Several times a day people text me or text me a direct message and ask, “What can we do?” This is usually the last question I am asked on a radio or television appearance. My mom asks me the question every night, only she’s my mom, so it sounds more like a question than a question.
People who have paid attention understand that we are losing. You get that Amy Coney Barrett’s elevation to the Supreme Court is functionally unstoppable. They understand that Donald Trump has an infrastructure in place to stifle the vote in the upcoming election – or get his hand-picked judges to hand him over, or have electoral college voters steal the election or even use military force to hold on to power afterwards lose the election. They know that the document leak showing that Trump avoided paying taxes or completely defrauding the American government will not cost him any concrete support from his base.
Everyone honestly knows that last night’s debate didn’t matter to most voters. Trump’s ignorance and incompetence have contributed to over 206,000 American deaths. If you’re still ready to vote for Trump, there is nothing he can say in a two-hour “debate” that would change your mind.
What is harder for people to worry about is the fact that we have already lost. I know I’m supposed to say that “2020 election is the most important choice of our lives” but it is not. The 2016 election was the most important choice of our lives and we as a nation failed. The media failed to get a precise treatment of Trump. The left was not inspired by an imperfect candidate. The law could not demonstrate moral or intellectual integrity. Over 100 million people did not show up. I haven’t helped enough people understand what was to come because I understood the inherent danger of John Roberts’ disastrous decision to pass the voting rights law Shelby County v Holder.
So the 2020 election is not our last chance to win. It is not an opportunity to correct the wrongs of the past. This election battle is more like the battle of Dunkirk. We fight for the chance to withdraw. We fight for a chance to fight another day.
Even if we “win” it will take years to get back what we lost, and some people will never get back what was taken. A study from the University of Washington Projects By the end of this year, 410,000 coronaviruses had died, twice as many as now. And it’s not like death stops on January 1st or January 20th if Joe Biden wins. Some estimates suggest it that 1.3 million Americans would have to die to achieve the mythical goal of “herd immunity,” and Republicans seem intent on killing every one of them. Republican governors and culture warriors won’t stop spreading their misinformation just because Biden is president.
And that’s the “rosy scenario” – the one in which Biden both wins and somehow takes over his office. But right now you’d be a fool to believe that Biden will become president just because he wins the most votes, or the most votes in enough states to give him an electoral college win. We already know Trump will challenge the mail-in ballots that will mostly elect him out of office. We already know that Trump believes the Supreme Court is a tool to help him challenge these ballots. We have heard of devious schemes to convince Republican lawmakers to vote on electoral rolls that, if necessary, go against the will of the people in their states. People seem largely to have forgotten that any trace of foreign interference used in Trump’s favor in the 2016 elections will be reused against our system in 2020. And since Trump has not committed to peaceful transfer of power, we would be wise to assume that at least some intelligence bureaus and military commanders are ready to fight to keep him in office. During last night’s debate, Trump refused to condemn white supremacists and ordered his supporters to vote and “watch” a clear policy of intimidating voters. At least we know Trump can rely on Attorney General Bill Barr and incumbent Secretary of State for Homeland Security Chad Wolfe to use their federal stormtroopers to quell opposition to Trump’s continued administration.
What can we do against it? I have a lot of creative legal ideas, but I don’t command a battalion to push those ideas through. I have no weapons and I can hardly set up a mousetrap without tearing my fingers off. I don’t see that people want an honest answer to the question “What can we do?” Because the possibility of Trump stealing the election by law or violence is too terrible to think about.
A Trump victory, if at all, will surely come again over the objection of the majority of the people. His second term in office will cement the permanent rule of the white minority in a country that will soon be a majority minority. What he wants is a functioning apartheid: With limited rights and representation for racist minorities, full of the separation of the suburbs, which Trump threatens again and again. The Senate itself is an undemocratic institution that naturally discriminates against non-white people who are not evenly distributed across the country. The Supreme Court is also essentially an anti-democratic institution run by people who are not subject to the will of our diverse society. This is one of the reasons Republicans invested so much time and energy in controlling them.
If Trump stays in office, we will either accept this inadmissible rule or not. Most (white) people will accept it. Those who do not have limited options. There are ways to fight an authoritarian regime. There are ways to fight a kleptocracy. There are ways to fight fascism. None of them are pretty. Neither of them consists of signing the name of a petition and then finding a cozy beer on Etsy that signals virtue. None of them are strictly “legal”, and we can literally see that Bill Barr has already put the structure in place illegal Oppose Trump in any way.
We have leaders like Joe Biden who want to restore the American government to the way it was, and we have tons of activists on the streets working tirelessly to reform the American government into something better. We have the moral basis. But frankly, we don’t have a military leadership to lead a guerrilla campaign against an illegitimate regime. We don’t have a government in exile waiting to take power. We have no international allies. We don’t have an underground network of spies and saboteurs. We are ready to choose. We’re not ready for what’s next.
We are not ready, even if Biden somehow wins and is actually allowed to take office. Trump and McConnell are in the process of enforcing another illicit justice system to foster archconservative views for 40 years, and there are still Democrats to speak to me about damaging fabricated “court legitimacy” should the Democrats try to Judges add. The police are out there murdering black people, sometimes on camera, and their handpicked prosecutors cover up these crimes, and the Democrats still tell me that Defund the Police is a “scary name” that discourages potential “allies” . Democrats are wrestling their hands to end the filibuster, a procedural rule that makes an undemocratic institution even less democratic. And they describe the idea of giving statehood to DC and Puerto Rico (should the majority of Puerto Ricans want it) as a major reform of the Senate as opposed to a fundamental remedy to represent American citizens in their own damned government.
Things are bad. Worse than many people are willing to admit. The only reason we can even hope the vote will get us out of this mess is that Trump is historically incompetent. But it could get this far because of systemic prejudices in our institutions, our media and our people. Unless we tear down the structures that helped Trump stand up and thrive in the first place, a politician who is just as racist but a little less awkward could easily pick up on those parts and finish what Trump started. Things are bad now, but they can get worse and worse.
Yes, I know what we can do if there is not enough vote. I can answer the question, but most people don’t like my answer. What we can do is fight, not with our words, but with our bodies. We cannot defeat the deadliest military force ever raised on earth by force of arms, but we can put our bodies in front of the tanks. We can refuse to work. There are protests in many cities, but relatively few of us have joined. At some point they can’t beat us all.
If we don’t want to fight, we can escape. These are our options. These are always the opportunities for those who live to see their countries ruined.
It is not entirely hopeless. The good guys, some of them, got away with it in Dunkirk. They fleed. You survived. Their defeat left room for the worst human tragedy of modern times, the Holocaust. There was and is no recovery from it. But eventually the Allies returned with new weapons, friends, and tactics. They reformed and built Western Europe into a more egalitarian society than before.
When we lose there is suffering that can never be cured. It is estimated that 68,000 soldiers died or were captured defending the retreat. That’s probably only a third of the number of Americans who will die of Covid-19 by inauguration.