I asked Ornstein, not prone to histrionics, how real the threat to American democracy is, at 67 days from the election. “If we are not at Defcon 1, we are pretty close,” he said, referring to the label used by the United States armed forces for the highest level of threat.
Europeans know how this goes. Viktor Orban, the rightist Hungarian prime minister, has established a template for the authoritarian system Trump would pursue if re-elected: neutralize an independent judiciary, demonize immigrants, claim the “people’s will” overrides constitutional checks and balances, curtail a free media, exalt a mythologized national heroism, and ultimately, like Orban or Vladimir Putin or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, secure a form of autocratic rule that retains a veneer of democracy while skewing the contest sufficiently to ensure it can yield only one result.
In fact, of course, Trump has long since started down this road. He has Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department in his pocket. He is on course, as he boasted in his speech, to appoint more than 300 federal judges. He already has his sights on The Washington Post’s owner, Jeff Bezos.
He is working hard at voter suppression and attempts to disqualify legitimate votes. “Mail ballots, they cheat,” the president claims. Mail ballots are “substantially fraudulent.” Mail ballots “will be printed by foreign countries.”
What I tell you three times is true. Like saying over and over that a Biden victory will lead to destruction or that he has done more for African-Americans than any president since Lincoln. Trump is orchestrating mayhem to keep the job that is probably his only means of evading New York prosecutors and a jail sentence. Surveys suggest masked Democrats are far more likely than unmasked Republicans to vote by mail. Hence Trump’s drumbeat and the recent accelerated removal of postal sorting machines.
Officials close to Biden are looking at several ominous scenarios: Trump claiming victory before the votes in battleground states are fully counted — a count that could take many days or even weeks given the likely number of absentee ballots; Trump, supported by Barr, who has claimed that foreign governments have produced counterfeit mail ballots, refusing to concede and challenging the validity of the mail-in voting tally; some attempt by Trump to use the armed forces to help him win; Trump contesting the outcome in one or more states, so that neither Biden nor Trump has the needed 270 electoral votes and the election is determined by Republican-majority delegations with one vote per state.
Absent a Biden landslide, and I don’t see one, any of this could happen — and Europe will want to “contain” that America. Like Kissinger and Delattre, I am worried about China. But perhaps it is Xi’s move to eliminate presidential term limits and become emperor for life that concerns me most as a potential model for His Neediness.
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