The Worst Possible Endgame for Russian Interference in 2020

Gather round voters, and I will tell you the story of the end of representative democracy in America.

We all expect more foreign interference in this year’s elections, because the President has openly and actively courted it, almost since the day he took office. Those of us who pay attention expect a whole lot more interference than last time.

Pause the story. By itself, Trump’s failure to investigate and punish foreign election interference is an impeachable offense. If he had not done anything else to cause even the slightest hint of scandal in the past three years, if he had literally been a better president than Abraham Lincoln, he still should be impeached and removed for failing to protect the integrity of our elections. Even if he hadn’t repeatedly and explicitly encouraged further interference, he should still be impeached, simply for creating an environment where interference can thrive. That alone is an impeachable dereliction of duty for an American president. He’s not doing the job he was elected to do.

If this position strikes you as impossibly radical or partisan, you now have an indication of just how mortally American democracy has already been weakened, since the time we impeached a president merely for lying to keep his private life private.

Back on topic. The Russians are coming again, and other countries are coming along too, and they’ll all be a whole lot bolder and more sophisticated than last time. The 2020 elections are about to be a feeding frenzy for America’s enemies, and our 244-year democratic experiment is the sick whale struggling to come up for air.

So what’s the worst that could happen?

Remember that Putin’s goal in 2016 was not necessarily to elect Trump, according to our intelligence agencies. It was to cause chaos and weaken America’s democratic institutions. So what would cause the most chaos when we vote again in November?

Not another Facebook campaign; we’re hip to that scheme now. Whatever disinformation comes out between now and the election will be a distraction and a smokescreen. The real goal will be to give Trump plausible grounds for ignoring the results and keeping power by force when he loses.

Trump doesn’t particularly need an excuse to try, but there are still Republican lawmakers who would need an excuse to back his play. So here’s what Putin should do. He should focus all his efforts from now until the end of the summer on mobilizing Trump’s base and stirring up hatred, and he should drive Trump voters completely insane with the prospect of Democratic cheating at the polls. Then, in the last six weeks before Election Day, he should reverse course and throw all his resources into helping the Democratic candidate win.

The Democratic candidate is probably destined to win without Putin’s help, because Trump’s popularity hasn’t changed in either direction since the 2018 midterms. Trump caused Republicans to lose big in 2018 when he wasn’t even on the ballot — we can expect it to be worse when he actually is.

But when the Democratic candidate wins despite Putin’s interference, Trump will have an obvious case for invalidating the election results by executive order. He can point to Russian interference on behalf of the Democrat, and claim we need a new election. He doesn’t need an act of Congress to stay in power, nor any decision by the Supreme Court. He just needs to cancel the inauguration currently scheduled for January 20th, 2021.

He can do this, and he can get away with it. He can simply order the Secret Service to prevent any public demonstrations in Washington, D.C. on that day. He can declare a fake national emergency, the way he did when Congress wouldn’t give him money for a border wall. Wherever the Democrats try to organize their inauguration, he can prevent a public demonstration there. If Chief Justice Roberts tries to swear in a new President without Trump’s involvement, Trump could have him arrested for treason. Trump could have the new President-elect arrested too.

Raise your hand if you genuinely believe Trump would never falsely arrest someone to stay in power. If you genuinely believe there is anything Trump would not do to stay in power. The guy who seriously proposed building a moat with alligators in the desert, to keep refugees from requesting American asylum. The guy who built his entire real estate career on deals with the mafia.

Here’s the one thing Trump actually knows, which the rest of us still have not caught onto. When he breaks the law, it takes a VERY LONG TIME for the law to respond. Often the law doesn’t respond at all. But Trump can use illegal force to stop an inauguration from happening, and no one else can use illegal force to put it back on. Someone has to sue him in the courts, and the courts are the slowest justice there is. Often enough there’s no justice to be found there, as when Trump was sued for violating the Constitution by profiting from his office, and the courts threw out the case.

If Trump stops the next inauguration, it will take weeks or months for the case to go to the Supreme Court. He could easily win there. Raise your hand if you think Justice Roberts intends to be the last man standing between Trump and the first American dictatorship. The man who refused to step up to break a tie vote, as the presiding judge at Trump’s impeachment trial.

Roberts would not vote against Trump, but Neil Gorsuch might. He’s not an impartial judge, but he cares about the Constitution. But even if Trump were to lose at the Supreme Court, Trump would not give up. He would simply break the law again, and wait for the law to take its time responding.

The Supreme Court doesn’t command an army that could remove Trump, if Trump simply tells them no. Trump commands the only Army we have.

For Americans, the 2020 election is just politics. It may or may not be the most important election we’ll ever have, or the most pivotal moment in American history, or anything else you want to say about it. But it’s still just politics. For Trump, remaining in power is life and death. He will be prepared and willing to do things to defend himself that no one else will be willing to do in order to remove him, because he believes his life is over if he has to step down. We all know his crimes before he became President. The tax evasion alone would likely be enough to put him in prison until he dies.

For Trump, his life depends on a second term, and a third and a fourth. He will do everything that any of us would do if we were threatened at gunpoint, and truly believed we had to fight or die.

I’m not a political analyst, nor an intelligence operative. If some random writer with an imagination can ask a silly question and hit on the most devastating move Putin could possibly make without dropping a bomb, you better believe Putin and his full-time experts have already gamed it out years before now.

So what’s stopping this all from actually happening in less than nine months from now? If nothing is going to stop Trump, is there anything out there that we can seriously rely on to stop Putin?

May the best argument win. And let us shake hands when it’s done.

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