Democratic lawmakers and progressives did not mince words Thursday regarding President Donald Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power after the election, warning that Trump—and Republicans who continue to enable and support him—are paving the road towards a fascist takeover that threatens the fabric of American democracy.
"How can you watch this and not see democracy being discarded for fascism?" Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) asked on Twitter after watching the president tell a reporter that he would "have to see what happens" in November as votes are counted in the general election.
How can you watch this and not see democracy being discarded for fascism? https://t.co/z7PMhBTPqa
— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) September 24, 2020
Pocan's warning was echoed by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.
"This is fascism, alive and well in the Republican Party," Castro wrote.
In one day, Trump refused a peaceful transition of power and urged the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice to hand him an election if the results are contested.
This is fascism, alive and well in the Republican Party. https://t.co/UZ5lGjtrnS
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) September 23, 2020
Other Democratic leaders and government watchdogs employed descriptors including "flat-out coup" and "autocracy" after Trump told the press that election officials should "get rid of the ballots" in order to "have a very peaceful...continuation" of his presidency.
"The president is openly and explicitly considering a coup to hold onto power," tweeted Public Citizen.
The president is openly and explicitly considering a coup to hold onto power. Make no mistake: Autocracy is at our doorstep.
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) September 24, 2020
If Trump is trying to bypass the election & work with GOP state legislatures to ignore electoral results that would be a flat-out coup. Make no mistake, our democracy is under grave threat – not from abroad but from the White House. https://t.co/sfSAPqAtcW
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) September 24, 2020
The president's statement to the press Wednesday evening followed the publication in The Atlantic of an article titled, "The Election That Could Break America," by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barton Gellman.
As Common Dreams reported, Gellman described a scenario in which, while questioning as he has for months the validity of mail-in ballots while they're counted in the days following November 3, the president could enact a "contingency plan"—reportedly already being discussed by his campaign and state Republican officials—in which Trump loyalists could be appointed as electors in battleground states where Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins the popular vote.
Taken together—the reported plot, Trump's statements acknowledging his desire to fill the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat in time for the election so a right-leaning high court can decide the election amid the so-called "hoax" of mail-in voting, and his comments at Wednesday's press briefing—these developments amount to a "five-alarm fire," wrote legal scholar Richard L. Hasen at Slate.
"I've never been more worried about American democracy than I am right now," wrote Hasen, noting that there are currently more than 250 coronavirus-related lawsuits filed in 45 states—creating legal uncertainty over the validity of mail-in voting despite the fact that millions of Americans, including Trump himself, have voted by mail for years, as the president's campaign tries to block the expanded use of mail-in ballots.
"We should not think of the litigation and the wild claims of voter fraud as separate from one another. Instead, they are part of a play to grab power if the election is close enough," wrote Hasen. "There are good legal arguments against a power grab, but if another body tries to overturn the will of the people in voting for president, there will be protests in the streets, with the potential for violence."
The key to avoiding chaos following Election Day, Hasen wrote, is a landslide victory for Biden.
"If we are lucky enough, the election will not be close, and we will avoid this election meltdown only to start panicking again in the run-up to 2024," he wrote. "But if it is close, all bets are off."
At Stand Up America, which has joined with Indivisible and other advocacy groups to form the Protect the Results initiative, press secretary Ryan Thomas noted that the president is making his current threats because he is "behind in the polls" and "desperate to cling to power."
"That's why progressives are turning out in record numbers to help elect Joe Biden in a landslide and working to ensure that every vote is counted," Thomas told Common Dreams. "We know that voting is not enough—and that we must be prepared to protect the results. That's why Stand Up America and Indivisible created a coalition of 90 organizations to meet the moment should Trump contest the valid results."
The Protect the Results coalition, which also includes Public Citizen, Common Cause, and MoveOn, says it will demand that every in-person and mail-in vote is counted, and will "show up to demand that the losing candidate put their ego aside and concede for the good of our country."
Political observers echoed Stand Up America's call on social media.
American democracy is in decay. But it’s high-functioning enough that Donald Trump will only be able to attempt his coup if the result is ambiguous. Make it unambiguous.
This is the opposite of a lost cause. You have power.
— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) September 24, 2020
It's simulaneously crucial to keep working for a Biden electoral victory and to prepare strategies for fighting a Trump attempt to steal the election.
— Angus Johnston (@studentactivism) September 24, 2020
"In practice, right now, most of us can do a lot more to make a Biden electoral win more likely than we can do [to] make a Trump coup less likely, so most of us should be putting most of our energy there," Johnston tweeted.
"Working to win the election AND working to stop the attempt to rig it are both necessary," he added.