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Burning down the house


I was flying from Colorado to Michigan on Thursday, when the Marshall fire destroyed 1000 houses, including what had been ours until four months ago. After I got back I managed to visit our old neighborhood, now wiped off the face of the Earth, by talking my way past a couple of police checkpoints (call it off white privilege).

Even though three days had passed, the acrid smell of smoke hung heavy in the air. I stared at the apocalyptic tangle of charred remains were dozens of houses had stood a few dozen hours ago, and thought of the second sentence of Gravity’s Rainbow: “It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.”

The Marshall fire happened because of a combination of poor planning and bad luck. The poor planning consisted of, first and foremost, the failure of capitalism to properly price the externalities generated by using the Earth’s atmosphere as a garbage dump for the detritus of the industrial revolutions.

The bad luck was that the snow that fell the following day — the very first snow the season, on the last day of the year, at 5,500 feet at the 40th parallel of latitude — fell on that day, instead of the day before. If it had fallen the day before, then everything would have been “fine.”

This week marks the first anniversary of 1/6 — a day that should live in more infamy than either 12/7 or 9/11, but for the moment is not considered by Reasonable Centrists, let alone the fascist right, to be a day of much genuine importance. Because everything, supposedly, is “fine.”

The reality is that Trump’s attempted autogolpe, that culminated with him summoning a mob to Washington and then unleashing it on the Capitol as Congress met to certify the presidential election vote, almost succeeded, despite the characteristically clownish incompetence of its fascist progenitor. (Clownish incompetence is a feature not a bug of fascist regimes, and our own clown time is hardly over):

Despite Trump’s failure to thoroughly corrupt the federal and state governments, he came frighteningly close to overturning the election or, at the least, throwing the nation into the mother of all constitutional crises.

How close?

Trump fell five Rudys short.

Substitute Rudy Giuliani—or Sidney Powell or Jim Jordan or any other Trump cultist—for just five people who held state or federal office at the time of the 2020 election and think about what might have happened.

Put a Rudy in the place of Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state in Georgia who stood his ground in the face of hellish pressure from the president of the United States and certified Joe Biden’s win in the state.

Replace Michigan Board of State Canvassers member Aaron Van Langevelde, who bucked GOP pressure to provide the swing vote to certify Biden’s win in Michigan, with a Rudy.

Make a Rudy the secretary of state of Pennsylvania instead of Kathy Boockvar, who certified Biden’s win in that state.

That puts 42 electoral votes in play in Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania alone. Forget about Arizona and Wisconsin—Trump wouldn’t need them. He only lost by 38.

Or take a different route. Replace Attorney General Bill Barr with a Rudy and have him declare that the Justice Department had determined that massive fraud tainted the results in all of the swing states that went for Biden. Team Trump had an actual plan to do just that, replacing Barr with a brainwashed nobody named Jeffrey Clark, but Trump never pulled the trigger.

Or blow the whole thing out of the water in one shot. What if, rather than Mike Pence, a Rudy had been vice president—someone who would refuse to even open the certified electoral ballots, much less count them.

There is, of course, no way of knowing exactly how things would have played out if those five Rudys had been in place. The counterfactual is always ridden with uncertainty. What if Nazi Germany had won World War II? What if the Supreme Court had handed the 2000 presidential election to Al Gore instead of George W. Bush? What if James Comey hadn’t sabotaged Hillary Clinton in the final moments of the 2016 presidential election?

We can’t know exactly how history would have played out.

But we can know that it would have played out differently. If the five Rudys had been in place in 2020, at a minimum, three states with more than enough electoral votes to overturn the vote of the people would have been in play, quite possibly with their final vote certifications being decided by highly partisan Republican legislatures. And we know that if Trump had had Rudys in the offices of the attorney general and vice president, they might have created enough chaos to throw the election into the hands of the U.S. House of Representatives where, because the vote would be state-by-state rather than by individual representatives, a strict party-line vote would have installed Trump, not Biden, as president.

In other words, Trump didn’t fail to overturn the 2020 election because our brilliantly engineered system of constitutional government held fast. It’s much more prosaic than that: He simply didn’t have the right people in the right positions to pull it off. He was five Rudys short, perhaps fewer under some entirely conceivable scenarios.

This essay goes on to outline how Trump isn’t making the same mistake again.

Erik’s post below about John Brown is a reminder that, in the face of great evil, a moment always comes when the choice becomes to surrender or to fight. The fascists who are in the process even as I type these words of destroying an America worth saving are not going to be stopped by elections, let alone arguments.

This is a hard truth, and of course there will always be an endless array of Reasonable Centrists and Even the Liberals to remind us that we are, like Connie in the last scene of The Godfather, being hysterical, because it’s just not true, because that can’t be true, because if it were true then all the pretty stories we tell ourselves would be nothing but soothing lies.

Remember remember the 6th of January.

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