The weeks following the election could very well be the most dangerous weeks in this country since the Civil War.
If Donald Trump should lose, he may well not concede. And he will still be president, with all the power that bestows. His supporters will likely be seething, thinking that the election has been stolen. These are seeds he has been sowing for months.
Trump will have command of the military, the Justice Department and part of the intelligence apparatus.
He already knows that the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance., is investigating his dodgy finances. Trump knows he could face charges as soon as he leaves office — and he won’t be federally pardoned.
He has tasted power and can’t imagine a world in which it was withdrawn from him. A loss would be a supremely embarrassing rebuke, the first sitting president not to win reelection in 28 years.
The pandemic will still be raging, but Trump, who has consistently downplayed it and tragically mismanaged it, will feel absolutely no obligation to contain it.
He will be wounded, afraid and dangerous.
People are already preparing for hostility and violence.
The Washington Post reported in early October that “the Justice Department is planning to station officials in a command center at FBI headquarters to coordinate the federal response to any disturbances or other problems with voting that may arise across the country.”
Police departments across the country are preparing to confront unrest. Banks and apartment buildings are bracing for violence.
As The Washington Post reported Friday, “The National Guard Bureau has established a new unit made up mostly of military policemen that could be dispatched to help quell unrest in coming days.”
Stores are being boarded up. As The New York Times reported Friday: “In a show of just how volatile the situation seems to the industry, 120 representatives from 60 retail brands attended a video conference this week hosted by the National Retail Federation, which involved training for store employees on how to deescalate tensions among customers, including those related to the election. The trade group also hired security consultants who have prepped retailers about which locations around the country are likely to be the most volatile when the polls close.”
Facebook is even preparing for violence. As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, teams at the company “have planned for the possibility of trying to calm election-related conflict in the U.S. by deploying internal tools designed for what it calls ‘at-risk’ countries,” employing tactics they have “previously used in countries including Sri Lanka and Myanmar.”
This, like so much else during the Trump presidency, is unprecedented and outrageous. How is it that we are making so many preparations for a presidential election to descend into bedlam?
The Brookings Institution sees the prospect of violence being particularly high. As it pointed out Tuesday: “The broader pool of potential extremists has grown during COVID, with Americans at home and online, consuming vast quantities of propaganda and disinformation. So even if a relatively small percentage of people might actually mobilize to violence, the milieu from which they will emerge has metastasized significantly. The November election is increasingly perceived as a ‘winner-take-all’ contest, with no room for those who don’t identify with a specific side.”
And the appetite and acceptance for violence among the public is growing. As researchers wrote in Politico early last month, “Our research, which we’re reporting here for the first time, shows an upswing in the past few months in the number of Americans — both Democrats and Republicans — who said they think violence would be justified if their side loses the upcoming presidential election.”
All of the fears and preparation could well be for naught. We could have a clear winner, the country could peacefully accept it and Trump could submit to a peaceful transfer of power.
But no signs point in that direction.
Trump has openly resisted saying that he will guarantee a peaceful transfer of power, and he has repeatedly told his supporters that the only way he can lose is if the election is stolen from him.
He has signaled in every way possible that he plans to stay in power at all costs. On Saturday, he said the Supreme Court will help secure a victory for him if he’s not declared the winner on election night: “If we win, if we win on Tuesday or, thank you very much Supreme Court, shortly thereafter.” He may have been speaking sarcastically here, but the statement fits a pattern: Trump doesn’t care if he “wins” ugly or unfairly, a win is a win. He doesn’t care if it could rip this country apart because he has never cared about the health and stability of the nation.
Everyone in Trump World is a tool to be used by him, to further his ambitions, to fill his coffers, to stroke his ego, to protect his power.
Trump will watch his country burn and warm himself by the blaze.
Charles M. Blow is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Time.