I smell the stench of panic on Donald Trump.
Every week that passes with him trailing in the polls — and with the very real possibility of defeat lurking — his Twitter tirades and public utterances seem to grow more erratic.
He is leaning into a campaign of chaos. He has undertaken an unprecedented attack on the US Postal Service to prevent mail-in voting, trying to force voters to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote.
This is an attempt at voter suppression on a massive scale. It is out in the open, designed to reduce the number of ballots cast (to give him a better chance of winning), and to create a pretext for contesting and delegitimizing the result should he lose.
Time is winding down. The election is in a few months. He needs a narrative-altering event, and don’t put anything past him. He would be willing to create one, even if it damages the country and its institutions
This is the behaviour of a desperate man, but it’s also a repeat of 2016, when Trump, then behind in the polls as he is now, signalled that he might not accept the election results.
The Obama White House went so far as to devise a secret plan in case he did this. As New York Magazine reported in 2018, the plan, according to interviews with Ben Rhodes, Obama’s senior aide and speech writer, and Jen Psaki, Obama’s communications director, “called for congressional Republicans, former presidents, and former Cabinet-level officials including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, to try and forestall a political crisis by validating the election result.
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In the event that Trump tried to dispute a Clinton victory, they would affirm the result as well as the conclusions reached by the US intelligence community that Russian interference in the election sought to favour Trump, and not Clinton.”
The difference between then and now is that Trump now holds the power of the presidency.
This time, a bipartisan group of political figures has tried to game out what will happen if Trump refuses to accept the verdict this year, and the results aren’t pretty.
When law is helpless
As Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown law professor, a former Defence Department official and a co-organiser of the group known as the Transition Integrity Project, told the Boston Globe in July, “All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse.” She continued, “The law is essentially it’s almost helpless against a president who’s willing to ignore it.”
Trump knows he’s struggling.
Bodies continue to pile up because of his incompetent response to the pandemic. Some 176,000 Americans have already been lost to the coronavirus, and that number could rise to nearly 300,000 by December. Millions of people are unemployed and anxious. There is ongoing civil unrest, and there have been large-scale protests against racism.
More than 3 1/2 years of endless outrages have culminated in our current catastrophes, and many voters are exasperated and outraged.
And yet, Trump has somehow managed to convince millions of Americans that he is not the cause of the chaos, but that he is somehow the last rampart against it. Other Trump supporters realise that he is the cause of the chaos, and they actually cheer it.
As Trump said Friday while speaking at the 2020 Council for National Policy Meeting in Arlington, Virginia:
Anarchy and chaos
“I’m the only thing standing between the American dream and total anarchy and chaos. And that’s what it is. I’m representing you. I’m just here. And I’m not sure it’s an enviable position, but that’s what it is. That’s what it is.”
He continued: “You know, when I made that statement, I was a little embarrassed by it because it sounds so egotistical. It’s like an egotistical statement. And I was a little embarrassed: ‘I’m the only one.’ But there was no other way to say it. We have to win the election.”
He is selling the fear of a dystopian Joe Biden/Kamala Harris future. It is a fear of loss: loss of racial privilege and protection, loss of economic stability, loss of religious liberty, loss of gun culture and loss of political power and control.
Trump has taught conservatism to cowards. He has taught conservatives to see monsters in shadows. He has taught them to view fear as power.
Trump will no doubt bring his fear message to this week’s Republican National Convention, hoping to alter the polling that has remained stubbornly steady.
But, if that doesn’t work, expect Trump to take an even more dramatic step. Time is winding down. The election is in a few months. He needs a narrative-altering event, and don’t put anything past him. He would be willing to create one, even if it damages the country and its institutions.
Trump doesn’t believe in the preservation of democracy; he believes in the preservation of Donald.
Charles M. Blow is a columnist and the author of Fire Shut Up in My Bones
New York Times