Americans may have to take to the streets.

Even conservative pundits like David Brooks have suggested there might be a need for “a sustained campaign of civil action” to preserve democracy in the event of a trump power grab. Sean Illing interviews Harvard political scientist and expert on nonviolent civil resistance Erica Chenoweth on Vox about how we might proceed. Chenoweth suggests there will be a mass mobilization of an unprecedented scale but the need to develop new strategies and plans. She mentions the need to focus on visible defectors from trump support and prominent Republicans, even those who had backed trump, who might oppose an illegal power grab. Business elites might be pivotal, and often opt for market stability supporting their own financial interests rather than a particular political philosophy. 

When to take to the streets is not clear but groups are already working to coordinate efforts and coalesce around a clear plan. Triggers might include trump insisting he was the victor before the vote count had been completed, or his refusal to step down after losing. The accuracy of public expectations about how soon we will know the winner of the election — probably not election night (NPR) — will have to be managed. 

Chenoweth says the success of resistance to an attempted coup by trump will depend not only on the size of the movement but how diverse and representational it is. It has to penetrate within trump’s pillars of support — civil servants, military leaders, business elements, religious authorities, etc.The movement will have to sustain resistance and disruption as repression escalates, including low-cost actions encouraging widespread support without necessarily asking people to demonstrate in the streets or otherwise take on high levels of risk, e.g. stay-at-home strikes. [Covid may make that easier. – ed.]

Preparations to avoid the movement’s devolution into disarray when attacked will be important, first and foremost training to maintain nonviolence in the face of the predictable violence of the repression. A violent response by activists would allow the regime to push a narrative about the need to protect the people from “criminals” and “terrorists,” often an effective trope. Violence against the state is favorable to the regime because it is fighting on their terms.

And in the case of the trump movement, the fight would not only be against the state apparatus but pro-government paramilitary militias. Essentially the US would likely devolve into civil war perpetuated by non state actors. Chenoweth talks about the value of buying time to prevent the escalation of violence against one’s community, as well as constant everyday forms of resistance against armed actors without meeting violence with violence. “There’s nothing inevitable about violence escalating in this country.” She emphasizes the importance of community, attending nonviolent direct action trainings., and connecting with affinity groups based on work, faith community, neighborhood or political party. Many groups are already organizing around the election aftermath. Realizing that in responding to the call to defend democracy and the Constitution one is among millions of others in the US and around the world will be essential. 

Of course, since trump is essentially a weakling and a coward, he might simply seize whatever financial assets he may and flee from the prospects of an unsuccessful coup to a country without an extradition treaty with the US. 


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