November 2, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Permanent violence if Trump wins
It will be like a pandemic.
The president told on himself over the weekend. The conventional wisdom holds in Washington that he beat Hillary Clinton over issues of global trade, immigration and “economic anxiety.” That was always suspect but then he went and let the cat out of the bag. “What did Obama do?” Donald Trump said. “And then I did the opposite.”
2016 was not about trade, immigration or economics. Those were cover for righting some kind of wrong felt by just enough white people in just enough states just below the level of consciousness. That “injustice” was the free election of the first Black president, and the diverse future Barack Obama’s victory foretold to people who would not, and never will, accept as legitimate a president who is not a super-white man.
Millions of Americans are going to vote for Trump, because they don’t trust republican democracy to stop the future.
2020 isn’t about trade, immigration, or economics either. The president isn’t even giving lip-service to the custom of campaigning for anything other than himself and the tidings he represents. But while Trump’s argument four years ago was explicitly racist, this time it’s explicitly anti-democratic. Reelect me, the president seems to be saying, and I’ll turn the United States into an autocratic client state. And just as millions of Americans understood perfectly in 2016 that he was selling Obama’s erasure, they understand perfectly this time around that he’s selling democracy’s.
Conventional wisdom in Washington still has not caught up to the fact that voters by the millions did not feel “left behind” due to forces of globalization. They felt left behind due to the success of a racially diverse coalition that elected a Black president. Democratic institutions didn’t fail them economically. They failed them politically. They did not stop Barack Obama. Every step Donald Trump takes to undercut those institutions is, therefore, a step toward preventing that from ever happening again. The history of white identity is the history of the United States. If the rule of law and the US Constitution do not help “take back our country,” then what’s their point?
Here’s the tip jar! Put something nice in it!
To the extent political reporters understood this, they understood only the part about white-power racism. (They understood the GOP’s rhetorical challenge of appealing to the electorate without alienating its racist “base.”) But they did not understand the ideological link between Obama and republican democracy. They did not understand that opposition to a Black president greatly exceeded politics as usual. The press corps rarely understood the readiness of his enemies to sabotage the American people if need be. They failed to see that, for the GOP, democracy itself was the problem.
Now that Obama’s vice president is on the cusp of what appears to be victory, you’d have to be blind not to see it. Trump is running on naked right-wing authoritarianism. Millions are going to vote for him, because they don’t trust republican democracy to stop the future. A governing philosophy, meanwhile, has vanished. Not even “states rights” are sacred anymore. The Texas Republican Party, in a bid to invalidate 100,000 votes in and around Houston, has filed suit in federal court to overturn a decision by the Texas Supreme Court. All that’s left after four decades of a conservative political regime is a pathetic grasping for power. Even Politico’s Tim Alberta, who can usually be trusted to accept GOP bad faith as good faith, is seeing things with fresh eyes. He said: “The Republican Party of 2020: Suppressing the vote, jailing the opposition, firing the scientists, intimidating the dissidents, and making America great again.”
All presidential elections are important, but some are more important than others. If Trump loses, expect to see a violent reaction in certain pockets of the country that exceeds the bloodshed we’ve already seen. (Indeed, if he loses, expect to see some kind of revival of the spirit of the “Tea Party.”) But if the president wins—either fairly or by “going in with our lawyers” after Election Day—the forces that have been building since 2008 are going to slough off whatever restraints they feel currently. In defeat, violence will spasm but it will probably exhaust itself. In victory, however, it will endure. Violence will become a permanent feature of our politics, like a pandemic.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.