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The Here and Now Dangers of 'Standing Down' and 'Standing By' for Donald Trump

Why we need nonviolent citizen action—not street fighting with the Proud Boys—to protect the election results and democracy.

Proud Boys march in support of President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, December 12, 2020. (Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Proud Boys march in support of President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, December 12, 2020. (Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Yesterday the Electoral College voted to officially designate Joe Biden as the President-Elect, in anticipation of his inauguration on January 20, 2021.

Yet Donald Trump is not finished trying to overturn the election. The New York Times reported on Sunday what has long been clear, that "Trump Insists Fight Is Not Over," and "Trump Allies Eye Long-Shot Election Reversal in Congress, Testing Pence." Indeed, within hours of yesterday's Electoral College decision, Stephen Miller notoriously declared that "alternate electors" will seek recognition by Congress on January 6. And Trump continued to insist the fight continues. Indeed, this very morning he re-tweeted a Breitbart feature titled: "Mo Brooks: 'Trump Won the Electoral College' — I Can Be a Part of the 'Surrender Caucus' or I Can Fight for Our Country."

"Now is the time for there to be serious, visible and audible, nationally-centered conversations about and preparations for a nonviolent mass mobilization designed to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to protecting the results and supporting constitutional democracy."Further quasi-legal methods of Trumpist obstruction remain to be tried.

But more concerning should be these headlines from a range of media outlets this past weekend:

The basic story being reported is clear: the pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" protests are intensifying, often led by Proud Boys and other violent groups; confrontations with counter-protesters are creating violent situations; and these confrontations are being provoked and indeed started by the protesters, who are taking to the streets to overthrow the election, and are being encouraged to do so by Alex Jones, Michael Flynn, and Trump himself.

As Trump tweeted Saturday, before taking to the skies in solidarity with his fascist mob: "Wow! Thousands of people forming in Washington (D.C.) for Stop the Steal. Didn't know about this, but I'll be seeing them! #MAGA."

All of this is predictable.

And all of it is dangerous.

It is dangerous because all violence is dangerous.

But it is also dangerous because as Trump's quasi-legal paths to overturning the election narrow, some more violent method becomes the only option. How likely it is that Trump will attempt to deploy massive repression, and attempt to forestall a peaceful transfer of power due to "national emergency," is an open question whose answer depends on how things unfold in the coming weeks. But can anyone doubt that this autocratic promoter of reactionary "Law and Order," who has already ordered such repressions on the streets of Washington D.C. and Portland, might well seize such an opportunity?

Radical friends and fellow citizens who oppose Trump on the streets—the Proud Boys want to fight you on the streets, and Trump wants you out fighting his supporters on the streets. Whatever the (arguable) merits of "self-defense," now is not the time to give these fascists what they want. We are still in a fight, to defend the results of a democratic election. And this requires intelligence and forbearance. 

As Sun Tzu noted a long time ago, "He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight."

If you support democracy, then now is especially not the time to fight, literally, on the streets, for such fighting can only furnish Trump with the repressive pretext he craves.

But now is the time to secure the results. Nonviolently. Democratically. In a way that can generate mass support. In a way that deprives Trump and his allies of the violence they desire, for reasons that are strategic but also existential and cruel—as is the wont of fascists.

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And so now is a time for all citizens committed to democracy to stand down from any kinds of confrontations or engagements with the fascists, and to stand by for the possibility of mass, nonviolent street demonstrations in every city across the country.

Back in August, I published a piece at Common Dreams that simply expanded on what many important groups and individuals were saying: "We Must Be Prepared to Nonviolently Defend a Democratic Election in the Streets." Back in September, leaders of Indivisible and Stand Up America announced the formation of Protect the Results, a coalition that includes a wide range of groups, from the Sunrise Movement and the Working Families Party to Common Cause, MoveOn, and Republicans for the Rule of Law. The coalition now includes well over a hundred groups across the nation, and in the wake of the November 3 election it has coordinated hundreds of rallies across the country. During the entire election season, many people have regarded Protect the Results as the central organizational node of a vast network of pro-democracy efforts.

Now is the time for Protect the Results to take its mission to the next level.

The last press release at their "media" link is dated November 5, and bears the headline "Protect The Results Coalition Remains Vigilant But Not Yet Launching National Mobilization As Millions of Votes Are Counted."

But a lot has changed since November 5. And it is important for this group to have a much stronger public presence and make a much clearer effort to explain its intentions. The group's website does allow for a search of "an event near you," and a search makes clear that a great many events are being planned across the country between now and January 20. But it is not clear how or even whether all of these efforts are connected, whether they are designed to maximize a single, powerful national message, and whether there is any plan for one or two single days of national mobilization.

The Indivisible site, for example, boldly announces "We Beat Trump, Now Let's Save Democracy." And it lists below many very important efforts, centered on winning the Senate—which is indeed very important. But it says nothing about Protect the Results plans, and indeed proceeds from a premise that should be rejected by all supporters and constituent members of Protect the Results: that "we beat Trump."  We did not "beat Trump." We won the November election. Now we need to protect the results of that election. How? No answers that I can discern are being offered by the main groups that have promised to lead the effort.

I am not a strategist or tactician of such things. The principal organizers of Protect the Results may have good reasons for proceeding in a more decentralized and disparate way.

But whatever the reasons, now is the time for there to be serious, visible and audible, nationally-centered conversations about and preparations for a nonviolent mass mobilization designed to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to protecting the results and supporting constitutional democracy. 

Trump's Stop the Steal activists seem to be resolute and at least somewhat organized.

Simply confronting them head on is a recipe for disaster.

But powerful, public demonstrations in support of democracy are something else entirely. Such demonstrations proactively exert the kind of counter-pressure that might well be needed to protect the November election results and to assure the removal from office of Trump next January 20.

What's the alternative beyond simply trusting that everything will turn out okay?

If not now, when?

Jeffrey C. Isaac

Jeffrey C. Isaac

Jeffrey C. Isaac is James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include: "Democracy in Dark Times"(1998); "The Poverty of Progressivism: The Future of American Democracy in a Time of Liberal Decline" (2003), and "Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion" (1994).

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