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To respond fully to the present circumstances, we should understand how Trump’s recent actions fit into his election strategy, which we can expect will focus more on stealing the election than winning it fairly. So let’s start by looking at things from his perspective.
Trump’s popularity is low. He will not win a free and fair election. He probably won’t win an election relying just on voter suppression either. And if he loses, like a criminal on the run, he expects he’ll be prosecuted. So the stakes for this next election are existential for him. He must ensure he cannot lose.
There are different ways to do this, and we’re not sure exactly what we’ll see—some combination of new and old voter suppression techniques, foreign interference, attempting to postpone the election, possible hacking or manipulating vote totals. Knowing what we do about him, it would be naive to assume that he’s not considering all his options. This includes the possibility of stealing the election and trying to muddy the issue (for example, by claiming there’s a coup attempt against him) when it becomes obvious, and then refusing to concede. He could also openly lose the election but refuse to step down by claiming that massive vote fraud was perpetrated. Either of these options would amount to launching a “self-coup,” a favored tactic of the autocrats that Trump so admires around the world, and with whom he keeps in contact.
One thing’s for sure: to pull off a self-coup, Trump will need some level of obedience among various branches of government and security forces, and he needs to prime them psychologically for this now. So he characterizes recent dissent as a national security threat, and therefore tries to unify key pillars of the government to obey him. He wants to normalize the idea that all resistance (including nonviolent resistance) is part of this national threat. It’s only a matter of time before he starts talking about “terrorism.” Note that soldiers and police don’t need to fully believe that there’s a national security threat either—they just need to hesitate or lack confidence or be confused enough that they do not disobey when orders come. Trump also wants to convince police, military, and others that acquiescing to protester’s demands will result in chaos, so that even if they’re sympathetic to the opposition, they fear the repercussions of defecting. Again, the reason Trump needs to do all this is because he’s terrified that key government pillars will defect when mass mobilization happens after he attempts to steal or nullify the election.
To advance their goal, Trump and his supporters will provoke, incessantly, to try to get a violent response. Property destruction, riots, and looting will also serve this purpose. They want anything that allows them to claim that mobilized people advocating for rights and justice are actually a pathway to chaos, and to lump all dissent together as a common threat.
Thus, opposition violence against police, rioting, arson, and other acts of property destruction are a gift to him. His supporters and paid provocateurs are trying to make this happen.
What’s the counter strategy?
The counter is to accept and plan for the reality that between November 2020 and January 2021, there will likely need to be widespread, organized, nonviolent resistance to enforce the results of the upcoming election and ensure an orderly political transition. Ironically, as Trump claims law and order is needed to squash dissent, it’s soon going to be dissent trying to impose law and order on Trump.
Many government employees on whom Trump will rely do not really like him. I have no inside track on this, but my take is that the DC police in general are not big Trump supporters. I’d venture to guess that many Secret Service do not love him. Plenty in the military do not sympathize with him. Plenty of career employees across the government—including the Department of Justice—do not like him either. This base is not secure, and he knows it, but their support or passive acquiescence is essential if he wants to stay in power.
At some point before the end of the year, people serving at all levels of government will likely have to choose between their oath to the Constitution, and following unlawful orders from Trump or his allies. To defect en masse, those who serve need to feel that:
a) They are not physically threatened by those who oppose Trump.
b) Any transition will be orderly.
c) Through their disobedience of Trump’s orders for repression, they are in fact upholding their oath to the Constitution.
So there it is. That’s where this is likely going. The future is in our hands. A transition away from the Trump regime is winnable, if we remain unified, nonviolent, and disciplined.
And that’s the crux: remaining unified, nonviolent and disciplined is not a foregone conclusion. It is deeply concerning to me how little preparation there is so far for a mass nonviolent “election protection” strategy. People absolutely need to get out to vote, and drive up the score against Trump as much as possible. But if the Democrats think they can deter fraud, or deter Trump simply by catching him and making his theft obvious, they’re wrong.
This calls for efforts now to prepare people to mobilize when and if needed to enforce lawful election results. We have five more months to become ready for this. There needs to be a strategy and organizing principles to guide people to prepare at the neighborhood level for sustained, disciplined nonviolent noncooperation, and communications that can run counter to Trump’s propaganda that he represents “America” and Constitutional order. Government employees who are considering defecting should see a group reaching out to them and ready to welcome them. For this, election protection resistance has to—by definition—be nonviolent in branding and public statements, with anyone who joins agreeing to this condition. We cannot allow there to be any confusion when provocateurs show up at actions and try to blur distinction between them and nonviolent activists.
None of what I’ve written above is meant to distract from the killing of George Floyd, and so many others before him, and the ongoing mobilizing that demands justice. It is only to add a context of where Trump is trying to steer things, and why. When we look at the achievements of the Movement for Black Lives and their allies in recent years, we can see that nonviolent resistance has accomplished a great deal, and recognize that the forces of justice are winning progress, even while there are setbacks. Polarization is inevitable in the face of change, but public sympathy and politicians are moving towards the movement’s goals. Social norms are changing. Commitment is deepening. Intersectionality is increasing. Alliances and solidarity are forming. Failure to see this can cause people to see painful setbacks as signs of losing, rather than as points on a movement’s journey to victory. Nonviolent resistance has been a key tool to achieve this. That’s the game that we can win. This content was created by a Daily Kos Community member.
Daily Kos Community Member
This article was published on June 2 at Daily Kos.com. (This content is not subject to review by Daily Kos staff prior to publication.)