Opinion: 39 Days To Stop A Coup

Trump Claims That His Supreme Court Will Choose The Next President.  There Are Things That You Can Do To Protect The Vote.

Art Keene

You have to marvel at the criminal mind.  Trump and his people long gave up on running a serious campaign for President.  Instead they have implemented a vast, multi-pronged plan to steal the election that includes obstructing the vote, foreign interference to influence the vote, preventing the counting of the vote, manipulating the electoral college, and, if all else fails, contesting the legitimacy of the vote and having the courts determine the outcome of the election.  The tool kit they are employing is expansive and includes voter suppression (purging of voter rolls, and shutting down polling places in Democratic districts), voter intimidation (including the dispatching an army of 50,000  “poll watchers” to prevent “voter fraud”),  aggressive ballot disqualification, dismantling of the postal service to hinder vote by mail,  installation of internet-connected, hackable and un-auditable ballot marking devices and vote tallying machines in swing districts, and appeals to the courts to intervene. 

And each day, brings new and more egregious atrocities.  Yesterday (9/24)  Florida Senator Rick Scott proposed a law  that would prohibit the counting of any ballot that had not been tallied within 24 hours of the polls closing.  Since many states prohibit the counting of mailed in ballots prior to the closing of the polls, this would effectively disqualify a large percentage of mail-in and absentee ballots which are expected to tip in favor of Democratic voters.  Some of this, of course, is just posturing to help promote an atmosphere of fear and mistrust.  But one can marvel at the ingenuity as each day seems to offer a new and imaginative approach to short-circuiting the electoral process.

Of course the strategy of least resistance for Trump is to win the electoral college outright and there are plenty of observers who, despite Biden’s strong lead in national polls (10% this week) and apparent lead in many swing states, worry that the prodigious machinery that Trump has assembled to prevent, flip, and/or disqualify Biden votes, plus the array of disinformation that is being marshaled to trash Biden (e.g repeated use of doctored videos, or Senator Ron Johnson’s (R. WI) effort to tie Biden to a scandal in Ukraine)  might be enough to allow Trump to eke through with a thin but suspect win.  But Trump’s talk of throwing out ballots and letting the courts decide the outcome seems to suggest that his campaign is not confident that the machinery that they have put in place to alter the vote will be enough.

Last Saturday (9/17), at a campaign rally, Trump said that mail-in balloting is so fraudulent that the election will have to be decided by the Supreme Court.  In subsequent days he has returned to this theme, persistently saying that the mail-in ballots are fraudulent and need to be tossed out and that when the courts decide the outcome there will be no need for a transition, there will just be a continuation.  The plan to contest the election, throw out the ballots and have the courts decide was confirmed a few days ago by Senator and Trump sycophant Lindsay Graham (R. SC) who conceded that he, and the GOP, would not contest the Supreme Court’s final decision on this election.   He and Trump did emphasize that because they expect the election to be decided by the Court, that Trump’s appointment of a sixth conservative justice to the Supreme Court prior to the election is imperative.

So instead of seriously campaigning, Trump and the GOP have put in place an astonishing number of electoral interventions and backup plans.  Trump may be a dumbass but this is an extraordinarily well planned coup. 

There are several legal strategies that Trump might use to try to toss out the ballots (as he says) and prevent them being tallied. These strategies are complex and well explained here.

One  strategy would be to get states with GOP legislatures to toss out the vote tallies and install Trump electors to the electoral college because Trump claims there’s been fraud.  This is somewhat similar to what happened when Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was “elected” President in the disputed election of 1876 ,when four state legislatures sent slates of rival electors to the electoral college rather than slates representing Democrat Samuel Tilden who had won the popular vote in those states. This led to the rather infamous Compromise of 1877 which gave the presidency to Hayes in return for an agreement to effectively end Reconstruction.

Or, Trump may be looking for something similar to Bush v. Gore in which the Supreme Court stopped a recount in FL that was trending toward Gore and awarded that state and the presidency to Bush. 

The litigation strategy has been in the works for some time and Trump has assembled an army of attorneys poised to challenge the integrity of the vote

What If The Courts Decide?
If Trump and the GOP succeed, we might ask why they wouldn’t follow the same script with each subsequent election,  i.e. declare the balloting suspect,  ask the court to intervene, and perpetuate a permanent GOP minority rule?  I suspect it wouldn’t take long to just do away with the ritual of voting entirely. 

The response of the Democrats has been disappointingly tepid.  There have been some words of protest, but there has been no explicit plan to oppose the usurpation of the election (unless it’s a secret plan). Trump is telling us daily and explicitly what he intends to do.  Our national leadership seems intent on falling back on the same kind of magical thinking that has been so pervasive in the COVID-19 crisis – hoping that the problem will simply go away.

To those who say that a coup could never happen here,  I  point out that Trump and his minions are telling us explicitly and frequently what they intend to do- perhaps an effort designed to normalize the abnormal and to condition the public and the press to accept what a majority of Americans would consider unthinkable and unimaginable.  To those who say that the Supreme Court would never stoop so low as to toss out millions of ballots without counting them, or who still imagine that there is some institution or hero that will rise up to save us (recalling those who said that Mueller or Roberts or Pelosi or the House would come to rescue us from Trump’s depredations) , I say, please, just stop.  Have you not been paying attention for the last four years? There will be no cavalry riding in to save the day at the last moment (and we are now at the last moment).  The institutions that were designed to check and balance power in our country have been thoroughly co-opted.  We are (as the experts on authoritarianism have been warning us for the last four years) going to have to save ourselves.  And the tyranny is already so deeply entrenched that the task is formidable.  But it is not hopeless.

What We Can Do To Stop A Coup?
We are not helpless in the face of this imperious, shameless effort to kill democracy.  Here are some things that we can do 

  1. Help Produce a Biden Landslide –The plan to litigate the outcome of the election may appear to be  baked in but the success of that plan becomes more tenuous if Biden appears to have won in a landslide.  A landslide also sets the table for motivating mass resistance (see below)  should Trump claim victory in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence.  Here’s what you can do at the moment.
  • Vote, early and ideally in person if you can manage it
  • Get your friends and family and neighbors to register to vote and make sure that they turn out.  Help turn out folks who do not usually vote. Appeal to anyone you know who lives in a swing state.
  • Volunteer for the Biden campaign
  • Work with a local or national voter organization to get out the vote by making calls or writing postcards to people in swing states
  • Give money

(If you don’t know how to get started with any of these things, drop me a note at The Indy and I’ll get you connected).

  1. Flip the senate
    If the Dems control both the House and The Senate it provides a much stronger front to combat GOP malfeasance.   Here are the races that appear to have the best chance of shifting control in the Senate.  Volunteer for these campaigns, send money,  spread the world. Dems need to flip only four seats to gain control of the Senate.  Here are 11 of the closest races.

AL: Doug Jones 

AZ: Mark Kelly 

CO: John Hickenlooper 

GA: Jon Ossoff 

IA: Theresa Greenfield 

ME: Sara Gideon 

MI: Gary Peters 

MT: Steve Bullock

NC: Cal Cunningham  

SC: Jamie Harrison 

TX: M.J. Hegar

  1. Pressure your members of Congress to use every tool available to prevent Trump from undertaking all of his nefarious activities.  There are plenty of parliamentary tools out there to prevent him from installing another conservative justice prior to the election including impeaching Barr or Trump (note: the Senate can’t act on anything else when it has articles of impeachment before it). Democratic members of Congress seem reluctant to use the tools at their disposal.   Even here in Massachusetts, Senators Markey and Warren and your various Reps in the House could stand to hear from you. 
  1. Give Money (again).  This of course is not an option for everyone but I think of the recent appeal from Rep. Lauren Underwood (D.IL),  who said that a contribution of just $5 helps her to reach 8 voters.  We suggest that if you can give, please do, as much as you can, and as if there is no tomorrow.  This could be the last election that we have in this country for a long time.

For what it’s worth, here in the Keene household we are doing text banking in the swing state of Wisconsin with the Working Families Party,  writing letters to union members to get out the vote in the swing states of Michigan and Ohio through Working America, and writing lots of checks. 

Now the above  may seem like weak tea, but it’s what’s been left to us after allowing a lawless regime to operate with impunity for so long. 

And there may be one additional arrow left in the quiver.

Let’s say that Trump succeeds in preventing the tallying of the vote and is awarded another term based on some court decision or some corrupt actions of the electoral college.  Political scientist Erica Chenoweth has shown that sustained non-violent protest by 3.5 % of the population (about  11.5 million people in the US). can bring a government to its knees. (This is sometimes referred to as the 3.5% rule).  We have seen this with movements like Arab Spring and the Color Revolutions in Europe, with the fall of Milosevic in Serbia,  with the forced resignation of the corrupt president of South Korea and with the ongoing protests over a corrupt election in Belarus. With sustained mass action, we have the capacity to bring business as usual to a halt and to shut the country down until democratic norms are restored.  This of course will not be easy and Trump has already expressed his desire to deter protestors with deadly force. Nonetheless, I suggest that every one of us needs to decide now, what we will do if Trump and the GOP subvert the election and if a full and honest count of the vote is not permitted. A useful resource on how to prepare can be found here.

It remains to be seen whether Americans have the will, the attention span, the courage, and the love of freedom to pull this off – the emerging situation is of course well outside of our experience.  But we do not have to accept a fascist movement imposing on us its dystopian vision.  We have 39 days to do something about it.  

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5 thoughts on “Opinion: 39 Days To Stop A Coup

  1. Great, if alarming, essay, Art. If we want to donate to an organization, any advice on how to decide which organizations are strategically most astute and tactically most effective?

  2. I think that any dollar directed at defeating Trump and creating a vibrant opposition to GOP rule is a dollar well spent. We have been donating to swing state senate campaigns and to organizations that are working to protect the integrity of the vote and to organizations working in swing states to get out the vote. Worth checking out the folks doing the work but I’m happy to send you a list.

  3. Yes, we need to mobilize now. I would like to see all the big stakeholder orgs, including NAACP, NOW, MoveOn, all the environmental groups, BLM, and others organizing sit-in vigils in front of both the DC and in-state homes of Republican Senators who said in 2016 that they would block a Republican SCOTUS vote if it’s too close to an election. And if there’s a coup attempt after the election, we think about general strikes, selective deep boycotts, and other ways to bring the power structure down. If Erica Chenoweth is right about 3.5% of the population being enough to destabilize an illegitimate government (and I think she is), the 20% or more we might reasonably mobilize will be more than enough. Mexico had a corrupt election a few years ago with a general strike that delayed the change of power for months.

    Nonviolent social change expert Gene Sharp identified 198 weapons of nonviolent resistance–and that was before the Internet enabled dozens more (and the pandemic a few more again). Another nonviolence expert, George Lakey, on a call last week, listed several instances of coups foiled by concerted citizen action (and hinted that there are many more). He also pointed out that in all five cases, there was no advance warning of a coup, while DT has actually delivered up his intention AND his strategy. George is doing another set of coup-resistance trainings October 2 and 6, https://choosedemocracy.us/training/#.X3CCWZNKjq0 – and recommends this manual as a resource (haven’t read it yet but it’s up in a browser tab): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1J_9qWY5Oyk0NndSqzFVcGDbPDIMnccnsuRd34Vt0paE/preview?pru=AAABdOGjonY*HJ14fGH0sF1EE-NZBlTG-A

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