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Bronner writes: "There are indeed times that try people's souls, and this is one of them."

Demonstrators kneel in a moment of silence outside the Long Beach Police Department on Sunday, May 31 2020. (photo: Ashley Landis/AP)
Demonstrators kneel in a moment of silence outside the Long Beach Police Department on Sunday, May 31 2020. (photo: Ashley Landis/AP)

After the Vote

By Stephen Eric Bronner, Reader Supported News

09 October 20


These are the times that try men’s souls: the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis shrink for the service of his country, but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

– Thomas Paine, The American Crisis (1775)

here are indeed times that try people’s souls, and this is one of them. The United States is facing the possibility of a coup, and American democracy might hang in the balance as the elections of 2020 unfold between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden. Last time, in 2016, the electoral college in its wisdom crowned a candidate who had lost the popular election by three million votes. And the man these electors chose was not exactly on par with George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or FDR. President Donald Trump is a pathological liar, a self-serving crook, semiliterate, and a power-hungry egotist who will do anything to stay in office. He has railed against nonexistent voting fraud, misled the public over the coronavirus, endorsed white nationalism, sought to suppress voting, reasserted the political privileges of elites, trampled traditional political and constitutional norms, and — perhaps most important — reorganized once independent state institutions to serve his needs.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has chastised the president for “flirting with treason” — and she is right. Trump has threatened to reject the results of a “rigged” election, stay in office if he loses, and perhaps even prevent a peaceful transition of power. There will be legal challenges to the election. Given the number of mail-in ballots and purposely generated electoral confusion, it may take days or even weeks to determine who won — and who will prevail. A power vacuum might well set the stage for a putsch. Intent on ramming through the arch-conservative federal judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court before the next president takes office, Trump is dreaming of a reactionary judicial majority ready to rule in his favor should questions of legality arise.

What is to be done? MSNBC, CNN, and liberal print media are ablaze with pundits ready to describe everything and proscribe nothing for what happens after the vote. Some of the most prominent have said that they will run, walk, and crawl to the voting booth, which is often a bit much. But then probably the only way in which Trump can win is if significant numbers of women, young people, and people of color stay home. Voter turnout is the key to the election, and voting for Biden is an ethical and practical imperative. The alternative is horrifying: Trump and his people reject compromise and discourse. The leader represents a mob with its blatant bigotry, self-imposed ignorance, wild conspiracy theories, xenophobia, and contempt for science and the arts. Are they fascists? Probably. Are they proto-fascists? Undoubtedly. Trump’s mob already believes that the election will be “rigged” (unless Trump wins), and its members will not suddenly vanish after the votes are cast.

Vote! By all means vote! Let’s make it a landslide! But then what? What happens if Trump loses the popular vote, refuses to leave office, and then receives support from the Supreme Court? Establishmentarian liberals remain content with calling for legal battles against the thousand suits currently being prepared by the president’s lawyers that will seek to invalidate “fraudulent” electoral outcomes. Even if the anti-Trump forces prevail, however, legal victories require enforcement and, given the state of the Department of Justice and a Republican Senate holding the majority until January 20th, sanctioning the law seems unlikely.

What then? There is only one answer: mass resistance, strikes, and disruptions in which defenders of democracy take to the streets or, as Frances Fox Piven put the matter, “refuse cooperation.” Left at that, however, resistance hangs in the abstract. More organization and discipline are required than was evident in Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, or the Portland Police riots. That is because more is at stake. A “polarized” nation does not express the current reality. President Trump has launched a veritable second civil war in which oppositional tactics will ultimately be determined by leaders of the Democratic Party, unions, interest groups like the NAACP, NOW, or Planned Parenthood, and grass-roots organizations such as the Reverend William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign. They will form the coalitions, decide upon the overriding agenda, and clarify the tactics.

Such organizations are mostly run by establishmentarian and bureaucratic liberals, suspicious of mass action, and sharply cautious in their political outlooks. But the “street” can have an impact, and the past has something to teach. Radical unions of the 1930s played a seminal role in bringing about the New Deal. The Civil Rights Movement pushed President Eisenhower and President Kennedy to (grudgingly) support its aims. Occupy Wall Street pressured the Obama administration to act on its economic programs, and Black Lives Matter forced civil society and leaders of the Democratic Party to take notice. Where BLM has been confronted with injustice, moreover, its supporters have remained at their posts.

This doesn’t mean that the anti-Trump opposition will prove victorious. No one is quite sure how the military will react, or other associations in civil society, though any political person must prepare for the worst. Lack of discipline and sectarianism can undermine the resistance. Other problems and dangers will appear. Surrendering in advance, however, is not an option. Refusing cooperation, seizing buildings, bringing commerce to a stop, strikes, disruption, and unrelenting pressure on liberal politicians are necessary in order to “make” government agencies act against aspiring fascism and the mob that supports it.

So vote! By all means vote! But also get ready for what might happen after the vote. Tactics have the best chance of arising from the interplay between mass protest and organizations forced to recognize an imminent danger. That might not be enough. But it is a good place to start. The republic is imperiled, and resistance requires commitment and responsibility. There is no room now for sectarianism, an abundance of caution, or indulgence in arbitrary violence. But there is always a place for reason, freedom, and solidarity.

Stephen Eric Bronner is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University. Co-Director of the International Council for Diplomacy and Dialogue, his most recent work is The Sovereign (Routledge).

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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