Not long before the 2020 election, journalist and scholar Barton Gellman laid out in an epic Atlantic magazine piece the possibility that Donald Trump would never concede that he had lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden (“It’s not in him,” Gellman wrote), nor cooperate with a peaceful transfer of power.
(That article, published two months before Election Day 2020, was titled “The Election That Could Break America,” and can be accessed here.) It was shocking at the time (I wrote about it here), but it turned out to be prescient.
That was yesteryear.
Yesterday, Gellman dropped the other shoe online, with a piece that will also arrive in the January issue for those with print subscriptions to the Atlantic. The article is headlined: “TRUMP’S NEXT COUP HAS ALREADY BEGUN,” and its subhead reads:
“January 6 was practice. Donald Trump’s GOP is much better positioned to subvert the next election.”
The first two paragraphs paragraph read:
Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.
The prospect of this democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already.
If his predictions seemed slightly far-fetched last time until they turned out to be remarkably prescient, Gellman deserves to be taken seriously this time. I’m not completely convinced, but I’m plenty worried.
If you have been paying attention to the news, you already know that Trump and his supporters and enablers are working to change the laws and the rules to tilt and more-than-tilt the odds in his favor for 2024, at least in states under Republican control.
In the new Atlantic piece, Gellman states with great confidence things like:
Trump has built the first American mass political movement in the past century that is ready to fight by any means necessary, including bloodshed, for its cause.
And he quotes Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine specializing in election law whom Gellman said always used to caution him against hyperbole but in their most recent conversation said:
The democratic emergency is already here… We face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024… but urgent action is not happening.
As soon as you are convinced you need to read this piece, stop reading this overview and go to the full piece, which can be accessed via this link. (I’m not sure whether it’s available to non-subscribers. I’ll warn you that the piece is very long and covers both the 2020 record and the 2024 possibilities from a lot of angles.)
Gellman notes a poll from June of 2021 in which just eight percent of all respondents “agreed that Biden was illegitimate and that violence was justified to restore Trump to the White House.”
That’s somewhat reassuring.
In what might be viewed as hyperbole, Gellman refers to those eight percent as “committed insurrectionists,” and notes that, applied to the whole population, they could be termed 21 million “committed insurrectionists.”
Two-thirds of those who gave that response, told the same pollster that they believed that “African American people or Hispanic people in our country will eventually have more rights than whites.”
Since I’m an Atlantic subscriber, I’m not sure whether non-subscribers can access the full piece, but here’s another shot at the link.