The newly unleashed federal police force entered the Portland, Ore., area on Sept. 3 and assassinated anti-fascist activist and Black Lives Matter supporter Michael Reinoehl. Attorney General William Barr triumphantly announced: “Agitator removed.”
In the U.S., we’ve been told, one of the marks of democracy is that there is no national police force. The only police are employed by state and local governments, not the federal government. That excludes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which claims it is not a national police force because it is confined to enforcing violations of federal laws, while most laws in the U.S. are state laws.
However, since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, established after 9/11 under President George W. Bush, federal security forces often wear uniforms that identify them as “police.” These are the secret, unidentified federal police being used against the people of major working-class cities where Black Lives Matter protests have been ongoing since the Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
Could Trump use these paramilitary forces to stage a coup d’etat if he loses the Nov. 3 presidential elections?
Trump has hinted that he might do that. When asked by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace whether he would accept the results of the presidential election, Trump answered: “It depends. I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election.”
Pressed on whether he will accept the results of the November election, Trump responded, “I have to see.”
After the November 2016 election, when he lost the popular vote by almost three million votes to Hillary Clinton, Trump insisted that he had really won the popular vote and that Clinton only appeared to win because “unauthorized” immigrants had voted. Factcheck.org says there is no “evidence of wrongdoing, and numerous studies have found such voter fraud is virtually nonexistent.”
Trump’s current election strategy counts on a turnout of “populist” racist voters combined with extensive voter suppression to ensure his reelection in the Electoral College. The Electoral College is an undemocratic institution that was created to ensure the dominance of the slaveholders in the U.S. and continues to do something like that today. (See “The Electoral College’s Racist Origins,” The Atlantic, Nov. 17, 2019)
The state and the president
In “The State and Revolution,” the Russian revolutionary leader and Marxist political theorist Vladimir Lenin wrote that the capitalist state is an institution of organized violence that is used by the ruling class of a country to maintain its rule. “State power,” Lenin said, is rooted in “special bodies of armed men having prisons, etc., at their command.”
The capitalist state machine is the legislative bodies, the prisons, the standing armies, National Guard and state militias, police and the government agencies. This is not the ruling class, but the instruments used by the capitalist class to maintain its rule.
Throughout the history of the state — from ancient slave states to medieval monarchies to bourgeois republics — there has been a tendency to personify the state power in the personality of an individual. In monarchies, it was claimed that the king was the living god on earth. In Japan, the emperor was considered a god right down to the defeat of the Empire of Japan in 1945. In current times, a president or to a lesser extent the prime minister personifies the state.
In the U.S., it is the president who is chief of state and personifies state power. The president personifies the state as the leader elected in a democratic election. However, in the U.S., which is a republic but not a democracy, no president has ever been directly elected by popular vote. Instead, the president is chosen by the Electoral College.
U.S. presidential elections are, by design, complicated procedures. The presidency is a national position, but the elections are organized by the individual states. According to current law and the Constitution as amended, all U.S. citizens who have reached the age of 18 and who have not been convicted of a felony — the exact rules vary state by state — are eligible to vote for the presidential electors on Nov. 3, 2020.
These electors form the Electoral College and are sworn to vote for a specific presidential candidate, with variations among the states as to how this is exactly decided. After the election, the electors will assemble on Dec. 14, 2020. That’s the Electoral College and the electors are expected, but not constitutionally bound, to vote for the candidates they represent. The electors cast ballots and pick a president. Immediately after this vote, the Electoral College is dissolved.
Finally, the Electoral College results are reported to Congress, where the Electoral College votes are to be counted and certified at a joint session on Jan. 6, 2021. That is when the victorious candidate formally becomes the president-elect.
That’s the law. But there are also unofficial election rules.
One unofficial rule is that only a Democrat or a Republican can be president. The laws protect the status of the two parties as official, putting them automatically on every ballot and restricting or prohibiting any other parties. This limit on parties in the U.S. makes it the least diverse of all the major capitalist countries, where normally, there are many political parties.
Hillary Clinton told to concede before results were known
Another unofficial rule is that the losing candidate in the presidential election, whether Democrat or Republican, is expected to concede as soon as possible to the victorious candidate. This is expected to occur on election night, when the TV networks “call” the election based on computer predictions of the results.
This occurs weeks before the Electoral College formally elects the president and two months before Congress certifies the result. Usually, the actual election of the president by the Electoral College is barely mentioned in the media.
In 2016, when it was predicted that Trump would carry the Electoral College, President Barack Obama called Hillary Clinton and demanded she concede the election to Donald Trump. “You need to concede,” Obama told Clinton early on election night.
Since Clinton was widely expected to win, there was some concern that she might resist or at least postpone conceding. This could have sparked a broader movement to keep Trump out of the White House, perhaps because he had lost the popular vote.
When Obama called Clinton demanding that she concede, the result of the popular vote wasn’t known. But at 1:30 a.m., the TV networks were predicting that Trump had won the Electoral College vote. Under the U.S. electoral system, that’s all that matters. It turned out that Clinton had gotten almost three million more votes than Trump. But the electors are chosen not on a national but a state basis, and on this basis, electors pledged to Trump were in the majority.
In theory, Clinton could have demanded that the GOP-majority Electoral College bow to the popular vote, which showed that the majority did not want the racist far-right Trump to be president. Also, the popular vote was extremely close in three states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — where Trump had won by extremely narrow margins and preelection polls had indicated that Clinton would prevail.
There was also the problem of widespread suppression of the Black vote. Racist voter suppression was restored by the Supreme Court in a 2013 decision that voided much of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was the first time that “one person, one vote” was made law in the U.S.
Clinton could have demanded recounts in these states, but didn’t. Jill Stein of the Green Party demanded recounts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin and raised more than $7 million to fund it, but ultimately, the effort was blocked by the courts.
However, Obama and the Democratic Party rejected such a challenge from the very beginning. Within a few hours, Clinton had already bowed to the overwhelming pressure and conceded the election to Trump. The media began to refer to Trump as the “president-elect,” though from a legal point of view he was not yet the president-elect. This killed any attempt to challenge Trump’s right to assume office, which he had no democratic claim to.
But the U.S. Constitution was written by and for slaveholders. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Constitution and its many undemocratic features legalized slavery. At the time, there was no bourgeois democracy anywhere in the world and there were no plans for democracy. In the Federalist Papers, democracy was dismissed as mob rule — the mob being poor people and farmers — and slaves were dismissed as property, not people.
Trump had the slaveholders’ Constitution behind him in his claim to the presidency.
What will Trump do?
So far in the election campaign, there have been few if any differences in domestic and foreign policy between Trump and the extremely conservative Joe Biden. It seems improbable that Trump could find enough support to end more than 230 years of uninterrupted constitutional rule. It is this long period that gives the U.S. government its legitimacy.
The ruling U.S. capitalist class, dominated by the billionaires for Trump, may not support an open Trump coup, which would also put an end to the government’s legitimacy. After all, Biden wouldn’t be a real change. Biden’s primary campaign promises are to avoid Trump’s extreme racist rhetoric at home while continuing to target U.S. “enemies” such as China, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and Zimbabwe. The essence of U.S. imperialism and its policies would remain unchanged.
However, Trump could get support for stealing the election as long as a pretext for constitutional rule is maintained. Indeed, this is an old tradition in the U.S. Tammany Hall, the corrupt Democratic machine that dominated New York City politics from the early 19th century until the 1960s, was notorious for the slogan, “Vote early and vote often.” Chicago, also home of a corrupt Democratic machine, was infamous for its “Chicago Methods” of stealing elections.
It is widely believed that John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960 only because the Chicago machine — Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Chicago Mob — managed to steal enough votes to swing the state of Illinois vote from Republican Richard Nixon to Democrat Kennedy.
Republican Nixon conceded the election of 1960 that Democrat John F. Kennedy had stolen from him, just as Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 conceded elections that were stolen from them.
For a hundred years, from the end of the Civil War until 1968, the “Jim Crow” system of apartheid in the U.S. was built in no small measure by election-stealing by the Democratic Party, achieved through the illegal and unconstitutional suppression of the Black vote.
There are many ways that U.S. elections are undemocratic compared to most capitalist countries. One way is that elections are held on a workday, not on a holiday or a weekend, as they are in all other countries. This makes it difficult if not impossible for most workers to vote.
Exhausted by work and not inspired by the candidates, most workers choose not to stand in line for hours to vote.
Voting by mail is safe and democratic
An attempt to overcome this limitation on voting has been the introduction of mail-in voting. Under this system, a ballot is mailed to eligible voters — either all voters or on request to individual voters. This way, voters have time to mark the ballot and then mail it in. They have more time to consider the issues and are less likely to make a mistake in marking the ballot.
This year, the still-rising COVID-19 pandemic means that if you stand in line to vote in a “booth” on Nov. 3, you will not only experience an inconvenience, you will be risking your life and the lives of your loved ones.
It appears that the majority of U.S. voters prefer Joe Biden as a “lesser evil” to the widely hated Donald Trump. They might be willing to go out of their way or vote after an exhausting working day to help get Trump out of the White House. But how many will be willing to risk their lives to do this? And of those who are willing to risk their own lives, how many are willing to risk the lives of family members if they catch COVID-19 while standing in line to vote?
The Republicans and Trump are betting that many potential Biden voters will not be willing to risk the lives of themselves and/or their loved ones simply to vote for Biden.
Trump, therefore, has made a special issue of opposing voting by mail. He claims that voting by mail enables widespread “fraud.” In reality, he means voting by people of color.
Trump threatened to sue the state of Nevada, whose legislature, now dominated by Democrats, has passed a vote-by-mail law. Trump even claims that if voting by mail is allowed, not a single Republican will ever again be elected to any office.
Though exaggerated, there is some truth in that. Under present U.S. political conditions where there is low socialist class consciousness in the working class, it has been a rule of thumb that if voter turnout is high the Democrat wins, and if it is low the Republican wins. Many elections are won by the Republicans because potential Democratic voters, though more numerous than Republican voters, are not inspired enough to bother to vote.
Trump has also stepped up his attack on the U.S. Postal Service with moves toward privatization. The attacks on the post office are significant because voting by mail is the only democratic and safe way to vote this year. Under the new postmaster-general, Trump appointee Louis DeJoy, mail deliveries have slowed considerably, according to the postal workers’ unions. Also, many mailboxes and mail-sorting machines have been removed.
While public outrage has forced DeJoy to promise not to remove any more mailboxes and sorting equipment, he has indicated he will not replace those that have already been removed. If there is widespread voting by mail despite the obstacles, reporting of the November election results will be delayed. This increases the chances that the results will be contested, especially if Trump loses.
That’s where Trump’s statements come in that he may not “accept the results” because they will be fake, especially if voting by mail is allowed. The results, Trump said, will “be rigged.” By “rigging,” Trump means more people who are legally entitled to vote are voting.
Who will concede?
The unofficial rule is that a presidential candidate becomes the “president-elect” when his or her opponent concedes. However, once the candidate does “concede,” it becomes hard to build a movement in the streets or elsewhere to contest a stolen election. Richard Nixon in 1960, Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 all put the stability of the state power ahead of the rules of democracy and the legalities that govern U.S. elections.
Trump hints that he will not concede the election even if the broadcast networks project Biden as the winner in the Electoral College. Instead, he may declare that the election was rigged.
Perhaps Trump will challenge the result in the courts, including the Supreme Court. Remember, the Republican-controlled Supreme Court reversed the results of the 2000 elections by handing the White House to defeated Republican candidate George W. Bush. Could they do so again in 2020?
If Trump does not concede, according to previous practice, the media will not declare Biden the “president-elect.” Then, Trump’s reactionary-racist base may rally in the streets, perhaps even in armed demonstrations, demanding the courts declare Trump the winner.
By allowing the elections of 2000 and 2016 to be stolen from them without a fight, the Democrats have made it much easier for Trump to steal the election in 2020.
Trump has good reason to believe that Biden would quickly concede the election to him if Trump has any pretext at all for claiming he won the Electoral College. If Biden concedes the election, the media will declare Trump “reelected,” and he will be sworn in for his second term as the unchallenged “legitimate” president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2021. If Biden doesn’t concede, it opens the possibility for a broad movement to “vote in the streets” and stop Trump from stealing the election.