What Happens Next
The Republic is Dead. How Will Trump Leave Office?
Donald Trump, improbably and illegitimately, is president of the United States. Despite being a criminal and a traitor who has — among other offenses — broken federal campaign finance law, violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause, conspired with a hostile power to influence the 2016 elections, and attempted to extort another foreign power to influence the 2020 election, Trump’s morally and intellectually bankrupt defenders found a way to acquit him of any wrongdoing despite mountains of evidence of his treasonous criminality.
This is the republic’s death knell.
The case against Donald Trump and the case for removing him from office are ironclad, even more so than many believe. After all, as cited above, Trump is not only guilty of extorting Ukraine to influence the 2020 elections, he is guilty of numerous criminal offenses — and even more ethical ones. There is quite literally nothing to recommend the man for the presidency and no fewer than a dozen reasons to remove him from office.
Yet tens of millions of Americans see Trump as a savior. It’s not simply that they support him, they have faith in him. Whether due to the manipulative influence of social media, their own situations and circumstance, the current of bigotry and ignorance that runs strong and proudly through much of America, or — most likely — a combination of these factors, Trump has amassed an army of brainwashed zealots who cling to each of his feebly transparent lies.
While a minority of Americans, they are more than numerous enough to effect the collapse of democracy. And they’re doing just that.
After his impeachment acquittal, Trump has been given carte blanche to do any and everything he can to stay in office. He cheated in 2016, and he was trying to cheat again in 2020. Now that he has been caught and faced no accountability, it is a certainty he will cheat again, likely even more brazenly. He’s already stooped lower than any president in history and been told it is okay, why wouldn’t he stoop lower?
Regardless of the outcome, the 2020 election will not be a fair one; the American people will not be alone in selecting the president, they will be joined by a host of foreign — likely nefarious — voices who aspire to America’s demise. The ultimate and most sacred component of representative government — the selection of the representatives — has been compromised, and the American people are no longer the sole arbiters of power in America’s national government.
So what happens next?
Regardless of who wins in November 2020, we know that the election will not have been a fair or valid one. This does not necessarily mean Trump will win, although he will certainly do everything possible to rig the result.
But what if Trump loses? Will he leave office? His own (former) lawyer, Michael Cohen, believes that were Trump to lose, there would not be a peaceful transition of power. This is too easy to believe as Trump’s legal and material well-being depend on his ability to maintain power. It is only because he controls the levers of power that Trump has avoided accountability. Were he not in control of those levers it is possible — no, likely — that he and others in his orbit, including his family, would be headed to prison and stripped of many of their assets.
Trump cannot leave office and hope or expect to maintain his brand or his livelihood, nor can he expect to return to his pre-presidential ways. The scrutiny is too high, the legal cases too real and threatening, the accumulated evidence too insurmountable to lead to anything other than his conviction in numerous cases, from which he is using the presidency to — at least temporarily — shield himself.
Those who think defeating Trump in the 2020 election will be or is the way to remove him from office are fooling themselves. Elections are a means to an end for Trump, and if they don’t deliver him the outcome he wants, he will dispute and ignore them. If he does win the election, things will be even worse. Trump will spend much of the next four years ensuring that there is no election, or at least no legitimate one, in 2024. He may aspire — as he has mentioned before — to be president for life. But if he loses Trump and his defenders will attempt to dispute and invalidate the results.
There are, then, only four ways in which Trump might leave office.
- He dies in office. Such an event would leave little room for Trump’s nefarious sycophants to manipulate the system for their own interests. Sure it might mean that Mike Pence — or whoever runs on Trump’s ticket in 2020 — becomes president, but that’s a small price to pay for saving the republic. Mike Pence is a bad man, but he does not aspire to dismantling democracy. With any luck the combination of fast food and apoplectic rage will be enough to conjure a heart attack or aneurism.
- He steps down with the guarantee of a pardon from whoever replaces him. This is unlikely as it requires that Trump acknowledge and admit to his own crimes, a staggering improbability from a man who sees himself as “the chosen one,” and describes a phone call in which he extorted a foreign leader as “perfect.” It’s also the case that some of Trump’s crimes were committed at, and are therefore being investigated at, the state level where a pardon is inapplicable and therefore meaningless. Finally, of course, there is the fact that no autocrat wants to give up power. It is therefore incredibly unlikely that this scenario unfolds.
- He is removed from office by the military or the secret service. I have no idea how plausible this is, but it’s not far-fetched. The military swears allegiance to protect the constitution and the country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. There is no greater threat than Trump, so if he refuses to step down after a 2020 loss or tries to manipulate the system to run for a third term in 2024, would the military intervene? I can only hope so.
- We, the people, take to the streets. This is what it will take, but is it possible? In our diverse and fragmented society can and will enough of us protest so vociferously as to force Trump to step down? It seems doubtful, and the obvious corruption and criminality Trump transparently displays isn’t enough to motivate us, what is? We should — I should — be in the streets protesting already. But we’re not. It’s far easier for me to write this article instead. We the people have lives to live, and so while Trump spends taxpayer money on flights to resorts and to rig elections, we must work for a living, take care of family members, go about a day-to-day. The necessities of existence have always forced people to tolerate more than they should rather than acting before the injustices multiplied, and the elites have always taken advantage of this to pursue their own interests. We are no different, and if we won’t hold the president accountable for extortion and treason then he will attempt to manipulate the 2020 elections and consolidate power in a way that ultimately destroys American democracy. Will we organize? Will we demand an end to naked lawlessness before it destroys the rule of law? And of course even if we do, how will the tens of millions of Americans who have embraced this charlatan react? How will they rally to his defense and what will be the implications?
It is laughable to believe the 2020 election will be legitimate. Trump will do everything in his power to manipulate it, and because there is no accountability, it isn’t impossible that his democratic rival(s) follow suit. Michael Bloomberg, for example, certainly has enough money to bribe and extort powerful people. Would he do that? I’d like to think not; certainly, unlike Trump, he’s no sociopath. But if there is no accountability for Trump why would there be for Bloomberg? And since Russia has shown that much of America has an appetite for fear and misinformation it exports, what will the implications be when China, Iran, North Korea, and whoever else also throw their disruptive and antagonistic voices into the national discourse? There is no plan to prevent this. Indeed Trump and his defenders are enabling the actors arrayed to destroy the democracy Trump’s defenders pretend to love. They must if Trump is to stay in power.
Trump has already taken the nation into unprecedented territory with his criminal behavior, and the response to it — far from proving that no crime happened — only licenses more and worse criminal behavior. Norms have already been shattered, lines have already been crossed, institutions meant to protect representative government have already failed as bulwarks against tyranny.
Michael Cohen tried to tell us: there won’t be a peaceful transition of power. Then Michael Cohen went to jail. For lying. On behalf of Trump.
This is where we have been, this is where we are, this is where we are going. The republic is dead. We’ll see what happens next.