The Warning Lights Are Still Flashing Red

It's the day after tomorrow, finally.

1. Loyalty Tests

Why is Donald Trump refusing to concede the election?

That’s the wrong question.

The right question is:

Why would Donald Trump concede the election? How would concession benefit him?

There are a few reasons why losing presidential candidates concede defeat:

  • They feel obligated to the truth.

  • They don’t want to damage their party’s future prospects.

  • They are patriots who want the best for America.

  • They have nothing to gain from refusing to concede.

None of these apply to Donald Trump. And the last bit is exactly the opposite: Trump has a great deal to gain in this moment. By refusing to concede he is binding the Republican party more tightly to himself and consolidating his hold on it—even though he will be out of power.

By refusing to concede, Trump is establishing yet another loyalty test for Republicans, yet another gangland initiation rite. And so far, Republicans are lining up to demonstrate just how loyal they can be.

Kevin McCarthy is now the second-highest ranking elected Republican and he is all-in on the idea that the election has been stolen:

Lindsey Graham is an old friend of Joe Biden’s and was one of the Republicans who could have helped his party move on from Donald Trump. He just won his reelection and has nothing to fear from voters for six years.

Tim Scott is “the future of the Republican party” and all he can do is dog-whistle and try to avoid saying anything that might be taken the wrong way by Trump supporters:

What’s happening here is that these Republicans are terrified of their own voters. (We talked about this on Friday.) But the effect of them lining up behind Trump is going to make it even harder for them to break from him in the future—because it is going to cement the belief among Republican voters that Trump was the real winner of the 2020 election.

Had elected Republicans come out and said what they actually believe, then it would have been Trump’s word against the entire world. He would have held on to a big chunk of his base—after all, it is a personality cult—but the median Republican voter might have been willing to accept reality and move on. If everyone from George W. Bush to your senator and local congressman was saying the election was fair and square, and the only people saying it was stolen were the Trump family and MAGA Parler, then a whole lot of these folks might have been willing to accept the truth.

Instead, the Vichy Republicans are making Trump more powerful and increasing his hold over their party. They’re getting more gang ink to mark their devotion.

In the next week or two someone is going to conduct a poll asking Republicans who they think won the 2020 presidential election. I’d probably set the line at 35 percent saying it was Trump.

And then I’d take the over.


2. What Comes Next?

First of all, there will be money raised. This email was blasted out from the Trump campaign on November 7 at 6:33 p.m.—just a couple hours before the president-elect gave his acceptance speech.

What is a “1000% offer” and how did it become “active”? Never mind that.

I’m more interested in what happens with a presidential transition if the apparatus of the federal government declines to authorize one?

Because that’s happening, right now. Here’s the Washington Post:

The administrator of the General Services Administration, the low-profile agency in charge of federal buildings, has a little-known role when a new president is elected: to sign paperwork officially turning over millions of dollars, as well as give access to government officials, office space in agencies and equipment authorized for the taxpayer-funded transition teams of the winner.

It amounts to a formal declaration by the federal government, outside of the media, of the winner of the presidential race.

But by Sunday evening, almost 36 hours after media outlets projected Biden as the winner, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy had written no such letter. And the Trump administration, in keeping with the president’s failure to concede the election, has no immediate plans to sign one. This could lead to the first transition delay in modern history, except in 2000, when the Supreme Court decided a recount dispute between Al Gore and George W. Bush in December.

And a few minutes ago the president fired the secretary of Defense—which can only serve to make the transition within the DoD harder. Raise your hand if you can remember any similar such firing by a lame-duck president?

I am not in the habit of agreeing with Ezra Klein on very many things, but he is exactly right about what is going on now and any attempt to see a way forward for the Republican party that does not take account of this is either foolish or naive:

The Trump’s administration’s current strategy is to go to court to try and get votes for Biden ruled illegitimate, and that strategy explicitly resists on Trump’s appointees honoring a debt the administration, at least, believes they owe. One of his legal advisers said, “We’re waiting for the United States Supreme Court — of which the President has nominated three justices — to step in and do something. And hopefully Amy Coney Barrett will come through.”

If that fails, and it will, Mark Levin, one of the nation’s most popular conservative radio hosts, is explicitly calling on Republican legislatures to reject the election results and seat Donald Trump as president anyway. After Twitter tagged the tweet as contested, Trump’s press secretary weighed in furiously on Levin’s behalf.

That this coup probably will not work — that it is being carried out farcically, erratically, ineffectively — does not mean it is not happening, or that it will not have consequences. Millions will believe Trump, will see the election as stolen. The Trump family’s Twitter feeds, and those of associated outlets and allies, are filled with allegations of fraud, and lies about the process (reporter Isaac Saul has been doing yeoman’s work tracking these arguments, and his thread is worth reading). It’s the construction of a confusing, but immersive, alternative reality in which the election has been stolen from Trump, and weak-kneed Republicans are letting the thieves escape.

This is, to borrow Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar’s framework, “an autocratic attempt.” That’s the stage in the transition toward autocracy in which the would-be autocrat is trying to sever his power from electoral check. If he’s successful, autocratic breakthrough follows, and then autocratic consolidation occurs. In this case, the would-be autocrat stands little chance of being successful. But he will not entirely fail, either. What Trump is trying to form is something akin to an autocracy-in-exile, an alternative America in which he is the rightful leader, and he — and the public he claims to represent — has been robbed of power by corrupt elites.

“Democracy works only when losers recognize that they have lost,” writes political scientist Henry Farrell. That will not happen here.

Members of the Trump family are explicitly, repeatedly, trying to make the acceptance of their conspiracies a litmus test for ambitious Republicans. And it is working. To read elected Republicans today — with a few notable exceptions, like Sen. Mitt Romney — is to read a careful, cowardly double-speak. Politician after politician is signaling, as Vice President Mike Pence did, solidarity with the president, while not quite endorsing his conspiracies. Of course every legal vote should be counted. Of course allegations of fraud should be addressed. But that is not what the president is demanding — he is demanding the votes against him be ruled illegal — and they know it. . . .

Even if Trump is rejected in this election, the Republican Party that protected and enabled him will not be. . . .

To say that America’s institutions did not wholly fail in the Trump era is not the same thing as saying they succeeded. They did not, and in particular, the Republican Party did not. It has failed dangerously, spectacularly. It has made clear that would-be autocrats have a path to power in the United States, and if they can walk far enough down that path, an entire political party will support them, and protect them. 

All of this is to say that we have avoided one catastrophe for our Republic, but are not yet out of danger.

Not by a long shot.


3. Life in Vegas

Amanda Fortini on what it’s like to live in Sin City:

It’s February in Las Vegas, and because I have managed to step on my glasses and break them, as I do at least once a year, I have gone to the LensCrafters at the Boulevard Mall, a faux deco artifact of midcentury Vegas that, like so many malls in America, is a mere husk of its former self. In a faculty meeting a few days earlier, I’d watched as one of my colleagues bent and manipulated a paper clip, then used it to refasten the left bow of his glasses, creating a tiny antenna at his temple. That’s not a look I’m after, so I am here, obsessively trying on frame after frame, as the young Iranian man who is helping me on this quiet Monday afternoon patiently nods or shakes his head: yes, yes; no, no, no.

I order two pairs. LensCrafters, the movie theater chain of eyeglasses, is always offering deals: half off a second set of frames, a supersize popcorn for fifty cents more. While I wait, I walk around the mall, a 1.2-million-square-foot monstrosity built on seventy-five acres, with a 31,000-square-foot SeaQuest aquarium and a 28,000-square-foot Goodwill.

Next door to LensCrafters, there’s a shop that sells gemstones, crystals, sage, and pink Himalayan salt lamps. The burning sage makes that end of the mall smell musky, animalistic—a strangely feral odor in this synthetic environment. Snaking its lazy way around the scuffed tile floor is an automated miniature train, the sort children might ride at the zoo, driven by an adult man dressed as a conductor; it toots loudly and gratingly at regular intervals. JCPenney and Macy’s and Dillard’s closed months and years ago, while Sears is limping along in its fire-sale days. At Foot Locker, I try on black-and-white Vans in an M. C. Escher print. At Hot Topic, I browse the cheap T-shirts printed with sayings like Keep Calm and Drink On and Practice Safe Hex. I eat a corn dog, fried and delicious, at a place called Hot Dog on a Stick. (I really do.) The atmosphere is depressing, in all its forced cheerfulness and precise evocation of the empty material promises of my ’80s-era youth.

I am almost three miles east of the Strip, but I could be anywhere, at any ailing mall in America. The only clues that I am in Las Vegas are a couple of clothing shops that carry items like six-inch Lucite stilettos and pearl-encrusted crop tops. And then, outside, a well-worn swimsuit someone has discarded on a pedestal near the entrance, where Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” blares. The swimsuit has a built-in corset-like bra, an exoskeleton of sorts—it could probably stand on its own—and it’s as if someone has left a part of her body behind. There’s no pool, I think. Who undressed here? Such odd Vegas-y details are everywhere in this city—the Elvis impersonator shopping in full-spangled regalia at my local health food store, the pink vibrator melting on Maryland Parkway in 110-degree heat—and I assume you eventually become blind to them, but after four years here, I still see them.

Read the whole thing.