Last updated on February 10, 2021
“Democracy is not self-executing.” Trump manufactured numerous technicalities to make a long-shot work, and failed. He tried to fabricate a state of martial law via an inside job, as the Trump Defense Secretary disarmed DC National Guard prior to the 6 January insurrection.
Fortunately the proto-fascists in the mob were far too deluded by their conspiracy theories and feckless devotion to his Mango-ness, misreading how martial law gets declared with numerous states in play. We now know that several different plans were hatched, sharing a common goal of overturning an accurate election result.
Many bullets were dodged as a 45,000 swing state margin resisted an obsolete Electoral College and some lawfare antics, leaving only absurd interpretations and a weak attempt at institutional intimidation that implied a Vice Presidential assassination which at worst could have ensured a coup.
An ensemble of vain hopes permeated that White House. Was democracy saved by a combination of: the objections of the regular military, an inability to marshal federal forces to seize ballot boxes and voting machines in key states, and more critically, relying on the chaos of ineffective insurgent mobs even while weakening those police forces protecting the Capitol.
Democracy won in the end. The will of the people prevailed. But it’s crazy, in retrospect, that this is what it took to put on an election in the United States of America.
— Sandi Bachom (@sandibachom) February 6, 2021
Both sides would come to see it as a sort of implicit bargain–inspired by the summer’s massive, sometimes destructive racial-justice protests–in which the forces of labor came together with the forces of capital to keep the peace and oppose Trump’s assault on democracy.
The handshake between business and labor was just one component of a vast, cross-partisan campaign to protect the election–an extraordinary shadow effort dedicated not to winning the vote but to ensuring it would be free and fair, credible and uncorrupted. For more than a year, a loosely organized coalition of operatives scrambled to shore up America’s institutions as they came under simultaneous attack from a remorseless pandemic and an autocratically inclined President. Though much of this activity took place on the left, it was separate from the Biden campaign and crossed ideological lines, with crucial contributions by nonpartisan and conservative actors. The scenario the shadow campaigners were desperate to stop was not a Trump victory. It was an election so calamitous that no result could be discerned at all, a failure of the central act of democratic self-governance that has been a hallmark of America since its founding.
…Before the election, Trump plotted to block a legitimate vote count. And he spent the months following Nov. 3 trying to steal the election he’d lost–with lawsuits and conspiracy theories, pressure on state and local officials, and finally summoning his army of supporters to the Jan. 6 rally that ended in deadly violence at the Capitol.
The chief difference between the U.S. and countries that lost their grip on democracy… was that America’s decentralized election system couldn’t be rigged in one fell swoop. That presented an opportunity to shore it up.
— TIME (@TIME) February 6, 2021
In the end, nearly half the electorate cast ballots by mail in 2020, practically a revolution in how people vote. About a quarter voted early in person. Only a quarter of voters cast their ballots the traditional way: in person on Election Day.
It was his final attack on democracy, and once again, it failed. By standing down, the democracy campaigners outfoxed their foes. “We won by the skin of our teeth, honestly, and that’s an important point for folks to sit with,” says the Democracy Defense Coalition’s Peoples. “There’s an impulse for some to say voters decided and democracy won. But it’s a mistake to think that this election cycle was a show of strength for democracy. It shows how vulnerable democracy is.”
Trump, for his part, also seemed perplexed by Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne. But he was not entirely convinced the ideas Sidney Powell was presenting were insane.
He asked: You guys are offering me nothing. These guys are at least offering me a chance. They’re saying they have the evidence. Why not try this? The president seemed truly to believe the election was stolen, and his overriding sentiment was, let's give this a shot.
The words “martial law” were never spoken during the meeting, despite Michael Flynn having raised the idea in an appearance the previous day on Newsmax, a right-wing hive for election conspiracies.
But this was a distinction without much of a difference. What Flynn and Powell were proposing amounted to suspending normal laws and mobilizing the U.S. government to seize Dominion voting machines around the country.
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