Perspective 59. January 6: Just a Rehearsal?
Donald Trump's effort to block certification of presidential electoral votes on January 6 failed. But is it possible that he has a better chance to succeed in subverting the election in 2024?
Yes. As detailed by Barton Gellman in the Atlantic Monthly, and elsewhere, Trump and his allies have figured out why the attempted coup failed and are moving to remove these roadblocks in the future. They represent the greatest threat to U.S. democracy in the last century.
In perspective: Trump is calling the shots in the Republican Party and will be the party's candidate in 2024 if his health holds. Even Republicans whom he has publicly abused are lining up to kiss his ring. Those few who resist his coronation are being purged from the ranks. An amazing 68 percent of Republicans, in a November poll, subscribed to the fable that the 2020 election was stolen.
This creates the basis for the most serious anti-democratic mass movement in modern American history. A June poll by University of Chicago researchers showed 8 percent of American adults willing to use force to restore Trump to the White House -- a potential army of 21 million. A survey by another reputable organization, in November, found that fully 12 percent (over 31 million) felt that "true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country."
Robert Pape, director of the Chicago study, points to alarming parallels to Serbia before the civil war instigated by Slobodan Milosevic, or to Northern Ireland on the eve of the Time of Troubles.
Analysis of the Jan. 6 rioters showed that they were older, more middle-class, and less rural than the typical extremist profile. They came disproportionately from regions where the white share of the population was declining, exposing the racist roots of Trumpism as a mass movement.
The plan, however, is not civil war, but rather a legislative putsch made possible by Republican control of key state legislatures. The vulnerable point is the simple Constitutional provision that states appoint presidential electors "in such Manner as the legislature thereof may direct."
This opens the door to throwing out election results. But in 2020 the results were certified in all states before the Trump machine geared up to act, and there is no recognized procedure for decertifying results once submitted to Congress.
The Trump team tried to give state legislatures more time to decertify their returns by delaying the Jan. 6 proceedings. That was apparently the motive of those who instigated the invasion of the Capitol, according to some testimony. We should know more about this when the House committee completes its investigation.
There were signs that the strategy might have worked, given time. For example, Republican leaders in the Pennsylvania Senate sent a letter saying that Biden's victory in that state "should not have been certified by our Secretary of State."
Little noticed at the time was a motion filed with Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito as justice of the Fifth Circuit. The motion would have backed up the strategy of delay by compelling Vice President Pence to take charge -- and presumably block -- certification in Congress.
Neither Alito nor Pence went along with the gag. Clearly waiting until Jan. 6 was a mistake for Trump's legions. They next time they would have to prevent states from certifying unwelcome results in the first place.
First on the agenda was to get rid of state officials who had certified these results, or take away their authority. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, and other uncooperative Republicans have been pilloried and primaried by Trump acolytes, or their powers reduced. The Trump-endorsed candidate against Ducey says flatly that she would not have certified Biden's victory.
Numerous local election officials are being harassed into retirement with Trump loyalists taking their place.
State legislatures in at least 16 states are considering bills giving the legislature power to oversee and/or overturn official returns, and even select their own electors.
Would this stand up in court? Based on the wording of the Constitution, conservative jurists assert an "independent state legislature" doctrine that would allow legislatures to control the selection of electors as they see fit.
In Bush v. Gore (2000), the Supreme Court ruled that a state "can take back the power to appoint electors." Four of the current Justices on the court have expressed support for the doctrine.
As Gellman concludes, Trump might win a fair election in 2024 -- but he does not intend to take a chance the next time around.
A legislative putsch and a civil war are not mutually exclusive. Whether it is done by legislation, a civil war, or a combination of the two, a fascist take-over requires the destruction of the normal workings of capitalist democracy. If the GOP takes power in 2024, they will not accede to a peaceful transfer of power back to the liberal wing of the ruling class--no matter what the outcome of future elections. The fascist wing of the ruling class is now more than ready to call their armed social base into the streets (yes, Jan 6 WAS a dress rehearsal), but the liberal wing is terrified to do the same and will capitulate. That is the conundrum we now face. For more on this, see www.revcom.us.