Listen, you’re reading this on the Internet, so I assume you can figure out how to reach my bosses and the human-resources people, maybe even the people I love. We all know you can figure out how to poison my dog. And so, with that in mind, I want to assure the readers that, officially, I believe the polls. And they tell a simple story: Biden’s our next president. I totally, officially don’t think pollsters are capable of misleading others or themselves. Pollsters are really the most capable people we have in this country. The real heroes. Almost as admirable as rioters.
And, just so you know, I definitely, totally understand that conspiracies aren’t real. In fact, I don’t think human beings are capable of conspiring. They can’t even plan things most of the time. Nobody could possibly have a backup plan, because that would mean I’m a crazy person.
And no one needs a backup plan.
Because beating Donald Trump in November should be relatively easy for Democrats. He is a historically unpopular president. He hasn’t kept a variety of his campaign promises, whether it’s getting Mexico to pay for the wall or bringing the troops home from doomed wars. There is a kind of helplessness to Trump as well, caused by his lack of self-control and his consequent lack of control over his own White House and the administrative branch. When he announces withdrawals from Syria, someone else reverses them. When he announces a withdrawal from Afghanistan, an unnamed intelligence source supplies an obviously bogus conspiracy theory that he’s giving into Putin, who is paying the Taliban. Susan Rice pretends to believe that this story is true, and that Trump is warming relations with Russia when in fact they are at a post–Cold War low.
And on the biggest issue of the year, the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump’s ratings among Republicans are frightfully bad. He can’t do his big, news-driving campaign rallies, in which he road-tests his best slogans. He’s hobbled. This should be easy. Just blitz him with his own contradictions and promise to save Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin go back to blue. Job done.
So why do I constantly get this sense that, for many progressives, squaring up and beating Trump in an election isn’t enough? Instead, Trump must be “toppled,” somehow, preferably in a major confrontation. In many progressive fantasies, this involves some kind of violence that stains him and his supporters forever. I sometime get the unsettling sense that some progressives are steeling themselves for a Color Revolution in the United States.
Last month Ronald Brownstein wrote an article in The Atlantic suggesting that Trump’s use of federal resources to protect federal buildings was a plot to gin up support in the suburbs. These suburbanites, apparently, would be just fine with looting and soaring murder rates in their nearby cities, if not for Trump highlighting it. But the finale of Brownstein’s article was a veiled threat: “If Trump wins a second term — especially if that victory relies on another rural surge to overcome massive opposition across the big metros — the chaos in Portland might look like only the preliminary skirmish for an even more incendiary collision to come.”
Why, if the collision was merely an electoral ploy, would it go on after the election? The unstated implication is that progressives will respond to the election with widespread violence, and it will be the fault of nonviolent voters if they do.
In July, Franklin Foer wrote lustily in The Atlantic about the analogy to the EuroMaidan in 2014, the capstone Color Revolution. Mass crowds assembled in the Ukrainian capital to protest the government’s decision not to enter an economic arrangement with the EU, and after a confusing, violent confrontation with the authorities, the government fell to pieces. I want it on the record that this government was corrupt, of course. That needs to be on the record. Only crazy people recall that the 2010 election in Ukraine was deemed transparent and fair by thousands of international election observers.
And I’m really, truly, penitently sorry to notice that what Foer didn’t mention was that the Maidan revolution was also a stitch-up by elites that rather immediately benefited a member of the Biden family, and resulted in a disaster. The Maidan revolution featured senior U.S. and EU diplomatic figures informing the incoming government in the background about who were acceptable political appointments, and then that government and its allied oligarchs passed out a bonanza of lucrative no-show jobs to connected officials, including one to the son of the American vice president and current Democratic presidential nominee. Whenever anyone’s been asked questions about this, the participants cite one another’s diplomatic testimony as exculpatory evidence.
This is not a plan, they’ll respond; it’s all just speculation in response to Trump’s extremism, like his tweet about delaying the election. Indeed, these tweets are troubling. Academic experts in extremism intone about how Republicans are going to commit violence around election time, and are solicited to say, “What really worries me about this is that the [Republican] base has been primed to not believe that the election is legitimate if Trump loses.”
But of course, the same can be said about Democrats. For years partisan Democrats were drenched in and indulged a conspiracy theory — cooked up by a few professors in Cambridge — that Trump had colluded with Vladimir Putin to win the 2016 election. Democratic star politicians such as Stacey Abrams make patently false accusations that Republican victories are the result of widespread voter suppression. Democrats are daily reading scare stories about how the post office is being assaulted by the Trump presidency in order to rig the vote in his favor, or to create chaos to take advantage of later. Even Joe Biden has circulated this theory. FactCheck.org calls it a “baseless conspiracy theory.” Add to that another year in which the polls assured them that the thing was in the bag, and you have to wonder how Democrats would react.
And there is the weird tone of threat in Democratic commentary. Former general Barry McCaffrey, when asked if General Mark Milley will protect the people of the United States “from this lawless administration” come January 20, 2021, replied on Twitter, “Gen Milley a superb combat leader. Powerful intellect. Brutally honest. Experienced. He will defend the Constitution.” Are we really setting the baseline at militarily removing Trump? Does anyone find it “normal” for the former commander of SOUTHCOM to be openly calling the current president Mussolini and reassuring us that the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be reliable in the forthcoming electoral crisis?
Then there’s Ben Smith’s scoop. But before we get to that, recall that Smith decided to publish the infamous Steele dossier, which had been circulating in intelligence circles and formed the basis for what Trump eventually called “presidential harassment.” At the time, Smith explained that because it was talked about, it was worth publishing, despite his reporters’ inability to confirm or disconfirm its contents. So the unedited dossier, filled with insane theories of Putin’s control over the incoming president, went out to the public with no context added to help readers judge it. Which was weird, because even if Buzzfeed at the time didn’t have the resources to figure out that much of it originated in Cambridge and was filled in by a junior employee at the Brookings Institution, it might have helped readers if Smith had mentioned that the report featured entire locations, such as a Russian consulate in Miami, that don’t exist.
Anyway. Smith, now at the New York Times, buried a great little scoop about responsible people war-gaming various election scenarios. The official reason for these war games is to test the weak points in case Trump tries anything funny after the election. But at the end of one tight election win for Trump, a former Hillary Clinton adviser playing the role of Joe Biden claimed that his party wouldn’t allow him to accept the results. “Alleging voter suppression,” Smith writes, “he [Podesta as Biden] persuaded the governors of Wisconsin and Michigan to send pro-Biden electors to the Electoral College. In that scenario, California, Oregon, and Washington then threatened to secede from the United States if Mr. Trump took office as planned.”
Now, officially, I believe Podesta was just doing his duty, participating in the exercise as planned. But I know exactly how such leaked information would be treated if it were Roger Stone or even Ari Fleischer doing what Podesta did: as an imminent threat.
There is a weird self-fulfilling quality to these fever dreams among Democrats. Democrats should know how they win and lose by now. Nancy Pelosi knows that Democrats win swing districts mostly by ignoring Trump and talking about protecting Obamacare and Social Security from Republican cuts. Democrats lose by talking about Trump supporters or sympathizers as “deplorables” who ought to be purged from their own country. In other words, Democrats win just by acting like a normal center-Left political party. And Biden is precisely the nominee you’d want for that.
If he were out on the hustings. But instead of Biden talking day in and day out about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and how important teachers are, there is a vacuum. The media chattering class has been filling the void with talk about constitutional change, ending the filibuster, packing the Supreme Court, having Facebook act as a political censor for their causes, and otherwise rewriting the system to make sure Republicans don’t have power again.
Again, for the record, I absolutely am not wincing or flashing Morse code when I say for the record that I’m sure all of this is uncoordinated. This is just how Democrats talk. They always have trouble losing elections. And they always prepare themselves for some conspiracy led by Diebold. Or a Florida governor will “steal” the election for Romney. That’s just how progressive wonks think about our Constitution when left to their own devices. And that over there is just how the former director of the CIA, John Brennan, tweets. I’m not a psychoanalyst, but somehow, it seems progressives have convinced themselves that 2016 and the past four years have been so abnormal that winning a normal election just isn’t cathartic enough.
Winning an election changes the government, not the regime. Winning an election and peacefully exchanging power is a promise that power could be exchanged again later.