republican Party is betraying democracy…Someone has got to push back…The deeply worrying moment is when you start to become a one-party state…The [GOP] has shown no interest in multi-party democracy…They are much more concerned with consolidating power.” He believes that the protests should have begun when the GOP voted against witnesses. He warned that the lack of public pushback was a “further sign to the party in power that they can go ahead and do what they want.”
Also during Impeachment, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, NYU Historian and member of the Real Facebook Oversight Board, added that the best strategy for citizens to counter mass abuses of power is to use “their electoral power to vote out these authoritarians while they still can.” Now that the election is behind us, we still have to reckon with a losing president who knows that come January 20th, he’ll no longer have the immunity that’s been protecting him from active criminal investigations into the Trump Organization by New York AG Tish James and DA Cy Vance that could put him in jail.
In May 2019, BBC ran a story on “The 3.5% rule.” In a groundbreaking 2013 study, political scientist Erica Chenoweth found that, “nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts – and those engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change.” Focusing on hundreds of campaigns over the course of a century (1900-2006), the article described how, “In each case, civil resistance by ordinary members of the public trumped the political elite to achieve radical change… although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors.” Chenoweth noted, “There weren’t any campaigns that had failed after they had achieved 3.5% participation during a peak event.” Since Chenoweth’s 2013 TED talk on the 3.5% rule – which she’s clarified as descriptive, not predictive – two nations, Brunei and Bahrain, saw failed attempts.
3.5% of the U.S. is roughly 11 million citizens. The estimated number of Americans who turned out for the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, estimated to be, “the largest movement in U.S. history,” totaled between 15
-26 million people.