Hurricane Wilma Naples FL
Hurricane Wilma. Photo credit: © Sun-Sentinel/ZUMA Wire

None of us have the luxury of saying “Don’t bother me, I can’t cope.” Not now, and not on any of the tomorrows that creep in between now and Tuesday, November 5, 2024 — and, quite likely, beyond.

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‘Looks like we’re in for nasty weather…’ — Creedence Clearwater Revival

Hurricane warnings are up and a good bet to stay up — at least until the dust settles on our next presidential election. The only real question is what we can do to prepare and survive.

You could be forgiven for wanting to opt out of the next year and a half, with its sure-to-be- unprecedented overuse of the word unprecedented, and hold your nose against the stench of our festering body politic. 

Why not take a powder, drive by the 50-state pileup, bail on Act Three of the Wagnerian opera Donald Trump has ginned up for our entertainment and his salvation?

Looking around me, my sense is that you would be in good company. Most of the people I know, even the more politically engaged among them, seem to be enjoying their summer, breathing a sigh of relief at the untanked economy, getting ready for football season, and looking on at the various Trumpian tornadoes touching down as if, living in brick houses with double-pane windows, they can enjoy the spectacle without worrying too much about being blown sky-high.

It’s natural to look away from such ugliness and not step willingly into such a surrealist nightmare. And there’s some reason to believe that you can just wait it out and watch the storm blow by. Maybe the courts — one of the courts, anyway — will take care of Trump and the nasty weather. 

The media certainly encourages that view of things by just following along with events — “Here’s the Trump motorcade approaching the courthouse. … And here’s former deputy counsel so-and-so to analyze Team Trump’s latest hint about their legal strategy!” — while largely eliding both meaningful historical context and the big-picture diagram.

Guardrails: What if Past Is Not Prologue?

So what are the context and big-picture diagram that I, for one, find so unnerving? The context is to be found primarily in the fact that the vast majority of us were either born into a stable democracy or came to America in large part to enjoy democracy’s blessings, and thus have a strong, if not immutable, tendency to take those blessings as a given. When push came to shove, in our experience, the rule of law has always prevailed; the guardrails have always held; and the stress tests, like Watergate, for all their drama, stayed “on the charts.”

That all changed on January 6, 2021. Or did it? We saw the gallows and the shattered glass, we heard the chants, we watched holders of high office — dignified, accustomed to the highest degrees of deference and respect — running for their lives. We knew that many defenders (and attackers) were beaten and that some died. We witnessed the chaos, lived through the hours when it was not clear whether the guardrails would indeed hold.

But then — thanks to great bravery, improvisation, and providential decisions — order was restored. The business, the ceremony, of certifying the election of the president resumed and, in spite of a few procedural skirmishes, moved to completion in the early morning hours of January 7. Democracy, it seemed, proved strong enough to repel not just a mob, but what was ultimately recognized as a concerted effort, led by the serving president, to overthrow it. 

What a show of democratic and institutional strength we might take it all to be!

Donald Trump, supporters, January 6

Donald Trump supporters massing at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Photo credit: Brett Davis / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Trump Win, Trump Loss: Both Very Dangerous Scenarios

This brings me to the big-picture diagram and why I could never forgive myself for “opting out” at any point in the next year and a half (at least), indeed for being on anything less than active duty and high alert.

Call him a serial liar, call him a malignant narcissist, call him a buffoon, sociopath, cult leader, national nightmare, or any other name that seems to fit, the fact is that for Trump the 2024 election is now existential. Yes, existential — not just psychological, which a preternatural dread of losing has always made such things for him. Now it is actually and urgently corporeal. The presidency is likely the only thing standing between him and a long stretch behind bars.

Assuming he is the Republican nominee in November — and there is no sign that anyone or anything is in position to prevent that; and that goes for the various trials that much smart money, including Dan Rather’s, says, with the inevitable delays and appeals, must not be counted on to conclude before the election — we face one of two potential outcomes: 1) Trump wins the general election and implements a swift and unprecedented consolidation of power under the “unitary executive” doctrine; 2) Trump loses and triggers a nationwide MAGA uprising that will make January 6, 2021, look like, well, a “normal tourist visit.” 

No other outcome is particularly likely: That is the big-picture.  

The Unthinkable: Think About It

Let’s flesh it out a bit, starting with the “wins” scenario. First of all, for anyone thinking an obscenity like Trump couldn’t possibly win in 2024, I have some bad news: A recent Times/Siena poll of registered voters had Trump and Joe Biden tied at 43 percent of the national popular vote — and this poll is not some wild outlier. Why the race is a toss-up is a question for another day; right now, let’s focus on the fact that it is, and the consequences of that fact.

First, let’s add this to the equation: The poll projects a tie in the popular vote, which Biden won in 2020 by a whopping margin of nearly 7 million. That margin translated to an Electoral College win that may have looked solid on paper (306 – 232) but that would have been reversed with a total shift of just 44,000 votes in three key swing states.

Given the way the popular vote translates to electoral votes in the modern era, the forecast popular vote tie in 2024 would mean an easy Electoral College win for Trump.

And that is before we consider the potential impacts of the candidacies of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West and the plan of the right wing-funded No Labels organization to put a centrist candidate on the ballot in all 50 states — each of which is considered by analysts a serious threat to disproportionately pull votes from Biden (it should be obvious that, in an even moderately close election, it would take very little such vote pulling in swing states to put Trump back in the White House).

And we may as well add that all this toss-up polling is being conducted at a time when the economy and the markets are unexpectedly strong — a “soft-landing” miracle near to being achieved — and when Trump is finally in the dock for the most heinous of his crimes. 

Joe Biden, Hudson Tunnel

President Joe Biden visited the MTA Long Island Rail Road West Side Yard to announce a federal grant of $292 million toward the Hudson Tunnel Project. Photo credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

It is unlikely that the economy will get much stronger in the run-up to Election Day 2024, or that the nation will find out anything earthshaking about Trump’s evil ways that it doesn’t already know. And while, as Robert Reich suggests, voters may snap out of vestigial COVID-Recession-Inflation gloom and grudgingly begin to give Biden more credit for a thus far tremendously successful presidency, there are always the GOP and right-wing media Lie Machines working overtime to tamp down any such development.

And last but not least is the impact of the GOP’s post-Stop the Steal push for “election integrity,” otherwise known as targeted voter suppression, much of it under the MSM radar. Although most of the fruits of this cynical campaign to impose various burdens and hurdles aimed at disproportionately suppressing the vote of Democratic-leaning constituencies are to be found in red states, several swing states have also been subject to such thumb-on-the-scale “reforms.” Aggressive, broad-sweep or targeted voter purging in particular threatens to drive outcomes rightward in key states.

So summing it all up, preparing for — while trying in every possible way to prevent — a second Trump term is not a drill

Granted it all makes no sense, defies logic, undermines even a tarnished vision of our once-revered beacon of democracy — but that does not make the threat any less real: A Trump win is a very real prospect.

The ‘Unitary Executive’: American Gleichschaltung?

And what is that threat made of? What would Trump do, given another four years, that he hasn’t already done? 

He has, in fact, been very forthright about what he will do, which is to implement the “unitary executive” theory to the max to effectively bring the entire executive branch under his direct control, eliminating the traditional independence of such critical agencies as the Department of Justice, the Federal Communications Commission, and even the Federal Reserve. 

He has already introduced a 10-point plan to eliminate the “Deep State” (read, all executive branch officials, and career-civil servants, who might stand in his way), including a “truth and reconciliation” commission to ferret out political opponents. 

Of course, the irony of Trump’s plan to commandeer essentially the entire executive branch to carry out his vendetta seems entirely lost on his MAGA supporting cast, from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) on down, who can’t stop yammering about Biden’s “weaponization” of the DOJ. And the rest of us have grown so used to this kind of Grade-A projection from Trump and his minions that it barely makes an impression any more.

Trump plans to act swiftly and “aggressively” to expand and use his reclaimed power. He has promised his voters, “I am your retribution,” hardly a rhetorical flourish to be brushed off. Not to be outdone, his flagging opponent Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has lately waxed eloquent about “slitting throats” if elected. There are unlikely to be any adults in the room this time around.

Thus the guardrails, such as they are, would have to be provided by the Congress working in conjunction with the MAGA Supreme Court, and whatever resistance could be mustered at the state level. Given that on January 6, 2021, Trump was within a whim-shift of invoking the dread Insurrection Act, strongly urged to do so by some of the same advisers who would face little or no internal opposition in 2025, the US military currently being hamstrung by Trump January 6 accomplice Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), prospectively making way for its stocking with Trump loyalists — also cannot be left out of the equation. 

So step right up and place your bets!

By way of historical parallel, Adolf Hitler first came to full power by virtue of a violence-abetted electoral victory on March 5, 1933, with much the same aspiration as manifest in Trump’s unitary executive plan. 

By mid-April, through a blitz of acts and orders, Hitler had achieved all but a few loose ends of Gleichschaltung, generally translated as coordination or consolidation, of the state — that is, he brought disparate agencies and institutional power centers, accustomed to some measure of independence, under the direct control of the Nazi Party. 

Meaning that, with very rare exceptions, he personally called the shots. It did not take long for some who had spinelessly acquiesced in Hitler’s Enabling Act, along with other legal and extra-legal stratagems, to realize the magnitude of their blunders. And it only kept getting worse.

If Trump’s first hundred days follow an even remotely similar model, he will, for starters, be able to stop at least his federal prosecutions in their tracks — and at that point I’d have to wish his state-level prosecutors, New York’s Alvin Bragg and Georgia’s Fani Willis, both the best of luck. 

From there, Trump has already signaled his determination to launch his Justice Department on a retaliatory spree against his political enemies and, if past is prologue, against anyone who has ever, in his view, done him wrong or demonstrated disloyalty.

Every such move would be another unprecedented (you were warned) test of the guardrails and I think it’s fair to say that, once such guardrails have splintered, it becomes easier and easier for the aspiring strongman to blow through whatever may be left of them. 

Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center writing last week in the Wall Street Journal, relates that the Founders shared a great concern about just such a development. He quotes Alexander Hamilton’s 1790 warning that:

When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper … is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity, he may ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.   

A little over a half century later, Abraham Lincoln essentially concurred. It was not fantasy to them and it should not be to us.

Thom Hartmann couldn’t have put it much more bluntly:

You and I could be in jail in a matter of weeks; that’s how fast things can change when an autocrat takes control of a democratic nation.

The Ultimate Tantrum

So much for our rock — now what about the hard place? What hazards would accompany a Trump loss? We might, of course, say we’ve seen (and survived) this play before — but I think a strong argument could be made that what we witnessed after Trump’s last election loss was just a rehearsal, and not even a full dress rehearsal.

It’s hard to say how Trump would take a blowout loss in 2024, but we’ve certainly seen how he takes a close one, and that was before his Martyr-Messiah complex had ripened to its full bitter intensity. A concession would be shocking (at least), especially if, as is highly likely, prosecutions are still hanging over his head. 

The question is rather whether Trump will let loose the dogs of war. Certainly, with everything on the hazard for him and with a MAGA army ready to roll, it’s a better than fair bet that he will not go gentle.

Of course Trump will not be president in the election’s aftermath, as he was in 2020-21. So there will be no Insurrection Act in this scenario, no call up of the National Guard or any other branch of the military. But, lest we forget, the US military, all branches combined, possesses approximately 4.5 million firearms, while the US civilian population is closing in on, and may already have surpassed, 100 times that number

Among the MAGAs, who possess a majority of those 400+ million weapons (more than twice as high a percentage [66] of Republicans as Democrats [31] live in a gun-owning household), probably the most popular defense of the Second Amendment is that we ordinary folk need guns to protect our “freedoms” when the government comes for them.

Trump has never stopped working the room but some of his appeals over the last few months, as the hounds closed in, have gone beyond the usual inflammatory rhetoric. His theme has been “They’re not coming for me, they’re coming for you — and I’m just standing in their way.” 

That “they” of course includes (Trump’s words) the special counsel, “deranged lunatic” Jack Smith; the “sick nest of people” at the Department of Justice; and “enemy of the state” Joe Biden. Lest there be any confusion about where he is going with that, Kari Lake was on hand at Trump’s big post-Florida indictment speech to the Georgia GOP to lend clarity to the pitch:

If you want to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me, and 75 million Americans just like me. And most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA. 

Lake, who recently suggested that the House forget about impeaching Biden and just declare Trump the rightful winner of the 2020 election, subsequently adjusted the number upward from 75 to 300 million.

Now you might say that’s a whole lotta crazy (and you wouldn’t be wrong) but no one ever taught crazy how not to shoot an AR-15. 

There are a lot of those out there in the hands of the besotted, and if ever there was a Second Amendment moment — a time to stand up for those “freedoms” against a Leftist, Marxist, Woke-ist, Deep State — it’s the moment when that State has screwed your “King” out of his rightful hold on power and is about to throw him in the slammer.

America has seen Kent State and it’s seen Waco. But it’s never seen a hundred or a thousand Kent States or Wacos erupting spontaneously at the same time. The term of art for that would be “civil war” — with the forces of order spread mighty thin. That is not an easy genie to coax back into the bottle, as many nations have discovered throughout history and as we ourselves found out 162 years ago.

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Hope for the Best, Prepare for Reality

These are mighty ominous thunderheads on our horizon. Perhaps the weather will pass harmlessly by. Perhaps Trump will win, settle for scotching the cases against him, and sink again into his only semi-ruinous grift. Perhaps he loses in a landslide, or his call to arms goes unanswered, or the answer falls short of full-on civil war. Perhaps.

But I think we’d have to count our blessings if we escape Typhoon Trump with our houses — straw, sticks, or brick — intact. The odds are slim that one or the other of these two win/lose tornadoes doesn’t touch down.

So, if somewhere in the back of your mind, you’re afraid — if you sense that life as we’ve known it is skating on thin ice — take comfort in knowing there’s good reason for that fear; I suspect that, deep down, it is very widely shared. 

And if your instinct is to lay low and hope for the best, well, that’s understandable too. You can follow the bouncing ball from court to court, motion to motion, poll to poll, and speech to speech — all the little pictures. The media will make that very easy to do. And, to be sure, there’s much fascination — dare I say entertainment? — in that, and certainly some value in being granularly informed.

But whatever you do, don’t forget the hurricane warnings and the big picture. Don’t ignore the forest for the trees. There are many unknowns, many variables, and, yes, a whole lot of good also happening (see, e.g., Ohio and this week’s vote on “Issue 1”). Nobody really knows where we’ll be two years from now. But if you don’t look away and you don’t overthink it, it just has a certain feel — and not a good one. And yes, I know, the sky is always falling. But sometimes it’s heavier than others. This just feels like such a time.

It all may seem too much, too crazy, too overwhelming — but you do, nevertheless, have a role in it. And none of us have the luxury of saying “Don’t bother me, I can’t cope.” Not now, and not on any of the tomorrows that creep in between now and Tuesday, November 5, 2024 — and, quite likely, beyond. 

At the very minimum, we must vote. But we must also communicate, show the weather map to family, friends, and colleagues who might not otherwise see it. Be their Farmers’ Almanac for the next two years. Even if it is awkward. Even, indeed especially, if there is outside-the-choir pushback. Those are the people most likely to decide this thing — to save us or doom us all.

Talk, write, tweet, fund, volunteer, organize. Do everything you possibly can do — because the situation is unprecedented — a rolling emergency. 

It is, finally, for all who treasure democracy, the big one.

Jonathan D. Simon is a senior editor at WhoWhatWhy and author of CODE RED: Computerized Elections and the War on American Democracy.

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