Donald Trump is plotting to overthrow American democracy. It is not a secret, and he is not subtle. The only question is whether enough people will care enough to stop it.
Trump is not hiding his intentions for a second term. Echoing Hitler’s rise to power, he has called his political enemies “vermin” and promised his supporters that, if elected, he would be their “retribution.”
Trump’s enablers have outlined a plan for him to replace tens of thousands of career civil servants with MAGA loyalists and to take personal control of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to prosecute his political rivals. He is almost certain to use an old law — the Insurrection Act — to convert the military into his personal domestic police force.
Since his power comes from a bottomless capacity to lie, he has contempt for the free press, which he calls the “enemy of the people.” He recently suggested that the government should censor or shut down media platforms he dislikes.
His most brazen attacks on democracy manifested in the aftermath of 2020. Since his loss to President Joe Biden, Trump has advocated for discarding lawful ballots, tampering with election certification and throwing out entire states’ results.
He supports voter intimidation and voter suppression, often with a racist dimension. Recently, he unveiled a new “guard the vote” strategy, urging his supporters to monitor the vote-counting process in blue cities like Atlanta, Detroit and Philadelphia. If Trump regains power, these abuses would just be the beginning.
Though state laws generally govern elections, Trump would assuredly use the federal government to seize voting machines and ballots. Anyone who thinks that a re-elected President Trump would not insist on controlling ballot counting and certification has simply not been paying attention.
Trump’s attack on the legal system would not be confined to spurious criminal prosecutions of others. He would also use it to personally benefit himself and his most violent supporters.
He would almost certainly pardon all the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. Worse, he would abuse his office to block his own criminal prosecutions.
Regardless of the law, he would immediately take steps to fire all the prosecutors in the two federal cases against him. Who would dare stop him? The DOJ and the military would become a weapon to end all four criminal cases in which he is a defendant, while initiating retaliatory criminal investigations against others
If all of this sounds terrifying, it is. If this sounds unrealistic, then you have learned little from history of how democracies are replaced by despotic regimes. Hitler did not come to power in a coup, but rather from democratic elections. The same is true with many of the authoritarians today.
Even if you doubt that this is correct, it is not a risk worth taking.
Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician, is responsible for the foundation of modern risk theory. In his famous “wager” he argues that even non believers should live a life as if God exists. If God does not exist, the downside of living a pious life is relatively small; but, if God does exist, the consequences of living a lavish life are infinitely bad. The lesson: measuring risk requires one to consider not only the likelihood that an event will occur but also the consequences if it does.
You may believe that the likelihood of Trump destroying democracy is low. You may think he will lose the election, or that our system of checks and balances will hold him back.
But what if you are wrong?
Pascal’s wager teaches that we must also consider the consequences of Trump abusing power and ending American democracy. Even if you consider the odds low, the consequences are what matter.
We are not powerless to stop Trump from being elected, but we must act now and with purpose. There is no guarantee we will succeed. It is possible that our constitutional system simply cannot handle a threat like Trump. It is possible that the divisions in this country are too deep to rally against him. But we need to try.
We need to begin by speaking honestly about the existential threat Trump poses to democracy. He is not a normal candidate. There are no both sides in this election. There can be no false equivalencies.
Trump will do anything to win in 2024 and the Republican Party will aid and abet him at every turn. To stay in the White House in 2020, Trump was prepared to denigrate voting and election officials, tamper with the vote counting, organize fake electors and file dozens of frivolous lawsuits. When that failed, he incited a violent insurrection and insisted that his congressional supporters continue to fight the certification.
Four years later, he has learned from his failures and his supporters are better organized, financed and disciplined. Most importantly, he is more desperate. With four criminal cases hanging over him, the stakes include his personal freedom. We can expect that in 2024 he will insist his supporters be more aggressive, more ruthless and more violent. We need to accept that he will literally do anything necessary to win this election.
We must be as aggressive in defending free and fair elections as Trump is in undermining them. We need to think imaginatively and creatively to combat misinformation, voter suppression, and election subversion. No gesture is too large or small, we must all pitch in.
Most importantly, we must vote. The only candidate who can defeat Donald Trump is President Joe Biden, who will be the nominee of the Democratic Party. A vote for No Labels, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West or any other third-party candidate is effectively a vote for Trump. Not voting is as well.
The task before us requires everything all at once with more resources and people than ever before. This will not be easy. In her 2020 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Vice President Kamala Harris summed up the era in which we still find ourselves.
“Years from now, this moment will have passed. And our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and ask us: Where were you when the stakes were so high?
They will ask us, what was it like?
And we will tell them. We will tell them, not just how we felt.
We will tell them what we did.“
What we must do is nothing less than protect democracy from Donald Trump.