The Coming Civil War

Donald Trump Has No Intention of Losing

The profile of Mike Pence that I posted yesterday is the first of several I’m working on. There’s Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, and master strategist for dictators; Roger Stone, Trump’s strategic guru and perhaps the best known dirty tricks specialist in American politics; and Trump’s teams of policy advisors, who bely his populist and isolationist image. (Here’s a hint: He likes really, really rich people.) I’ll be posting all of those in the next few days.

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time dwelling on the people closest to Donald Trump, even though his campaign is trailing in the polls and seems to be swirling around the drain more closely with each day’s fresh headlines, because Donald Trump has no intention of losing. Losing is for losers. Donald Trump is no loser. He’ll tell you so himself.

Of course, no candidate sets out to lose. But that’s not what I mean.

Donald Trump has no intention of losing. No matter what the voters say. Is that clearer?

Let’s review. Trump has:

…Economic and foreign policy advisors at stark odds with the populist and isolationist image he has projected, and that he has explicitly named as part of his prospective cabinet – unusual at this stage of a campaign.

…A new campaign manager with decades of shadowy experience advising dictators, the most recent of which clung to power for years on the basis of strong-arm tactics and rigged elections.

…A chief strategist long exiled to the fever swamp of far right conspiracists, but best known for his expertise and zeal in “ratfuckery” dating back to Watergate, plumbers and CREEP days – dirty tricks that are meant to swing election results, or call them into doubt.

…A long and lucrative career built on fraud – promising one thing while planning to do something very different at the expense of the people supporting or enabling him. That career has taught Trump a core lesson: that his wealth and celebrity exempts him from the consequences associated with breaking any and all laws. Remember that bit about “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, and my followers wouldn’t care”? He genuinely believes it.

…Eschewed the usual staff and infrastructure associated with modern presidential campaigns, which have become massive undertakings. Instead, Trump has relied on a skeleton staff and few surrogatas, using personal appearances and free media to get his messages out. His fundraising lags far behind Clinton’s.

…Built an entire campaign on one emotion – hate – and repeatedly used and encouraged bullying tactics verbally, in social media, on television and in person at his rallies, to the point where comparisons to past fascist dictators have become a cliche.

…Explicitly encouraged armed followers to assassinate his opponent – and perhaps Supreme Court justices as well.

…Started implying that the election will be rigged, and its results illegitimate.

…An insatiable, megalomaniacal ego that seems compelled to respond to every perceived slight, no matter how trivial and no matter how badly it might damage him politically.

Political damage doesn’t much matter if you don’t plan to honor the results of elections. For that matter, raising and spending all that money to get votes is kind of pointless if you don’t care about votes, and being popular doesn’t matter if you have enough power to suppress dissent.

Trump has surrounded himself with people who are, in American politics, not very qualified to win a presidential election but uniquely qualified to try to nullify it.

This is not to say that Trump is planning to seize power and suspend the Constitution if Hillary Clinton wins the election. The whole charade may play out just like everyone expects, and then, having built his brand, Trump will launch a new network and sell bobblehead dolls of himself. Maybe.

But the man’s not stupid. And even though politicians, journalists, and ordinary people are fleeing from his bandwagon in droves, that still leave tens of millions of people willing to follow his lead. Within those circles, there are a lot of people who fancy themselves as heavily armed, and more than a few in recent years who have been publicly dabbling in secessionist and civil war rhetoric. They’re also geographically concentrated, especially in certain (not all) suburban and rural parts of the South and the plains states. Trump, as Birther-in-Chief, has spent several years now marinating himself in that environment.

Remember the yahoos last winter who took over a wildlife reserve station in southeastern Oregon because TYRANNY!!!11!!?? (Or something.) They hung on for a couple of months, while federal authorities hoped in vain that they’d get bored and go home. Even the conservative locals thought they were nuts.

What would happen when a man in love with his own cult of personality sets up a shadow government with his own appointees, claims the existing government is illegitimate and should be resisted, and encourages his tens of millions of fans to engage in that sort of amateur armed insurrection, based on paranoia and racial animus?

For example.

It is finally, slowly dawning on this country’s political and media establishment that this is not an ordinary election, decided by voters thoughtfully comparing two candidates on the issues. The usual recitations of false equivalence and both-siderism are, this year, a sick and preposterous joke. But because this country has had a remarkably blessed history over the past 150 years (for the white people, anyway), it’s hard to imagine that the smooth succession of power – the lowest bar separating democracies from non-democracies – might ever be threatened in this country.

With privilege comes a lack of imagination. Also, a certain obliviousness to the full range of human history. Including the long and rich human tradition of megalomaniacs inciting violence and trying to seize power. The United States is not so special that it is exempt from history or human nature.

Can anybody truly, plausibly doubt at this point that Donald Trump is capable of that sort of behavior?

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