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Winning: The Elephant in the Room

— August 10, 2020

Nobody is pretending that Trump will earn the popular vote, but the President has other plans for winning that we need to talk about.

Do you remember the story of Cincinnatus? According to Livy, when the Aequians threatened Rome and the government was unable to rise to the occasion, the Senate appointed Cincinnatus dictator. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a retired general living the peaceful farm life, left his plow in the field, said goodbye to his wife, and led the Romans to a united victory. After winning, though, he didn’t remain dictator for life; fifteen days later, humble Cincinnatus returned to his farm. The moral of the story, according to modern-day admirers who compare him to George Washington – and Donald Trump? Don’t follow people who crave power. Instead, trust the one who reluctantly leads, when he could have stayed on his farm (or in a golden New York tower), living the good life.

Cincinnatus may have been the very flower of civic virtue, but Trump, more like Nero, golfs while the country burns. Last week the United States surpassed five million cases of COVID-19 (and 165,000 deaths). While Dr. Anthony Fauci tries to guide the country through a pandemic, despite death threats and harassment, Trump obliviously shrugs it off, saying, “It’s going away, it will go away, things go away, absolutely…” Thousands of Americans dying?  “It is what it is.”  Economic recession, social unrest, political corruption and the ongoing environmental crisis join the lack of a national response to COVID-19, edging the USA closer to failed statehood every day. Meanwhile, the most the President can muster is a confused train wreck of an interview, making every issue about himself. Issues matter inasmuch as they make him “look bad.”  We are not winning.

However, winning seems to be on the President’s mind more than ever, and this is something we need to talk about.

Trump, though wildly unpopular outside of his devoted base, has repeatedly hinted that he might not leave next year if he loses in November. In order to avoid forcing the issue, though, the President appears to be using the power of his office to set the stage for a disputed election. Failing that, at least a result that leaves half the country up in arms against the other half. The President is not subtle, and it’s possible to follow his actions like a trail of bread crumbs into the wilderness.

First, he’s doubling down on the culture war. Few people expect him to earn the popular vote, so winning must come in the form of an electoral college formality. To this end, he’s stoking what remains of his base, building fear so he can rush in and save them from The Other, whether they are supposed anarchists, Antifa, immigrants, mask advocates, or the diverse faces of the American melting pot. This is why we saw “Law and Order” Trump flex federal muscle in Portland recently, although how anyone can think the famously legal-beleaguered, tax-hiding, hush-money President represents law and order is a faith-based mystery. Creating the crisis and then providing the solution, however, is a classic, winning marketing scheme.

Second, he’s slowing mail service even as people are voting by mail in historic numbers due to the pandemic. Trump recently appointed Louis DeJoy to Postmaster General, and he’s already set policies that cut overtime and leave mail undelivered for days. DeJoy is a major campaign contributor who, together with his wife (ambassador-nominee to Canada, Aldona Wos), is a stakeholder in USPS competitors and contractors with assets valued between $30.1 and $75.3 million. Trump has also done his part to spread falsehoods that paint mail-in voting as unreliable, flipping and flopping based upon whether a particular state’s mailed ballots are likely to help or hinder his chances.

Third, he’s obscuring the extent to which foreign powers are meddling in the election process, and whether or not he’d take help if offered. Key members of Congress have been briefed, but they are unable to speak openly about classified information. Their necessarily vague reports are telling, though. According to the New York Times, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said in an interview, “The classified briefings have been absolutely chilling and frankly terrifying in the magnitude of foreign threat to our election security that we face. It really is a break-the-glass moment.”

Fourth, if he is able to delay, suppress, and manipulate enough that the election results go to the Supreme Court in a move similar to Bush v. Gore in 2000, well, that’s why we have a conservative Court now, isn’t it?

Whether his motivation for winning is to avoid indictment, to continue cashing in on the emoluments cash cow, or merely because his narcissism can’t handle the idea of being a loser, we should prepare for the eventuality of electoral chaos this November and into 2021. Trump winning again, by any means, would be a point of no return for the United States. That the country is treating his attacks on the electoral process as normal should be alarming.  Trump is no Cincinnatus who prefers to return to the good life after fixing the country.  He’s exactly the kind of power-seeker that we’ve been warned about.

Related: Standing Up and Facing Down Corruption


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