On the Precipice of Tyranny

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

As if climate change, its consuming heat and fires, and the killer pandemic plague were not enough, the country is getting closer to tyranny — by the day.

Trump refuses peaceful transfer of power

President Trump keeps saying the only result of the November 3 elections he will accept is his own reelection. His refusal to endorse a peaceful transition of power, “the most fundamental tenet of American democracy,” has been shrouding the election in grave uncertainty and fear.  Barton Gellman, a journalist who has studied Trump and the forthcoming election, says:

“Trump’s strategy is never to concede. He may win, he may lose, but under no circumstances will he concede this election. That’s a big problem, because we don’t actually have a mechanism for forcing a candidate to concede, and concession is the way we have ended elections.”

Trump’s behavior is warning America of potential tyranny, starting November 4th.

Supreme Court inimical to democracy

Trump and the Republican Party are not making idle threats. They know honest elections guarantee victory for Joe Biden. To avert that, they have been stuffing the federal judiciary with judges of their partisan flavor. In addition, they are feverously preparing to add another judge to the Supreme Court so that Trump can be handed the presidency for the second time.

I keep waiting to hear if Joe Biden will tell the Supreme Court to mind its own legal business and stay clear of politics, especially presidential election politics.

I hope he will not repeat the Al Gore decision in 1981 to abide by the extremely inappropriate interference of the Supreme Court in American elections. The Supreme Court decision of making George W. Bush president, and Gore’s defeatist decision to accept it, cost the country dearly in speeding its decline.

Moreover, the Republican hegemony of the early twenty-first century boosted more than imperial adventures and careless economics. The Bush wars in the Middle East put the United States on the side of war mongers and aggressors. The Bush administration did no better in running the economy. Wall Street banks sparked an ecumenical financial meltdown. This aggressive but unpunished behavior and policies solidified the arrogance of the rising American oligarchy to the point of nearly being unstoppable.

Trump is simply the outcome of Republican and billionaire hubris and undemocratic politics since actor Ronald Reagan occupied the White House in the 1980s.

The Trump army

Joe Biden needs to get his allies (Democrats of all skin colors and the outspoken Republican enemies of Trump) to decide what to do about the emerging Trump army and the refusal of Trump to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power.

First, Trump and the Republican campaign are recruiting about 15,000 “able-bodied” volunteers to defend Trump during the election. This army for Trump will be monitoring the security of the polls and moving in and out of Democratic areas. Their  military appearance and presence will have intimidating effects on black people and other minorities.

Effectively, these thousands of Trump soldiers will “create a climate of menace.” Trump told his followers in North Carolina: “Be poll watchers when you go there. Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do.”

Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, is accusing the “radical left” for trying to steal the election of his father. He says that Trump’s opponents “are planting stories that President Trump will have a landslide lead on election night, but will lose when they finish counting the mail-in ballots. Their plan is to add millions of fraudulent ballots that can cancel your [Republican] vote and overturn the election. We cannot let that happen. We need every able-bodied man, woman to join Army for Trump’s election security operation.”

This is inflammatory rhetoric coming from the president’s son. He speaks like a general in a castle surrounded by enemies.

Who is going to oppose Trump?

The second and more difficult political problem is how Joe Biden and his supporters will oppose Trump, when he loses the election but he refuses to leave the White House.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who made an unsuccessful bid for representing the Democratic Party in the 2020 presidential elections, warned that,

“We must ensure, in this unprecedented moment in American history, that this is an election that is free and fair, an election in which voters are not intimidated, an election in which all votes are counted, and an election in which the loser accepts the results.”

These ideals are excellent principles for democratic elections. What is missing is how to protect these principles at a time the president and his volunteer army are determined to violate them.

How to elect a president

Electing a president in the United States is a complicated political process that is not a straightforward friendly step towards democracy. Here the founders of this country showed their oligarchic preferences. Their model was Greek democratic confederations and monarchical England. The British government was largely grafted in the American Constitution. Kings became kings by force. The drafters of the Constitution did not have much trust in people, even those who had property and could vote. They created the electors to decide the winner in a presidential election.

State legislatures decide who can be an elector. In the poisoned political time of Trump, Republican legislatures may go so far in corrupting the undemocratic Electoral College that it can ignore entirely the outcome of elections. Republican legislatures will probably appoint electors who will defy the popular will. Electors chosen will be Trump electors.

According to Gellman:

“Electors are pledged to one candidate or the other. Which electors are appointed depends usually on the outcome of the election. When I say “usually,” I mean for the past 150, 175 years. But in theory, and depending on state law and all kinds of other complexities, the Republican legislature of a state like Pennsylvania could choose to simply appoint electors who are pledged already to Trump, based on their assessment that the vote count in that state is fraudulent or marred by fraud, and therefore that they are going to protect the will of the people by appointing Trump electors.”

America in danger

This must be one of the reasons why Trump feels so confident he won’t surrender his powers peacefully. The man is a tyrant in the making.

Frank Bruni, an Opinion Columnist for the New York Times, expressed deep dread:

“We’re in terrible danger. Make no mistake. This country, already uncivil, is on the precipice of being ungovernable, because its institutions are being so profoundly degraded, because its partisanship is so all-consuming, and because Trump, who rode those trends to power, is now turbocharging them to drive America into the ground. The Republican Party won’t apply the brakes.”

I, too, feel very unease. Joe Biden must apply the brakes with unmistakable messages to Trump and the Republicans – they have everything to lose in destabilizing the country. His administration will revisit the Trump appointment of federal judges and the new Supreme Court judge. In addition, Biden, must promise to democratize the country’s economy and withdraw all support from the billionaire class that elected Trump.

The key concern should be to make up time for the lost Trump years and mobilize America in fighting climate change.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.