Over the last 48 hours I’ve gotten a strong sense that the odds of Trump refusing to leave office after losing the election are actually quite significant. I don’t want to put a number on it, other than to say I believe it’s roughly comparable to the odds of him winning (or “winning”) the election straight up.
The Iowa caucus debacle, the State of the Union reality TV special, and the kayfabe of Mitch McConnell’s fake trial are all red warning lights, flashing the message that anybody who thinks that getting rid of Trump is going to be a matter of normal politics, in even the very loosest sense, isn’t paying close enough attention to what’s going on.
Some reasons why I think this risk is being systematically underestimated:
(1) The pernicious continuing influence of American exceptionalism, both as an ideology and a sub-ideological psychological security blanket. The caudillo refusing to leave office isn’t the kind of thing that can happen here, because we’re not some Latin American tinpot dictatorship. I mean surely you can’t be serious: just look how solemn that nice Chief Justice Roberts is, enforcing decorum and all, plus are you seriously suggesting that the Republican party, the courts, the elite media, and most crucially of all the military would all end up going along with something like this? (Answer: Yes).
(2) The continuing naivete of institutionalists, particularly lawyers, who are literally incapable of imaging that in the end the institutions they believe in can simply fail to function as they’re supposed to. But the Secret Service! The U.S. marshals! The DC circuit! Article I and II and III! Etc. Lay down your law books now they’re no damn good.
(3) Good old fashioned denial and optimism bias. Hey how about that halftime show?
(4) An 150 million-vote election is going to have a lot of irregularities of various kinds, even when one of the parties isn’t openly trying to steal it, as the Republicans will certainly try to steal this one. And this will provide endless opportunities for typical right-wing projection, in the form of complaints from all sorts of respectable [sic[ GOP figures that the election was rigged.
All these factors and more conspire to convince people of the pleasing fantasy that Trump is some sort of deeply abnormal event, that will be removed by normal means (the inherent contradiction at the heart of that assumption goes largely unnoticed).
It’s true that Trump’s life history is that of a cowardly bully, who tends to back down when the going gets tough, but it’s also true that he’s becoming increasingly unhinged, increasingly paranoid, increasingly worried (with good reason) about going to prison, and increasingly enabled by a genuine cult of personality that now includes his entire political party and about 40% of the populace.
We’re going to have to fight, and it’s not going to be pretty.