There has been, of late, a deep dread circulating among Democrats pondering the gloomy prospect of a second Trump presidency.
It’s hard to blame them. Despite an unusually good economy and a general prosperity we had no right to expect, incipient feelings of pessimism are being shamelessly stoked by the media.
Each day, we’re showered with stories ominously portending a Trump-led coup. They invite us to cower at the thought of Trumpian storm troopers determined to capture the government, jail their enemies, replace the entire civil service, and flip a collective middle finger at NATO. They conjure terrifying images of forced-birth camps for women, deportation camps for immigrants, and concentration camps for gays, Jews, Muslims, and all people of color. Which is more camping than most of us want to do.
But I think we need to take a breath.
Because no matter how I parse the inputs I’m getting, I cannot conceive of a reasonable scenario where Donald Trump wins a free and fair election.
True, Republicans have no interest in either free or fair, let alone reasonable. True, the electoral college remains a danger to democracy. And true, we are still at the mercy of six or seven volatile swing states, where the electoral climate is changeable at best, corruptible at worst.
Still, I see little sign — even in the hysteria-infused polls — that Trump has picked up any new votes since his massive fail in 2020. On the other hand, I see plenty of signs that he’s losing significant numbers of lifelong Republicans, people upset at the wreckage of their party and the endangerment of their women, probably in that order.
I look at states like Ohio, Kansas, and Wisconsin, where the abortion issue has recently turned red people blue in massive numbers, at least temporarily. These voters demonstrated not just that they were paying attention, not just that they understood what was at stake in their various elections, but also that they were adept at filtering out the blizzard of lies being spread by their own Republican-run administrations. They were not bamboozled.
Do we really expect the abortion issue to be less potent in a presidential year? Do we really expect the electorate to be less concerned than it was in the midterm? Has Trump done anything to make himself less odious to the people who voted him down last time?
If everyone who voted to preserve abortion rights in those states were to give a thumbs-down to the Republicans who removed those rights, would it be enough to turn a swing state blue? We’ll see.
But none of this augurs well for Trump. He is looking at a world of hurt if he loses again, which means he’ll be cornered, which means he’ll be dangerous, which means that the next question is what if the election isn’t fair?
What if Republicans can indeed game the system? What if they can indeed use the next election to pull some sort of coup? They have access, after all, to enormous financial resources they can spend on electoral subterfuge. And their capacity for cheating is prodigious.
But let’s take a moment to remember that the current administration is in the hands of adults. Unlike in 2020, experienced technocrats are once again at the reins of the executive branch, including the entire apparatus of law enforcement and prosecution. They have powerful tools they can use, and in perfectly legal ways, to defend democratic institutions.
I find it inconceivable that there would be nobody in the administration thinking about this. From Joe Biden on down, these are thousands of extremely capable people with their hands on the levers of government. They read what we read. They perceive what we perceive. They must surely be as alarmed as we are. Do we think they’re not thinking, in their own way, of what they can do to turn back any assaults on the system?
The rap on Democratic political figures — going back decades — is that they’re too wimpy, too reluctant to fight, too gullible in the face of Republican treachery. But while it’s true they may have fired their share of blanks in the past, I think we’re looking at a different party now — angrier, more cynical, more street-smart, and far more intelligent than the GOP dimwits that are causing all the trouble.
Plus, they have the law on their side.
Keep in mind, it is a near certainty that any number of Republican operatives will be committing crimes between now and election day. They can’t win any other way, and they are signalling their intentions, more-or-less openly. It’s hard not to think of it as empty bluster, but presumably the federal law enforcement community is on to them. The more they misbehave, the more exposed they’ll be to investigation, arrest, and prosecution.
This is by no means a sure thing. But I think it more likely than not that the closer we get to the election, the more aggressive this administration will get in defense of democratic government.
And we might not even see it. We have no idea what DOJ may or may not have investigated since the adults have been back in charge. We have no idea how many sealed indictments they may already have filed — indictments that even the targets don’t know about. DOJ does not play out its hand in public.
But we do know, just from the public record, that there have been plenty of Republicans to investigate, and plenty already investigated. We know the Jan 6 Committee hearings pointed fingers directly at Jim Jordan, Roger Stone, Scott Perry, Matt Gaetz, Marjory Taylor Greene, Michael Flynn, and who knows how many other bent GOP operatives. They’ve not been indicted, at least not yet, but there can be no doubt that extensive files are open on all of them.
We’re less clear about the files on people like Kash Patel, Sean Hannity, Ginni Thomas, Leonard Leo — and, for that matter, at least three Supreme Court justices. All of these people have long taken impunity for granted. The list of GOP operatives who have arguably broken serious laws — whether they’ve been prosecuted or not — is virtually endless.
I’m guessing — and I hope I’m right — that any or all of these miscreants could be brought up on formal charges at any time, even if those charges don’t ultimately stick. The fact that DOJ has not made such moves doesn’t mean it can’t, or that it won’t. It has broad powers of arrest at its disposal, especially if it sees clear attempts to interfere in the next election. The only question is whether these powers will actually be used, and how.
If the likes of Jack Smith and Fanni Willis are any indication, there is no shortage of career prosecutors still angry from the Trump-Barr years. They seem actively engaged in preserving the current legal system, and they’re well-positioned to see when that system is being subverted. Surely they understand the threat at least as well as we do.
There are ample tools within our current set of laws to prevent government capture, and to do so without resorting to such extreme measures as the Insurrection Act. There is also the naïve ineptness of the coup plotters, whose cavalier attitude towards the law could ultimately prove their undoing.
We don’t know where all this is going. But between the badass prosecutors with chips on their shoulders and the dimwitted MAGA loons with zero understanding of the laws they’re breaking, we have every reason to expect that both groups will be getting to know each other well in the coming year. And we get to watch.