Whatever the outcome of the US presidential election, Donald Trump will have left his mark. It means that if he is defeated by Joe Biden he’ll still have won. From the Supreme Court to the cultivating of far-right militias in the form of the Proud Boys, the effects of this won’t disappear simply because Biden defeats Trump at the ballot box.
What was borderline unthinkable has become possible during Trump’s tenure as president. And in the coming days and weeks we’ll see just how great America becomes with Trump’s finger on the extremist trigger.
Trump has become a figurehead for the homophobes, misogynists, and racists. He emboldened them and offered them succour. That’s not to say that the extremists didn’t find shelter under the Republican Party’s umbrella before Trump. They were provided with ample space. But what’s different is that Trump has had the power over the last four years to push ahead with an extremist agenda in a way that previously wasn’t possible.
Blame for this can partially be laid at the feet of Democrats such as Biden and Barrack Obama. Over the last few decades their party simply became the moderate wing of the Republican Party; it was just as happy doing deals with big business interests as their supposed opposites.
It was Obama who bailed out Wall Street. And it was also Obama who expanded the US drone warfare programme to such an extent that US citizens could be summarily obliterated without trial. What was acceptable in US politics and society shifted.
This is understood by left-wing activists in the US. For them, Biden represents the clichéd lesser evil at best. I was told that the former vice president is “uninspiring” and “condescending towards the working class”. Worse still, he offers “no alleviation of health care costs, minimum wage increases, or universal paid sick time”. Essentially, the working class and poor have been “forgotten” by Biden and the Democrats.
But none of this makes Trump or the coming days and weeks any less dangerous. He has openly said that his acceptance of the election results is contingent. He has called on far-right militia the Proud Boys to be on “stand by”. For all of its faults, of which there are many, the Democratic Party has not courted extremists in a way so blatant and shocking. Trump’s base consists of well-armed and well-trained far-right groups prepared to go to war if they don’t get the result they want on 3 November.
Last week dozens of Trump supporters appeared to try to force a Biden campaign tour bus off the road in Texas. In videos posted online, the bus can be seen surrounded by vehicles laden with US and Trump 2020 flags. Unsurprisingly, some of the Trump supporters were armed. Biden, nor his running mate Kamala Harris were on the bus at the time. But Texas Democrats nonetheless cancelled a scheduled event due to take place later the same day.
Trump’s reaction to video of the incident was telling. Taking to Twitter he declared “I LOVE TEXAS!”. The response of Texas Republicans has been similarly jaw-dropping in its casual approach to violence carried out in its name. Instead of answering a query from journalist Abby Livingston about the incident the group decided to attack the journalist instead. It wrote that Livingston was
attempt[ing] to portray conservatives as violent radicals, even though it is leftists from Antifa and BLM who have been assaulting, robbing, and looting fellow citizens and their property.
The groups’s chairman also added that the episode “is more fake news and propaganda”.
A history of violence
One incident might not mean much. But Trump and his supporters have a long history of inciting violence. As dangerous as this was in the past, we’re now dealing with an election in which the victor might not be known for days or even weeks. It offers extremists enthralled by Trump ample opportunity to attack anyone or anything to the left of the provocateur in chief.
It’s not that they’ve been waiting until now to act. The last few years have been replete with far-right violence in the US. What is different about now is that they believe they’re in the endgame. If Trump wins the proto-fascism of the last four years will mutate into full-blown fascism.
But Trump also doesn’t need to win. He has seemingly already told those close to him that he will declare victory if it seems like he is ahead. Regardless of Biden racing ahead as the numbers come in, Trump can just as easily declare that the election is “fixed” in Biden’s favour.
This is just one possible outcome. Polling data published by the New York Times has Biden well ahead in four decisive states. The hope of many appears to be that Biden’s lead is so decisive and the results such a landslide that his victory is assured as soon as the polls close.
But, essentially, all Trump has to do is create enough uncertainty to ensure that the result is disputed. And from there his base will do the rest as the country erupts into a level of violence that makes the last few years seem like a distant, pleasant memory. Full-blown civil war is a real possibility in this scenario.
Narcissists rarely care about the damage they bring about. They only care about one cause: Themselves. It’s easy to dismiss such people. But in the case of the US there happens to be a narcissist in the Oval Office. Surrounded by a coterie of sycophants, the future of the US — and likely a large part of the planet — will quickly become apparent after Tuesday. And all most of us can do is to wait and see.
Meanwhile, activists in the US are planning for what’s to come. There is an expectation that Trump will win. But on the other hand a Biden victory won’t radically improve things either. The differences between the respective parties of the men are too miniscule. It’s insisted to me that “Both are capitalist, imperialist parties”.
Instead, activists must use their energy “to agitate, educate, and organize”. And this must happen “no matter what the election outcome brings”.
Featured image via Flickr – Gage Skidmore