I am writing this because I am deeply concerned that President Trump will subvert the election. I am not the only person with concerns. See, for example, Thomas Friedman’s op-ed in the Times of September 29th.
· A narrative claiming that election fraud is widespread takes hold among Trump supporters.
· Voting among those supporting Biden is suppressed.
· Trump supporters intimidate voters.
· Trump uses the powers at his disposal to seize ballots under the guise of their being fraudulent.
· States that are controlled by Republicans take steps to suppress voting.
· Republican controlled states certify Trump electors despite the fact that the popular vote in the state was not in Trump’s favor.
· Trump refuses to concede the election.
· Litigation over the election goes to the Supreme Court where a 6 to 3 majority of conservative justices award the election to Trump.
· Under the constitution, the House or Representatives settles the election, with each state having one vote. Despite Biden getting more of the popular vote, Trump is awarded a second term.
The first four of these scenarios are well under way:
o Widespread belief that there will be election fraud:
o Voter suppression:
o Pennsylvania’s Republican legislature creating a committee with subpoena power to investigate the election activities, during the balloting. The committee could impound ballots.
o The Trump campaign is recruiting and “army” of poll watchers.
o President Trump said in the debate that the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by.”
o Seizing Ballots
o “During a recent appearance on “The Alex Jones Show,” a far-right radio program that peddles conspiracy theories, Mr. Stone said that ballots in Nevada should be seized by federal marshals, claiming that “they are already corrupted” and that Mr. Trump should consider nationalizing the state police. Mr. Stone, a felon whose sentence was commuted this year by the president, has ties to the Proud Boys.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/30/us/trump-election-poll-watchers.html
o “Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm raised the possibility of President Donald Trump seizing ballot boxes after the November election. ‘
There is no doubt that Trump will refuse to concede the election. He continues to claim that he won the popular vote in 2016. And he has repeatedly said he won’t accept the result of the election unless he wins.
If you think I am overstating the danger, but you do agree that we should try to avert disaster if there is one, I ask you to read Barton Gellman’s piece in the Atlantic.
What Can Be Done
If Trump prevails by getting Republican controlled states to award electors to him despite Biden winning the popular vote when — or if — all votes are counted, it will be a coup. There is a literature on preventing or overturning coups.
Erica Chenoweth has published an excellent analysis of nonviolent resistance that helps define a strategy for addressing the risk that Trump will subvert the election. Briefly, she shows that nonviolent resistance is the most successful way to counteract a coup. The most effective response involves massive numbers of people and organizations taking action. The actions that are most common are demonstrations and protests, strikes, and non-cooperation. General strikes and mass civil disobedience are more effective than simply demonstrating. There must be actions that engage a huge proportion of the population and motivate segments of the wealthy and powerful to support the movement.
Such a massive mobilization requires that the narrative outlined above be widely believed. That is, the majority of people must be convinced that the actions of Trump and his Republican allies are subverting the will of the people. As Brian Stetler has documented in his book about the Fox News-Trump alliance, there is unquestionably a sizable minority of the population who believe Trump. There is clearly a majority who oppose Trump, but we are far from having that majority being clear about the threat to our democracy and what needs to be done to address it.
Thus, the first order of business is to spread the word about this danger and bring an increasing number of people and organizations together around a demand that the election be properly conducted.
The Goal of This Effort
We need a simple and unifying message:
Our only goal is to prevent Trump and his followers from subverting the election. We must prevent them from suppressing the vote, seizing ballots, or sending law enforcement or militias to interfere with the voting process, the counting of votes, or the process of certifying electors.
To achieve this goal, it is imperative that we build a coalition of diverse organizations that likely differ on many important issues. Yet we share the value of having a democratic society and are putting aside all other issues for the time being to so that we can ensure that in 2021 we will have a functioning democracy that can begin to repair the damage that has been done to democratic norms.
A Welcoming and Inspiring Narrative
If we are going to mobilize the entire nation to prevent the subversion of the election, we need a message that works for a huge and diverse population. There should be no implied criticism of any of the segments of the population that you might feel could have been doing more. We need unity like never before.
Our message should be:
· Welcoming. This is an opportunity to join millions of others in speaking up for the basic principles of our democracy. We believe that the full participation of every person is fundamental to building a society that works for everyone. You may never have a better opportunity to make a difference for your nation. What we do in the next 60 days may be the best opportunity you will ever have to make a difference for your country.
· Urgency and Peril. President Trump has said explicitly and repeatedly that he will not relinquish power and that the only way he could lose is if the election were rigged.
o The Supreme Court has upheld voter suppression laws as recently as October 5. A South Carolina law requiring that the signature on every mail-in ballot be witnessed by a second person was allowed to be enforced.
o According to Barton Gellman of the Atlantic, “the Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors” in red battleground states. Gellman further asserted that at in Bush v Gore, the Supreme Court ruled that state legislatures can choose electors for a candidate who did not get the majority of votes.
o Trump has consistently refused to say that he would accept the outcome of the election. For example, on September 23, 2020 he said: “I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster. Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there’ll be a continuation.”
o If Trump succeeds, there will be years of civil strife to re-establish not only the rule of law, but the norms and practices of a respectful, cooperative, and compassionate democracy.
· Prospects for success. Nonviolent resistance has succeeded in overcoming tyranny before.
o Gandhi’s use of nonviolent resistance liberated India from British colonial rule.
o The civil rights movement in the United States used nonviolent civil disobedience to violate segregation laws in the South and won the support of the majority of Americans for laws that ended segregation and established Black voting rights.
Nonviolent Resistance: The Key to Preventing a Trump Coup
The need for nonviolence is paramount. Research on methods of preventing coups indicates that nonviolent resistance is twice as likely to succeed as violent resistance.
The challenge will be to promote and ensure nonviolence. The civil rights movement of the 1960s had far more time than we have to recruit and train protesters in the philosophy and practice of nonviolence. It is imperative that we ask every person who joins this cause to commit to nonviolence.
The following is a distillation of the Philosophy and Practice of Nonviolence of Dr. Martin Luther King that was created by the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment
· Our attitude will be one of openness and respect toward all we encounter in our actions.
· We will use no violence, verbal or physical, toward any person.
· We will not destroy or damage any property.
· We will carry no weapons.
· We will not bring any drugs or alcohol.
· If participating in a nonviolent direct action, such as civil disobedience, we will not run or resist arrest; we will remain accountable for our actions as a means of furthering our witness to injustice.
· Additionally, we require that all individuals considering participation in a nonviolent direct action take appropriate nonviolence training.
These key points are excerpted from his book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Circle, but are also repeated in numerous essays and articles that he wrote throughout his life. It should be noted that Dr. King explicitly credits Mahatma Gandhi with having taught us the method of nonviolence.
· Nonviolence is resistance to evil and oppression. It is a human (and humane) way to fight.
· Nonviolence does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his/her friendship and understanding.
· The nonviolent method is an attack on the forces of evil rather than against persons doing the evil. It seeks to defeat the evil and not the persons doing the evil and injustice.
· Nonviolence means willingness to accept suffering without retaliation.
· The nonviolent resister avoids both external physical and internal spiritual violence — not only refusing to shoot or strike, but also to hate, an opponent. The ethic of real love is at the center of nonviolence.
Dr. King went to some length to describe this love, which he noted is not reciprocal in nature, meaning that this is not the love given to someone because they love you in return. He identified this love most accurately with the Greek word “agape,” meaning an understanding, redeeming good will towards all people, a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor and all fellow beings, making no distinction between friend and enemy.
To complicate things, nonviolent resistance must be accompanied by the wearing of masks and social distancing. To be sure, engaging in civil disobedience runs the risk of people being infected, not by their own actions, but by those who may arrest and place people in custody in unsafe ways.
We must engage and mobilize every sector of society. We must go way beyond the network of people and organizations who have traditionally worked on these kinds of issues. Indeed, some of the most persuasive events will be when organizations that most people would not expect to speak up, do so. Here is a list of segments of society that need to be mobilized. It is annotated in terms of things particular segments can do.
o Journalism. A growing number of well-known journalists are speaking up about the danger we are in. We should welcome their work and encourage all journalists who adhere to traditional standards of journalism to focus on this issue; to report on every instance of attempted subversion; to cover the nonviolent resistance to acts of subversion; to report on failures to remain nonviolent because such failures will be used to discredit our effort.
o Social Media. Social media have been, along with Fox News, the engine of disinformation, hatred, and undermining of the rule of law. It is impossible to counter hateful or false social media by responding to it. It simply increases attention to it. What is needed isfor everyone who wants to prevent a Trump coup to like and share every post — beginning with this one — to the widest extent possible.
· Behavioral Science. The behavioral science community, including all of the professionals who provide clinical and other services, can be a resource and an impetus for the movement that is needed. For me, as a behavioral scientist, this is the network of people and organizations that I am best able to reach. My hope is that they will speak with one voice about the danger of the present moment and the need for a nonviolent action.
· Progressive advocacy organizations. There are numerous organizations working to address one or another of the many problems the nation faces. Many of them focus on a single important problem such as tobacco control, child welfare, or the promotion of public health. Yet every problem we face will be exacerbated if Trump succeeds in subverting the election. That is why all of these organizations should come together and endorse a strong statement in favor of a fair election process and the need for nonviolent resistance when it is needed.
· Business. Business is relevant in two ways. First, to the extent that the business community explicitly endorses the goals and nonviolent practices of a movement to prevent the subversion of the election, it will influence many people who are unlikely to be influenced by political or advocacy organizations. Second, business is a pressure point for successful resistance. Imagine the impact on the business community if they saw that millions of people were prepared to go on strike or to refuse to engage in any commerce.
· The religious community. It should be possible to gain the endorsement of many religious groups. Trump support among evangelicals is diminishing and many other religious denominations are likely willing to speak up in favor of a free and fair election.
· People who have been harmed by the crises of 2020. Thus far there have been 7,490,000 cases of Covid — 19 infections and 210,000 people have died. Those who have been affected and their families are only some of the victims of the pandemic that Trump has failed to deal with. In addition, nearly 30 million people are unemployed as a result of the pandemic. Trump has lost support in counties that have been most heavily affected by the pandemic. All of these people have good cause to be concerned about what will happen if Trump succeeds in subverting the election. They may be more than willing to take mass action if they are convinced that Trump and his followers are overturning the will of the people.
· Other sectors:
o Professional associations
o Health care
o Law enforcement
o Political leaders
o Advocacy organizations
Specific Targets of Resistance
Nonviolent civil disobedience can be an effective response to action that threaten to subvert the election. It will call attention to these acts at the same time that it puts pressure on organizations to cease-and-desist. Here are some examples:
· Texas Gov. Abbott’s move to restrict each County to only one place where ballots can be returned. A peaceful sit-in of thousands at the State Capital in Austin would not only call attention to this suppression of voting, it would engender public support for opposition to this act.
· The Pennsylvania Legislature. If the legislature moves to overturn the majority vote for Biden, thousands of people will be needed to sit in and around the capital to PEACEFULLY disrupt such an effort.
· The offices of Facebook. If Facebook continues to allow posts that inaccurately claim that election fraud is occurring, their perfidy in helping subvert the election can be underscored by a PEACEFUL sit-in.
A Stop Trump Subversion Narrative
The first thing that is needed is a strong statement that alerts as many as possible to the danger of Trump subverting the election. He has already promoted a narrative among his followers that mail-in ballots will be fraudulent. This lays the groundwork for his seizing ballots and/or getting Republican controlled legislatures to overturn the popular vote and certify Trump electors for the electoral college.
We need millions of Americans to be expecting such moves so that they are easily mobilized to oppose them. If you agree that this is what we need, email me at Tony@biglan.org and help me craft such a statement and get it out through social media.