Even the pundit class admits that the coming presidential election in the United States is shaping up to be an event like no other.
“We’re in such a unique time that you don’t know what the next week is going to bring,” burbled Harry Enten, an “analyst” for CNN, on October 15 about the impending face-off between incumbent Donald Trump (a man who can’t even make his hair look plausible) and Clueless Joe Biden, former Vice President of Vice and/or Senator from Senescence. “This is the most insane freakin’ thing in the entire world.”
Close, Mr. Enten. But no cigar.
Because, you see, there’s every reason to worry that the impending election isn’t going to be an election at all. Though no mainstream commentator will say so out loud, the most important single fact about this contest is that it very possibly won’t determine the identity of the next president. Both major political parties – despite their shrill disagreements over a whole host of pseudo-issues – seem united in their determination to prevent a decisive result. And in the process, they’re edging dangerously close to delegitimizing the electoral system itself.
Which means, in plain language, that we may be heading for a coup.
Now, a problem on that scale should not have to be whispered from the margins. But popular media steadfastly refuse to discuss the subject – and their silence speaks volumes about the sort of government our pundits actually favor, which (whatever their pretensions to the contrary) has little or nothing to do with democracy.
That’s the elephant in the room, folks. And if you’re not worried, you should be.
Remember: this is the first American election held under the shadow of King Corona; and if there’s one thing our public intellectuals have made clear over the last seven months, it’s that pedestrian details like constitutional “due process” or representative government count for nothing against our ruling class’s autocratic prescriptions for the public health. Since March, a relentless series of edicts have turned state governors into virtual dictators, destroyed tens of millions of jobs, trashed the Bill of Rights, promoted political censorship of social media and made a bad joke of medical priorities – all for our own good, of course.
Why should democratic elections be immune from the same treatment?
Oh yes, there are persistent mutterings that Donald Trump may refuse to “concede” the election, if (as polls predict) Joe Biden somehow manages to navigate to victory through the murky waters of his own incomprehension. But this is mere chatter. No law requires a candidate to “concede,” and no one even casually familiar with Trump’s record would expect him to do any such thing, no matter what happens on or after election night.
But while formal concessions are dispensable, two other things are not. First, each presidential election must cross certain legal thresholds – and must do so by specific deadlines – in order to facilitate the balloting of an Electoral College. Second, and perhaps even more important, the electoral process must be accepted as legitimate by the people who are to be governed by it.
Can we count on either requirement being met this time around?
True, at least since the Hayes-Tilden debacle of 1876, the necessary conditions have been satisfied so readily that they’ve never become public issues. But today we face a mainstream media that is running at full anti-democracy throttle – smearing defenders of civil rights as a “death cult,” while ignoring more than forty state governors as they upend the Constitution with a spree of unilateral diktats. Under these conditions, what’s to stop the powers that be from claiming legal grounds to derail the election of 2020 altogether – and then shoehorning into office whatever corporate shill can be installed with a minimum of squawking from an already cowed populace?
Make no mistake: both political parties are shoring up the groundwork for just such a denouement.
That Trump and his fellow gangsters are dishonest enough to reject an adverse election result need hardly be said. As I write this, the same Republican senators who piously insisted that Barack Obama had no right to appoint a Supreme Court justice in the last year of his term are ramming through the confirmation of a cult-worshiping crackpot to that same court in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s. If Trump loses on November 3, we can expect Mitch McConnell and his minions to block or delay the convening of the Electoral College past its legal deadline, and then to deadpan to the press that the election doesn’t count because it didn’t finish in time.
And the Democrats? Well, maybe it’s too much to expect that the champions of an old plagiarist who has trouble remembering the name of the office he’s running for would put up any principled opposition to a threatened coup. But McConnell himself could hardly have asked for a more perfect dance partner in his This-Is-No-Real-Election two-step. By insisting on an unprecedented and risky regime of massive mail-in voting, the Democrats have virtually guaranteed two things: that Republicans will claim fraud if their candidate appears to be on the losing side; and that, even under the best of circumstances, the counting of the ballots will be slow and complicated enough to stir public doubts about the certainty of the result.
That would be bad enough in any election. In this one, it could be disastrous. What with all the pundits and the tame “experts” screaming at us that if we don’t obey Big Brother we’ll all drop dead, it’s quite possible that the public will acquiesce in a coup if the Right Thinkers tell us that elections aren’t good for us and that our job is to “stay safe” at home while they decide how to govern our country for us.
In fact, if you ask me, they’re already halfway there. The closer we get to Election Day, the more intense and invasive is the bludgeoning of the fear porn. According to the latest propaganda, inviting family members to his home to watch movies – yes, to watch movies! – was enough to make a Trump supporter guilty of mass murder. A magically-timed Hulu documentary, Totally under Control, ushers us to the polls with the claim that Trump’s “relentless downplaying” of the virus “led us to where we are now, with a devastated economy and more than 200,000 Americans dead.” (Boy, “downplaying” must be potent stuff.) Even small children are being dragged into the terror campaign: where I live, Halloween trick-or-treating has just been banned “due to the safety concerns regarding COVID19.”
The more pretentious among us may have missed those tidbits, but they can still get their propaganda fix from the strait-laced Public Broadcasting System. A few days ago, PBS’s mouthpiece Judy Woodruff demanded of Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, how he plans to save Americans from extinction now that one state (Wisconsin) is actually considering allowing people to walk around without muzzles. The good doctor deplored such moral laxity, of course, hinting broadly that “people are dying” because of (you guessed it) Donald Trump, who committed the unpardonable sin of insulting Anthony Fauci, that “wonderful communicator.”
And what makes the coronavirus so uniquely “significant and very serious”? Well, it seems that in the week leading up to the interview there had been “more than 775 deaths [of people with COVID19] a day.” Never mind that 1,800 people in the U.S. – more than twice that number – die every day from heart disease. “Hey, we’re Americans. We’re not stupid,” Dr. Collins concluded cheerfully. We know the Black Death when we see it. Or if we don’t – well, then, we obviously need a new President.
So please, if the upcoming election is replaced by a putsch, let’s not say we had no warning. A canceled presidential election would be a new and ugly reality. So would street violence over the legitimacy of the balloting.
But the assault on democracy, under cover of coronavirus hysteria, has been building steadily for months. The whole mail-in voting travesty, which may lead to a coup at the highest levels of U.S. government, is only one element of a larger and only slightly less dramatic coup that sprouted at the state level last March and has been slowly sweeping away democratic principles ever since.
The sidelining of legislatures, “executive orders” issued in the absence of any emergency, mass house arrest without a warrant, “quarantines” without court orders, the wholesale destruction of small businesses in the absence of any legal recourse, restraints on public demonstrations, the censorship of dissent – all of these were not only evils in themselves, but were ominous harbingers of an even more drastic attack on the principle of popular government.
And our so-called liberals knew all along what sort of false fire they were playing with. Even the Atlantic, one of the most consistent organs of coronavirus propaganda, now concedes that all the hysteria about deadly voting booths was groundless – that, in fact, “voting with a mask on is no more dangerous than going to a grocery store with a mask on – something millions of Americans do every week.” Actually, masks have no provable effect on viral transmission in the first place, so the upshot of the Atlantic’s admission is that the whole scare campaign about normal voting – like nearly everything else the “experts” have been yelling at us – was a fraud. And it was a fraud that only strengthened the case for an invalidated election, a fact that was staring the Democrats in the face when they started bleating for mail-in voting. Either they were unpardonably stupid, or – as I tend to think – they were getting tired of democracy and were just about ready to pick the next President in a back-room deal with other political rainmakers.
I hope my fears about the jettisoning of the electoral process prove to be premature. But the American public has never had a more tenuous grasp on the traditional institutions of democracy than it does now. With four-fifths of our governors already acting like dictators, with both major parties working hand in hand to delegitimize the election of a president, and with a mass media that stubbornly refuses to report these facts, we won’t preserve democracy by doing nothing.
The constitutional system may not collapse in a week’s time. But if we don’t want to see it collapse sooner or later – and probably sooner – we had better start taking politics into our own hands.
Bleak as our prospects may seem now, the alternatives are bound to be worse.
Michael Lesher is an author, poet and lawyer whose legal work is mostly dedicated to issues connected with domestic abuse and child sexual abuse. His latest nonfiction book is Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co., 2014); his first collection of poetry, Surfaces, was published by The High Window in 2019. A memoir of his discovery of Orthodox Judaism as an adult – Turning Back: The Personal Journey of a “Born-Again” Jew – will be published in September 2020 by Lincoln Square Books.
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