You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist or a Trump-hater to recognize that the president of the United States has been hinting very broadly that he might contest an election defeat as “rigged” if, as is virtually certain, Joe Biden’s vote will consist of a lot of ballots cast by mail. Indeed, many journalists and academicians have laid out a scenario whereby Trump, having convinced his own supporters to vote in person on election day, takes an early lead that evening, declares victory, and then attacks any reversal of his lead by subsequent mail ballots (generally counted later because they must be opened and authenticated) as fraudulent.
What happens then could depend on how audacious Team Trump (and perhaps state legislatures aligned with it) becomes in seeking to overturn popular vote results, and how much assistance it gets from the courts. But are American citizens expected simply to stand by quietly and watch with equanimity the unfolding of what amounts to a coup d’etat? Maybe not, as New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg reports:
Progressive organizers are preparing for this eventuality. They’ve seen Trump tweet about postponing the election, spread lies about voter fraud and try to sabotage the Postal Service. Many of them remember the 2000 presidential election, when rowdy Republican operatives physically stopped the vote count in Florida while hapless Democrats put their faith in the courts. (One of the instigators of the so-called Brooks Brothers Riot was none other than the criminal Trump adviser Roger Stone.)
So a coalition of progressive groups, as well as some anti-authoritarian conservative ones, is organizing under the rubric Protect the Results to get people into the streets if Trump tries to cheat in November. “It’s a pretty massive effort that’s underway,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, which is part of the coalition. Activists all over the country, he said, are “really gearing up for this fight.”
The idea is that you might get a mass public reaction that combines the size and intensity of the 2017 Women’s March protests the day after Trump’s inauguration with the size, intensity and persistence of the racial justice protests we’ve seen this spring and summer. If Trump triggers a period of murky wrangling in the courts, state legislatures or Congress, a one-off set of demonstrations might not suffice:
“We have been building grass-roots power for the last three and a half years,” said Ezra Levin, one of the co-founders of Indivisible, which helped put the Protect the Results coalition together. But, he said, “this is something different. This is not just a one day showing up at congressional district offices or town halls or a march. This is a possibility of a dayslong or weekslong mobilization, so we knew we had to start preparing now.”
It’s been a while since Americans were willing to take to the streets for a cause as abstract if essential as democracy itself. But that may be what it takes to avoid a travesty that makes 2000 look like a schoolyard prank:
The group of people “that are ready to take to the streets for process fights, and whether or not our Constitution is respected, is different than people that are going to the streets because people are dying,” said Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, also part of the Protect the Results coalition. “But I have faith that generally folks out there are connecting the dots between all of these causes right now.”
The point of connection is a lawless president seeking to keep a privileged minority in power in defiance of the popular will. Peaceful demonstrations on a scale this country has never seen before might be appropriate, and effective.