Eschatology for Dummies

We live in apocalyptic end-of-the-world times – but we always live in apocalyptic end-of-the-world times. That’s just how we think. Maybe we’re all just drama queens, fighting our quite ordinary and cyclical rather meaningless troubles by pretending they are existentially dire and thus the most important thing ever. We did that with the War on Terror after the September 11 attacks – a core group of a few thousand nasty fanatics were the greatest threat we ever faced, greater than the Nazis and the Japanese in the forties, taking over much of the world with all their massive armies – thirty or forty thousand guys at best – and a far greater than the threat posed by the Soviets during all the long years of the Cold War, with their tens of thousands of nuclear weapons that could easily end all life on earth. Yep, all that was awful, but this al-Qaeda business was the real thing, finally.

That was mostly Dick Cheney, with a little help from Donald Rumsfeld, and it was nonsense. We had a new serious threat to manage, but that threat could be managed. There was no point in making it something bigger than it was. When you do that you can end up going all crazy, doing stupid things that squander all your resources, doing boneheaded things – clumsy military moves, invading and occupying the wrong country, and things like adopting torture and kidnapping as policy – that only make matters worse. It was time to put things in perspective. It was time to calm down and think about things.

We didn’t do that. We paid the price, but Americans like to think apocalyptically. And you don’t snatch that pleasure from people. They get angry if you try. Of course this is religious thinking of the sort known as eschatology – the study of end times. Each of the major religions has its explanation of how the world ends, and why it ends, and why it must end. It’s never pretty, but the world hasn’t ended yet. Everyone’s still waiting.

That’s okay. While everyone’s waiting for those Four Horsemen and Gabriel to blow his horn, and The Rapture and all the rest, there’s always secular eschatology – theories about the end of America and democracy. All discussion of America and democracy will be moot when Donald Trump cancels the upcoming election, and all future elections, because elections in America cannot be fair any longer, and then declares himself President for Life and every Republican says that’s fine. Democrats will sue, but Trump will own the Supreme Court in a few days. It’s his now and all the key justices owe him. But vote if you want. It really doesn’t matter anymore, one way or the other – the end.

Dana Milbank sees that, and he thinks historically:

With his repeated refusals this week to accept the peaceful transfer of power – the bedrock principle that has sustained American democracy for 228 years – President Trump has put the United States, in some ways, where Germany was in 1933, when Adolf Hitler used the suspicious burning of the German parliament to turn a democracy into a totalitarian state.

Overwrought, you say? Then ask Yale historian Timothy Snyder, a top authority on Nazism and Stalinism. “The Reichstag has been on a slow burn since June,” he told me. “The language Trump uses to talk about Black Lives Matter and the protests is very similar to the language Hitler used – that there’s some vague left-wing conspiracy based in the cities that is destroying the country.”

No one wants to say Trump is now another Hitler, no one usually does, but these seem to be end times, and this is the same thing:

Trump, as he has done before, has made the villain a minority group. He has sought, once again, to fabricate emergencies to justify greater powers for himself. He has proposed postponing elections. He has refused to commit to honoring the results of the election. And now, he proposes to embrace violence if he doesn’t win.

“It’s important not to talk about this as just an election,” Snyder said. “It’s an election surrounded by the authoritarian language of a coup d’état. The opposition has to win the election and it has to win the aftermath of the election.”

If not? There won’t be another “normal” election for some time, he said.

So the advice is this:

To avoid it, we voters must turn out in overwhelming numbers to deal Trump a lopsided defeat. The military must hold to its oath. Homeland Security police must not serve as Trump’s brownshirts. And we citizens must take to the streets, peacefully but indefinitely, until the will of the people prevails.

The first is possible. The rest is questionable. The odds are long:

It’s abundantly clear that Trump plans to fabricate an election “emergency.” First, he claimed mail-in balloting, a tried-and-true system, is fraudulent. Now his supporters are trying to harass in-person voters.

When Virginia’s early voting opened this week, Trump supporters descended on a polling station, waving Trump signs and flags, chanting and forming a gantlet through which voters had to walk. When the New York Times reported that this voter intimidation campaign began at a nearby rally featuring the Republican National Committee co-chairman, the Virginia GOP responded mockingly from its official Twitter account: “Quick! Someone call the waaaambulance!”

What? Milbank says this is 1933 again:

Let’s be clear. There is only one political party in American politics embracing violence. There is only one side refusing to denounce all political violence. There is only one side talking about bringing guns to the polls; one side attempting to turn federal law-enforcement officials into an arm of a political party. And Trump is trying to use law enforcement to revive tactics historically used to bully voters of color from voting – tactics not seen in 40 years.

Some of what Trump and his lieutenants have been doing is merely unseemly: using the machinery of government to attack previous and current political opponents, likening pandemic public health restrictions to slavery, or threatening to overrule regulators if they question the safety of vaccines.

But embracing violence to resolve democratic disagreement is another matter.

Trump embraced the “very fine people” among the homicidal neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. He embraced as “very good people” armed protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol to intimidate lawmakers. He embraced his supporter who allegedly shot and killed two people at a protest in Wisconsin. He embraced the “GREAT PATRIOTS” who drove into Portland, Ore., hurling paintballs and pepper spray at demonstrators. He embraced officers who kill unarmed African Americans, saying they simply “choke” under pressure.

And finally there’s this:

Now he’s rejecting the peaceful transfer of power. Worse: Most Republican officeholders dare not contradict him. The Times reported that of all 168 Republican National Committee members and 26 Republican governors it asked to comment on Trump’s outrage, only four RNC members and one governor responded.

All of this snowballs, so it’s time for a little Eschatology for Dummies:

In Federalist 48, James Madison prophetically warned that tyranny could triumph under “some favorable emergency.” In 1933, Hitler used the burning of the Reichstag to do just that. Trump now, it appears, is aiming to do likewise.

America, this is our Reichstag moment. We have the power to stop it. Don’t let democracy burn to the ground.

It’s not that simple. Barton Gellman adds this detail:

The 2020 presidential election will be the first in 40 years to take place without a federal judge requiring the Republican National Committee to seek approval in advance for any “ballot security” operations at the polls. In 2018, a federal judge allowed the consent decree to expire, ruling that the plaintiffs had no proof of recent violations by Republicans. The consent decree, by this logic, was not needed, because it worked.

The order had its origins in the New Jersey gubernatorial election of 1981. According to the district court’s opinion in Democratic National Committee v. Republican National Committee, the RNC allegedly tried to intimidate voters by hiring off-duty law-enforcement officers as members of a “National Ballot Security Task Force,” some of them armed and carrying two-way radios. According to the plaintiffs, they stopped and questioned voters in minority neighborhoods, blocked voters from entering the polls, forcibly restrained poll workers, challenged people’s eligibility to vote, warned of criminal charges for casting an illegal ballot, and generally did their best to frighten voters away from the polls. The power of these methods relied on well-founded fears among people of color about contact with police.

It worked. It had to stop. It stopped. And now this has started again. Matt Shuham has the video:

Appearing haggard and hoarse, Donald Trump Jr. stared down the camera and began recruiting soldiers.

“We need every able-bodied man and woman to join Army for Trump’s election security operation,” he said, the words “ENLIST NOW!” plastered next to his face.

“We need you to help us watch them.”

Trump Jr. wasn’t talking about an armed security force, at least not yet: No, he was recruiting volunteers for Trump’s Election Day Operations team, according to a website he boosted in the video.

Campaign spokesperson Erin Perrine, in another video on the site, warned that Democrats “will be up to their old dirty tricks on Election Day to make sure that President Trump doesn’t win.” Therefore, she said, the campaign wanted to “cover every polling place in the country with people like you.”

And so it begins:

Volunteer election lawyers and poll watchers aren’t unusual, but the Trump campaign has taken it a step further, including by suing in Pennsylvania to allow poll watchers to volunteer in counties other than their own. The state’s Supreme Court recently upheld the law requiring poll watchers to live where they volunteer.

In light of a federal judge’s 2018 decision that a 35-year-old restriction on Republican Party “ballot security” efforts would be lifted – a consent decree was instituted in 1982 after Democrats sued over racist voter intimidation practices – the GOP has aimed to recruit thousands of volunteers in key swing states.

One group, True the Vote, floated recruiting veterans as poll watchers, according to audio obtained by The Intercept in April.

Those would be the ultimate Guy with Guns forming a gauntlet at a polling place near you. No one would want to run that gauntlet. They’d see that, turn around and go home:

The idea seems to have percolated to the top: In August, Trump mused about using law enforcement as poll watchers. Earlier this month, Trump told rally goers in North Carolina to become poll watchers.

“Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do,” he said.

A week and a half later, on Saturday, a group of flag-waving Trump supporters showed up at a polling site in Virginia where early voting was taking place…

But that’s not 1933 at all. Kevin Drum chooses a different year:

It’s 1981 all over again. Trump Jr. is recruiting “an army” to provide “election security,” and I think everyone with more than a room temperature IQ knows what that means. It means descending in force on polling places in Black neighborhoods and trying to scare people into staying away. This is what Republicans routinely did until a judge stopped them, and it’s what they’re going to do again now that a judge has removed the leash. Apparently 40 years wasn’t enough.

Drum won’t speak of Nazis. He doesn’t have to. This is a mess:

Senate Republicans were left dumbfounded Thursday by President Trump’s latest self-engineered controversy, a suggestion there might not be a peaceful transition of power after Election Day, which left his GOP allies on Capitol Hill scrambling for political cover.

GOP lawmakers expressed frustration that a week that had started so positively with the Senate Republican Conference quickly unifying ahead of a Supreme Court confirmation battle had turned into a circus.

“The president figured out how to take an overwhelmingly good week and change the subject? Shocking. I don’t know what to say,” said one senior Republican senator, referring to the dismay Republicans felt over what they see as Trump’s latest unforced error.

“There’s a chance he doesn’t understand ‘peaceful’ as a concept. There’s a chance he thinks that means he’s going to feel good about it if he’s leaving. Who knows what he’s thinking?” the senator added.

That’s the problem. Everyone has to plan around this man’s impulsive irrationality. And the New York Times just ran a scoop on that:

Senior Pentagon leaders have a lot to worry about – Afghanistan, Russia, Iraq, Syria, Iran, China, Somalia, the Korean Peninsula. But chief among those concerns is whether their commander in chief might order American troops into any chaos around the coming elections.

President Trump gave officials no solace on Wednesday when he again refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power no matter who wins the election. On Thursday he doubled down by saying he was not sure the election could be “honest.”

His hedging, along with his expressed desire in June to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act to send active-duty troops onto American streets to quell protests over the killing of George Floyd, has caused deep anxiety among senior military and Defense Department leaders, who insist they will do all they can to keep the armed forces out of the elections.

They don’t want to be the ones out there shutting down election boards, at gunpoint, to keep them from counting any more mail-in ballots, or shooting protesters (insurrectionists) dead in the streets. That’s not their job:

“I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in written answers to questions from House lawmakers released last month. “In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law, U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military. I foresee no role for the U.S. armed forces in this process.”

His message was clear. Leave us out of this! But others want to drag them into this:

On Aug. 11, John Nagl and Paul Yingling, both retired Army officers and Iraq war veterans, published an open letter to General Milley on the website Defense One. “In a few months’ time, you may have to choose between defying a lawless president or betraying your constitutional oath” they wrote. “If Donald Trump refuses to leave office at the expiration of his constitutional term, the United States military must remove him by force, and you must give that order.”

Pentagon officials swiftly said such an outcome was preposterous. Under no circumstances, they said, would the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff send Navy SEALs or Marines to haul Mr. Trump out of the White House. If necessary, such a task, Defense Department officials said, would fall to U.S. Marshals or the Secret Service.

Yes, that was bullshit:

The military, by law, the officials said, takes a vow to the Constitution, not to the president, and that vow means that the commander in chief of the military is whoever is sworn in at 12:01 p.m. on Inauguration Day.

They’ll wait. Others will decide that. The real issue is a possible order by Trump to turn on American citizens and slap them around a bit:

Senior leaders at the Pentagon, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that they were talking among themselves about what to do if Mr. Trump, who will still be president from Election Day to Inauguration Day, invokes the Insurrection Act and tries to send troops into the streets, as he threatened to do during the protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Both General Milley and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper opposed the move then, and Mr. Trump backed down.

The concerns are not unfounded. The Insurrection Act, a two-century-old law, enables a president to send in active-duty military troops to quell disturbances over the objections of governors. Mr. Trump, who refers to the armed forces as “my military” and “my generals” has lumped them with other supporters like Bikers for Trump, who could offer backup in the face of opposition.

Several Pentagon officials said there could be resignations among many of Mr. Trump’s senior generals, starting at the top with General Milley, should troops be ordered into the streets at the time of the election.

Trump may have to rely on those Bikers for Trump and few armed survivalist and white supremacist militias and those neo-Nazi boys from Charlottesville a few years ago. “His” generals want nothing to do with this. They thought about this:

This year, Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor and a Defense Department official under Mr. Obama, led a group of about 100 former national security officials and election experts from both parties in exercises to simulate the most serious risks to a peaceful transition of power.

In one, they contemplated what would happen if a president ordered National Guard units or active-duty military personnel into cities to “restore order.” There was no clear result, but the exercise itself attracted sharp criticism from far-right groups, which accused the organizers of trying to undermine Mr. Trump and interfere with the election.

Inside the Pentagon, whose leaders are well-known for making plans, Defense Department officials said there had been no preparations for military force during the elections.

No, they were not planning a coup to rid the nation of Trump and all White people. They were just curious, but that might not be enough in these end times:

“The planning they should be doing is how to prevent playing a role,” said Devin Burghart, the president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights and an expert on white nationalist movements.

Others who worked at the Pentagon agree. “I know that Milley is trying to think his way through, but I have my doubts he can,” said John Gans, who served as chief speechwriter to the defense secretary in the Obama administration. “The problem is that when the military doesn’t want to do something, they don’t like to think about it.”

He added: “The Pentagon plans for war with Canada and a zombie apocalypse, but they don’t want to plan for a contested election. These are huge questions that have an impact on the reputation of the institution.”

But they already know that:

The confrontation in Lafayette Square near the White House in June crystallized for the Defense Department just how close to the precipice the military came to being pulled into a domestic political crisis. Military helicopters and armed members of the National Guard patrolled the streets next to federal agents in riot gear so that the president, flanked by Secretary of Defense Esper and General Milley, could walk across the square to hold up a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. Current and former members of the armed forces were outraged.

“It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel – including members of the National Guard – forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the president’s visit outside St. John’s Church,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama, wrote in The Atlantic. “This is not the time for stunts.”

Both men, but General Milley especially, were so sharply criticized by former military and Pentagon leaders for taking part in the walk that they spent the days afterward in serious damage control.

They did what had to be done:

Mr. Esper held an extraordinary news conference in which he broke with the president and said that active-duty troops should not be sent to control protests. His words so angered Mr. Trump that the president had to be persuaded not to fire him, aides said at the time.

General Milley publicly apologized for the walk across the park. “I should not have been there,” he said in a video address to National Defense University. His apology also infuriated Mr. Trump.

Both men are still in their jobs for now.

That may not last. These are end times, but Michelle Goldberg offers some perspective:

Trump may be behaving like a strongman, but he is weaker than he’d like us all to believe. Autocrats who actually have the power to fix elections don’t announce their plans to do it; they just pretend to have gotten 99 percent of the vote. It’s crucial that Trump’s opponents emphasize this, because unlike rage, excessive fear can be demobilizing. There’s a reason TV villains like to say, “Resistance is futile.”

Calm down. Do not let him win. Be not afraid. Go vote. That’s not futile. Just put things in perspective. That’s what Goldberg does:

This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be alarmed. I’m alarmed every minute of every day. Trump is an aspiring fascist who would burn democracy to the ground to salve his diseased ego. His willingness to break the rules that bind others gives him power out of proportion to his dismal approval ratings. He blithely incites violence by his supporters, some of whom have already tried to intimidate voters in Virginia.

Yet part of the reason he won in 2016 is that so few of his opponents thought it possible. That is no longer a problem. Since then, when voters have had the chance to render a verdict on Trump and his allies, they’ve often rejected them overwhelmingly. Under Trump, Democrats have made inroads into Texas, Arizona, even Oklahoma. They won a Senate seat in Alabama. (Granted, the Republican was accused of being a child molester.) Much attention is paid to Trump’s fanatical supporters, but far more people hate him than love him.

In the run-up to the 2018 election, many people had the same fears they have now. Analyzing its survey results, Pew found that “voters approached the 2018 midterm elections with some trepidation about the voting process and many had concerns that U.S. election systems may be hacked.” After 2016 it was hard to believe polls showing Democrats with a lead of more than eight points. But the polls were right.

And the polls are still right. This isn’t 1933 in Germany:

Trump would like to turn America into a dictatorship, but he hasn’t yet. For over four years he has waged a sort of psychological warfare on the populace, colonizing our consciousness so thoroughly that it can be hard to imagine him gone. That’s part of the reason he says he won’t leave if he’s beaten in November, or even after 2024. It’s to make us forget that it’s not up to him.

So don’t forget that none of this is up to him. This is not the end of America.

Consider that the key lesson from the nation’s current crash course in Eschatology for Dummies. Nothing is ending unless everyone agrees to end those things. And no one agrees on anything now, so we continue on, arguing, as we should. The end of the world will just have to wait.

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Just What He Said

Some of us grew up in Pittsburgh in the fifties, in the raw new suburbs in the hills just north of the city, not far from the Moon and Mars – but it wasn’t that exciting. Mars was a tiny town in nearby Butler County in a small valley along Breakneck Creek. It was a nothing place. It still is, although the high school football team is the Mars Fightin’ Planets. Cool. But no one knows why, in 1882, they renamed the place Mars. That might have been a cry of existential despair. It’s lonely out there.

The Moon was Moon Township – downstream along the Ohio River. That became home to Pittsburgh’s first modern airport in 1951, now Pittsburgh International Airport. In 1991, they relocated the terminal a few hundred feet. It’s now in Findlay Township, but most of the runways and the cargo area are still in Moon. It’s a major air-shipping hub with big hangers and warehouses and parts of The Silence of the Lambs were filmed in Moon Township. A few Moon Township police officers had minor non-speaking roles as extras in that nasty movie. It’s a curious place – but back in the fifties it was a nothing place too.

We had fun anyway. Many of us, back then, posed for a snapshot under the odd road sign out in the middle of nowhere, the one with the two arrows pointing opposite directions – “Moon” one way and “Mars” the other. That’s what it felt like. We were floating alone, way out there, detached from the solid everydayness of everyone else’s world. Of course most of us left for the solid real world. Most of us didn’t want to be that detached from reality, even symbolically.

That doesn’t seem to bother Donald Trump. He went to that place where they shot that horror film about that frightening cannibal. Trump just set foot on the Moon again:

During a campaign rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, Trump described with relish how the feds “cleaned everything up” in Minneapolis, Minnesota during the George Floyd protests and were “grabbing” people “left and right.”

“They grabbed one guy: ‘I’m a reporter! I’m a reporter!'” Trump said in a mock quote.

“They threw him aside like he was little bag of popcorn,” the President added as the crowd laughed.

“I mean honestly, when you watch the crap that we’ve all had to take so long, when you see that, it’s actually – you don’t want to do that–but when you see it, it’s actually a beautiful sight,” he continued. “It’s a beautiful sight.”

Trump also mocked MSNBC correspondent Ali Velshi for the second time for getting struck by a rubber bullet by the police in Minneapolis. The President had first brought up the incident during a campaign rally on Friday, and both times he incorrectly claimed Velshi had been hit with a teargas canister.

“He went down and he didn’t like it,” Trump said on Tuesday to laughter and applause from his supporters.

Was he channeling Hannibal Lecter? Did he mean what he said, that it was cool for the police, or anyone else, to just shoot journalists? It was a beautiful sight?

No, he just says these things. Everyone who is not a Trump supporter will be outraged, and Trump supporters will laugh at them. Few if any of them are going to go out and shoot a journalist this week. This is just a way to “own the libs” once again. Those fools think they’d actually do this. But of course any one of them might pick off a journalist. The idea is to keep the libs guessing, to keep them off balance, and to laugh at these whining snowflakes getting all upset.

Matt Shuham was there too and saw this:

President Donald Trump dangled the threat of violence before would-be protesters last night, harkening back to past campaign rallies where several were assaulted.

During a rally outside Pittsburgh, Trump referred generally to “some kind of anti-Trump person” and then noted, “You don’t see it much anymore. You know why? It’s dangerous! It’s dangerous for them.”

We beat them up! We beat them within an inch of their lives! So they hide! They’re cowards! But of course he’s making this up to get his base laughing and cheering again even more. No one has beaten the crap out of anyone. But that would be cool. Everyone cheers. But this was aspirational, not real.

Matt Shuham disagrees:

When Trump has spoken about protesters in this way in the past – saying in 2016, for example, that he would “pay for the legal fees” of supporters that knocked out protesters – his supporters did attack some of them. It happened over and over and over and over again.

Dallas Frazier, who repeatedly punched an anti-Trump protester multiple times outside a Trump rally in 2019, was sentenced to four months in prison earlier this year.

Trump didn’t mean what he said. More than a few of his supporters didn’t understand that, and then there’s the matter of race. The Washington Post’s Greg Miller writes about that in one of the Post’s new series looking back at the Trump presidency, and sees the same sort of thing:

In unguarded moments with senior aides, President Trump has maintained that Black Americans have mainly themselves to blame in their struggle for equality, hindered more by lack of initiative than societal impediments, according to current and former U.S. officials.

After phone calls with Jewish lawmakers, Trump has muttered that Jews “are only in it for themselves” and “stick together” in an ethnic allegiance that exceeds other loyalties, officials said.

Trump’s private musings about Hispanics match the vitriol he has displayed in public, and his antipathy to Africa is so ingrained that when first lady Melania Trump planned a 2018 trip to that continent he railed that he “could never understand why she would want to go there.”

When challenged on these views by subordinates, Trump has invariably responded with indignation. “He would say, ‘No one loves Black people more than me,’ ” a former senior White House official said. The protests rang hollow because if the president were truly guided by such sentiments he “wouldn’t need to say it,” the official said. “You let your actions speak.”

No one believes what he says about race now. His actions speak for him:

Over 3½ years in office, he has presided over a sweeping U.S. government retreat from the front lines of civil rights, endangering decades of progress against voter suppression, housing discrimination and police misconduct.

His immigration policies hark back to quota systems of the 1920s that were influenced by the junk science of eugenics, and have involved enforcement practices – including the separation of small children from their families – that seemed designed to maximize trauma on Hispanic migrants.

With the election looming, the signaling behind even second-tier policy initiatives has been unambiguous.

After rolling back regulations designed to encourage affordable housing for minorities, Trump declared himself the champion of the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream.” He ordered aides to revamp racial sensitivity training at federal agencies so that it no longer refers to “White privilege.” In a speech at the National Archives on Thursday, Trump vowed to overhaul what children are taught in the nation’s schools – something only states have the power to do — while claiming that students are being “fed lies about America being a wicked nation plagued by racism.”

The America envisioned by these policies and pronouncements is one dedicated to preserving a racial hierarchy that can be seen in Trump’s own Cabinet and White House, both overwhelmingly white and among the least diverse in recent U.S. history.​

But no one loves Black people more than he does:

Black unemployment has surged disproportionately during the coronavirus pandemic, and officials said Trump regretted reducing prison sentences when it didn’t produce a spike in Black voter support.

Actually, he’s quoted as screaming in fury, asking why the hell he did THAT! Greg Miller has it all. His item is long, but Politico just reported this:

In Minnesota, where the contest between Trump and Joe Biden had seemed to tighten in recent weeks – and where both candidates stumped on Friday – a CBS News/YouGov survey last week had Trump running 2 percentage points behind Biden with white voters, after carrying them by 7 points in 2016… It’s the same story in Wisconsin, where Trump won non-college-educated white women by 16 percentage points four years ago but is now losing them by 9 percentage points, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll. In Pennsylvania, Biden has now pulled even with Trump among white voters, according to an NBC News/Marist Poll…

The erosion of Trump’s white support – and its significance to the November outcome – was never more obvious than in Trump’s messaging in recent days. But Trump’s rhetoric does not appear to be resonating with white America to the degree it did in 2016.

Donald Trump says outrageous things about race. Does he mean what he says? No one cares now. Kevin Drum sees this:

This is Trump’s fundamental problem. In 2016 he squeezed a bit more support out of the white-non-college vote than Hillary Clinton got from the white-college vote and along with a few other factors that was enough to eke out a victory. Trump accomplished this with a campaign that was more openly racist than any Republican had dared to run in recent memory, so now he’s trying the same strategy again.

But there’s only so much water you can squeeze from a rock. Over the past few weeks Trump’s appeals to the white vote have become more and more demagogic, but it’s not doing him any good. It might get him a few more votes from white bigots, but that demographic is already fully behind him. And in any case, for every vote he wins among that group, he probably loses two or three from white voters who aren’t bigots and are increasingly disgusted with him.

If Trump keeps this up, it’s doubtful that he has a road to victory. And he probably will keep it up, since he seems to know no other playbook. In a weird sort of way, that’s kind of a relief.

Drum should not feel relieved. Trump can be outrageous about other things:

President Trump refused Wednesday to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, asserting that if he doesn’t win, it will be because of fraudulent mail-in voting and not because more Americans voted against him.

His latest comments came after he has spent months making unsubstantiated claims that voting by mail is corrupt and will lead to a “rigged” election. In fact, states that have embraced universal mail voting have documented tiny rates of possible ballot fraud…

And one can look that up but that may not matter:

“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens. You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster -” Trump began when asked during a White House press briefing if he would ensure a peaceful transition.

“I understand that, but people are rioting; do you commit to making sure that there’s a peaceful transferal of power?” the reporter pressed, appearing to refer to incidents of violence that have broken out during some protests.

“Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very – we’ll have a very peaceful, there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation,” Trump said. “The ballots are out of control. You know it. And you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else.”

Get rid of the ballots and he wins. It’s as simple as that. Every single American should be shouting – “GET RID OF THE BALLOTS!”

That’s a bit too strong. That’s a poor choice of words. He meant something else:

The president seems to be referring to, as he has for months now, the massive uptick in people voting by mail this fall rather than in person amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Trump continues to claim, with no evidence, that Democrats are supporting widespread mail-in voting not for public health reasons but to corrupt or commit fraud in the results.

But he didn’t say that:

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, blasted Trump’s response in a tweet.

“Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus,” Romney tweeted. “Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”

That’s just Mitt. Every other Republican now in office at any level was totally silent about this, and about what followed:

Earlier Wednesday, Trump also sought to sow doubt in election results, predicting that deciding the winner will ultimately go to the Supreme Court.

He said that is why it is so urgent that a nominee to replace the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg be seated before the election.

“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court. And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” Trump said. “It’s better if you go before the election, because I think this, this scam that the Democrats are pulling – it’s a scam – the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court. And I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation.”

He needs his own justice up there now. This will end up in the Supreme Court. He will have put three justices on the bench there. They owe him. No matter what the merits of the case and no matter what the laws or the Constitution say, they will rule that he stays for another four years, or more. They know that, and they do NOT want to make this man angry.

So now it begins:

On Tuesday, GOP state leaders in Pennsylvania indicated that they plan to appeal to the Supreme Court a new court ruling allowing voters to return mail ballots up to three days after Election Day, potentially queuing up the first partisan election case for the court to consider since Ginsburg’s death. The decision is among a number of court rulings and legislative actions that have relaxed mail-voting rules across the country because of the pandemic. As of now, more than 198 million voters are eligible to cast ballots by mail, according to a Washington Post tracker.

Trump said Wednesday that an election case challenging mail-in ballots that goes before the Supreme Court should get a vote of “8-nothing or 9-nothing.”

“But just in case it would be more political than it should be, I think it’s very important to have a ninth justice.”

This is his court now. But did he mean that? Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. That may be why Barton Gellman, writing in The Atlantic, calls this The Election That Could Break America:

There is a cohort of close observers of our presidential elections, scholars and lawyers and political strategists, who find themselves in the uneasy position of intelligence analysts in the months before 9/11. As November 3 approaches, their screens are blinking red, alight with warnings that the political system does not know how to absorb. They see the obvious signs that we all see, but they also know subtle things that most of us do not. Something dangerous has hove into view, and the nation is lurching into its path.

The danger is not merely that the 2020 election will bring discord. Those who fear something worse take turbulence and controversy for granted. The coronavirus pandemic, a reckless incumbent, a deluge of mail-in ballots, a vandalized Postal Service, a resurgent effort to suppress votes, and a trainload of lawsuits are bearing down on the nation’s creaky electoral machinery.

Anything is possible, including a landslide that leaves no doubt on Election Night. But even if one side takes a commanding early lead, tabulation and litigation of the “overtime count” – millions of mail-in and provisional ballots – could keep the outcome unsettled for days or weeks.

And it’s the litigation that will be the core problem

A lot of people, including Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee, have misconceived the nature of the threat. They frame it as a concern, unthinkable for presidents past, that Trump might refuse to vacate the Oval Office if he loses. They generally conclude, as Biden has, that in that event the proper authorities “will escort him from the White House with great dispatch.”

The worst case, however, is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that uncertainty to hold on to power.

Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for postelection maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states. Ambiguities in the Constitution and logic bombs in the Electoral Count Act make it possible to extend the dispute all the way to Inauguration Day, which would bring the nation to a precipice. The Twentieth Amendment is crystal clear that the president’s term in office “shall end” at noon on January 20, but two men could show up to be sworn in. One of them would arrive with all the tools and power of the presidency already in hand.

And here’s how Trump can pull this off:

We are accustomed to choosing electors by popular vote, but nothing in the Constitution says it has to be that way. Article II provides that each state shall appoint electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Since the late 19th century, every state has ceded the decision to its voters. Even so, the Supreme Court affirmed in Bush v. Gore that a state “can take back the power to appoint electors.” How and when a state might do so has not been tested for well over a century.

Trump may test this. According to sources in the Republican Party at the state and national levels, the Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority. With a justification based on claims of rampant fraud, Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly. The longer Trump succeeds in keeping the vote count in doubt, the more pressure legislators will feel to act before the safe-harbor deadline expires.

That’s the deadline to name the state’s electors. All six swing states that Trump must hold again have solidly Republican legislatures. They are being prepped. The vote count was too confusing. They say they have no choice but to name electors that will vote for Trump, because no one knows what the people want. You disagree? See you in court. Why not? Trump now owns the justices. And not one Republican has disagreed with this plan, yet. One or two may. Trump will destroy each of them with one of his Tweets of Death that ends careers.

It could happen. Martin Longman sees this:

Imagine Iowa, where the polls show a deadlocked race and the Republicans control the legislature and the governor’s mansion. Rather than concede that he has narrowly lost the state, Trump-loyal state legislators could have the Biden electors thrown out and declare him the winner. Their excuse would be that irregularities in the vote make it impossible to determine who actually had the most support.

Obviously, Democrats across the country wouldn’t accept this. But the plan doesn’t contemplate acceptance. The point is to stay in power despite losing, and that requires a willingness to rely on the power of the state to crush all resistance.

Joe Biden has expressed confidence that the military will escort Trump out of the White House if he is defeated and refuses to leave. That’s probably a safe bet. But what if the election is truly undecided because it’s unclear that it was constitutionally impermissible for, say, the Iowa legislature to choose their pro-Trump electors?

Will the military not defer to the Courts?

But what will the Supreme Court say? Trump owns them but they may decide they’d rather not be seen as his useful idiots. A few of them might have just a little pride left.

Don’t count on it. Jonathan Chait sees this:

Viewing this scenario as a probability would be hysterical. But the odds are far too high for comfort. The brewing crisis has several components. First, the Republican Party has been evolving toward authoritarianism for decades, driven by a combination of beliefs that demographic change will consign them to minority status forever, and that allowing the majority to redistribute the income of the rich to themselves is a dire threat to liberty.

Second, Republican voters and elites have believed for years that urban Democrats routinely engage in mass voter fraud, and refuse to accept any falsification. (The George W. Bush administration ordered prosecutors to bring charges of voter fraud, and fired them when they couldn’t turn up any.)

And third, the rickety Constitutional structure is poorly-suited to handle a disputed election. One of its massive loopholes allows state legislatures to ignore voters altogether and appoint any electors they want to the Electoral College. Respecting the results of the election is merely optional, a norm. And norms have been falling by the wayside.

Into this mix has dropped a narcissistic, aspirational authoritarian who has no respect for the greater good and has spent years drinking deeply from the conspiratorial well of Fox News. Trump is the driver of the crisis, but he has demonstrated the capacity to bring Republicans along with his most unhinged positions.

And does he even believe what he’s been saying? It doesn’t matter now, does it? This is how America ends. This is how America already ended.

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