Are We Living Under A Dictator? If So, Let’s Make It Brief. (Strike!)
Many of us hoped this would never happen. As of now, the time for voting is over, and the time for counting is on. But the President says: “We want all voting to stop.” … And why?
It’s not like we’ve been waiting for months. The last polling place hasn’t even been closed for twenty four hours. (Not even close.) It probably goes without saying, but neither candidate has 270 electoral votes. The worst case scenario is that we’ll know the results by the weekend, and yet, the President has now declared himself the winner. That’s not how this works. At all.
Trump falsely and prematurely claims election victory
Addressing an election party in the East Wing of the White House early Wednesday morning, President Trump falsely and…
How did we get here?
It’s a mess. Not just the election — the presidency. And what’s more; it’s not all Donald Trump’s fault. For many decades, we’ve been witnessing the swelling of presidential powers; in the same strokes, the decay of checks and balances. While this piecemeal shift has been slow, it’s been consequential.
We need to talk about “unitary executive theory”. There’s a brief clause in the U.S. Constitution that outlines what powers are vested in the President. Some interpreted this differently than others, and that sparked a tug of war between a “strong” and a “weak” executive branch; the latter is defended by another clause, which makes a cameo in the inauguration, stating that these powers be faithfully executed. In other words, not in bad faith.
The problem comes in the form of trivializing the other branches; doing that makes the President all-powerful. That’s not just unitary. That’s autocracy. Checks and balances (in the form of vetoes, overrides, impeachment, etc.) prevent one branch from wielding singular power.
On the 18th of December, 2019, one of those was explored; after learning that the President had withheld military aid from Ukraine and solicited their interference in this very election, the House began impeachment. (And many people learned a new phrase: quid pro quo). It was brought to a hard stop by the Senate, who failed to indict, solidifying under a show of party loyalty.
Thwarting the impeachment, the Senate made their decision; further expand the powers of a unitary executive. And that was not merely in the light of soliciting election tampering, but also repeated violations of the Emoluments Clause, and obstruction of justice. These aren’t the only cases of misconduct, and some people are (thankfully) keeping track.
Okay, sure. But is he a dictator?
That’s a fair question. A lot of people criticize the President; taking a verbal beating is part of the job. That’s how things roll when you’ve got a free press. As you’re living in the White House, you take it in stride — and those who’ve held the office in the past have been in agreement on it; even Barack Obama and George W. Bush. And both were called nasty things. (Here, and here.)
We’ve got a “boy who cried wolf” thing going on. If you say it, over and over, the word loses its meaning. It’s kind of like Godwin’s Law; the word “Nazi” is almost inevitable during an online argument (at least the longer it goes on).
“If you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.” — Andy Warhol
Okay, so. Was he a dictator after losing the popular vote? No, absolutely not. And he wasn’t one after the executive ban on travel. (… Which one? Exactly.) He wasn’t one after saying he wielded total authority — granted, that was still pretty close. Or after firing off his cabinet (again, and again, and again). Not even after all of those detention camps on the Mexican border.
But if that’s the case, when did he earn those stripes? Why make a headline calling him a “dictator” if he hasn’t actually been one? Because he wasn’t one until now. The devil is in the details; we need to talk about the “self-coup”.
A self-coup (or autocoup, from the Spanish autogolpe) is a form of putsch or coup d'état in which a nation's leader…
So, really. What is a “self-coup”? It’s a process. The leader assumes power via legal means. They quash the other branches’ checks and balances. They self-appoint their own extraordinary power. And after that? You’ve got a dictator. In the past, a country’s parliament or congress has willingly surrendered its ability to check and balance their executive. It doesn’t require gunpoint.
Most are willing to admit, the President’s behavior is concerning. Especially when he’s sewing mistrust and anger toward counting ballots. And that should be the most uncontroversial thing ever — and yet, here we are. But that’s not the crux of it; when he told his supporters “Frankly, we did win this election”, everything changed. And it’s not just because they’re going to hold onto that (even if that, by itself, is worrisome). It’s because he didn’t win.
Nobody gets to “hereby” claim the election, or a commonwealth, or a state. We have a democratic process; ballots are counted, and a winner is declared. That’s how it’s been since 1789, and that winning streak for the Constitution has just been tarnished. A lot of unfathomable things have happened in 2020. One of them is that we’re living under a dictatorship. What’s up to everyone is how long it lasts; two months, maybe four years — or worse.
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Now, look — here’s the deal.
As of today, we’re in a jam. We have a President stepping on the toes of the states, the voters, and the electoral college — in trying to nullify all of it, he claimed a false and uncorroborated victory. And not to everyone’s surprise, the U.S. Supreme Court is looking to get involved. One of the justices has already weighed in on this issue (days before it even happened).
But there’s plenty to be done. When there’s a coup d’état, you don’t have time to beat around the bushes — you call it what it is. And then it’s about the votes. It’s not just our right to keep counting, it’s our moral obligation.
“It’s not the voting that’s democracy; it’s the counting.” — Tom Stoppard
For a lot of people, this is utterly surreal. But the Overton window has had a long opportunity to shift; four years of moving the red line. Nearly half of this decade has pushed us toward gradual complacency, where one atrocity makes way for the next, leaving the last one less shocking and remarkable.
The Overton window is the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time. It is…
Now, if you can believe it, there’s been a playbook since September. In his analysis, Daniel Hunter offered the following:
1. Don’t expect results election night. (Check.)
Many mail-in ballots may not be counted until days or weeks after Election Day. Since Democrats are expected to use them more frequently than Republicans, voter tallies are expected to swing towards Democrats post-election night.
2. Do call it a coup. (Check.)
Language like “election tampering” or “voter suppression” signal deterioration of the democratic process. But if we get ourselves into a coup situation — like where Trump just won’t go — we need to help people help our country move into a psychic break. […] People who do power grabs always claim they’re doing it to save democracy or claim they know the “real” election results. So this doesn’t have to look like a military coup with one leader ordering the opposition to be arrested.
3. Know that coups have been stopped by regular folks.
Coups tend to fail when government institutions (like elections) are trusted, there is an active citizenry, and other nations are ready to become involved. […] The role of citizenry is crucial. That’s because during the period right after a coup attempt — when the new government is claiming it is the “real” government — all the institutions have to decide who to listen to.
4. Be ready to act quickly — and not alone.
It’s rare for any country’s leader to publicly admit they might not respect the results of an election. There’s some good news in that — because people who stop coups rarely have the chance to get training, warning or preparation. In that way, we’re ahead of the game. […] To start preparing, talk to at least five people who would go into the streets with you — the safest way to take to the streets is with people you know and trust. Talk to people you know in civil service and various roles about how they could non-comply with coup attempts.
5. Focus on widely shared democratic values.
In Argentina in 1987, a coup got started when an Air Force major, resenting attempts to democratize the military and bring it under civilian control, organized hundreds of soldiers at his base. While the civilian government tried to quietly negotiate a settlement, people took to the streets. Against the government’s pleading, 500 regular citizens marched to the base with the slogan “Long live democracy! Argentina! Argentina!” They could have spent time attacking the major. Instead, they were appealing to their fellow citizens to choose democracy.
6. Convince people not to freeze, or just go along.
Imagine that at your job a corrupt boss gets fired and a new one is brought in. Instead of leaving, your old boss says, “I’m still in charge. Do what I say.” A bunch of your co-workers say, “We only take orders from the old boss.” At that point, doubt arises. That doubt is how coups succeed. […] In all the research on preventing coups, there’s one common theme: people stop doing what the coup plotters tell them to do.
7. Commit to law, stability, and nonviolence.
Stopping a coup is dependent on the size of mobilizations and winning over the center. It is really a fight for legitimacy. Which voice is legitimate? Some people will have already made up their minds. The aim, then, is convincing those who are uncertain — which may be a more surprising number than you expect. […] To swing them to our side, that uncertain center has to be convinced that “we” represent stability and “the coup plotters” represent hostility to the democratic norms of elections and voting.
10 things you need to know to stop a coup
While keeping people focused on a strong, robust election process is a must, we also need to prepare for a coup.
It’s not all bad news. Unions have had plans for weeks; the idea was that if the President did what he’s doing now, there would be general strikes. Not only are we entitled to the sweat of our brow, we’re entitled to withhold it. If push comes to shove, don’t let a new dictator impose new rules and laws on you — we have a Constitution. We have every law passed until now. Anything done to inflict fear and obedience should be ignored.
What if that doesn’t fix it?
Let’s brace for a scenario where the U.S. Supreme Court gets involved. If that happens (again), it’s not time to give up. There’s also a scenario where this is left in the hands of Congress; for that, the House chooses the President, while the Senate decides the Vice President. (That’s if there’s a tie.) It’s admittedly pretty weird, but unlike the former scenario, it’s actually fair.
In the insufferable event that all the votes aren’t counted, and things don’t bode well, the greatest quality of a general strike is that it can be sustained — and the longer it lasts, the harder it hits. But what if it’s still not enough?
2020 U.S. Senate election results
Results may take longer this year in some states due to increased mail-in voting. View details LIVE: Party control of…
Right now, the Senate race is close. While Democrats have 45 seats in the bag, the Republicans do as well. If the majority shifts blue, then we’ve earned ourselves an extra option. You guessed it. We can do another impeachment; the Constitution is our greatest defense against an autocrat, very much like the Declaration of Independence was over two hundred years ago.
“Democracy is when the people keep a government in check.” — Aung San Suu Kyi
We shouldn’t need to go that far. That being said, it’s time for us to stand up for what’s right; to insist that democracy has a voice. Not only do we have an advantage in that the day is young, we’ve had time to prepare. For this to be a dark hour in our history, and not a dark future, protest is a powerful tool. Our anthem is “keep counting”; if you believe in it, prepare to join the cause.