On Wednesday The Atlantic rushed its November cover story onto the web with an explanatory, almost apocalyptic note by its editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, that some journalism is too important to wait. The article is about the very real chance — essentially confirmed hours later by Trump’s “continuation” comment — that he might contest the election in a manner that keeps him in power regardless of what Americans really want.
“The coronavirus pandemic, a reckless incumbent, a deluge of mail-in ballots, a vandalized Postal Service, a resurgent effort to suppress votes, and a trainload of lawsuits are bearing down on the nation’s creaky electoral machinery,” the article’s author, Barton Gellman, a Pulitzer winner, wrote. “The mechanisms of decision are at meaningful risk of breaking down. Close students of election law and procedure are warning that conditions are ripe for a constitutional crisis that would leave the nation without an authoritative result. We have no fail-safe against that calamity.”
Just a few days before those words screeched across the internet, The New Yorker published a similar, equally chilling opus by one of its star writers, Jeffrey Toobin, who explained how this election might well degenerate into violence, as Democratic poll watchers clash with Republican poll watchers, and into chaos, as accusations of foul play delay the certification of state vote counts.
Several hours after Gellman’s article appeared, Slate published one by Richard Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, with the headline: “I’ve Never Been More Worried About American Democracy Than I Am Right Now.”
Sometimes an overlap of alarms like that reflects groupthink. Sometimes it signals hysteria. This isn’t either of those times….
Those fires are burning hot, with dire implications for what happens after Nov. 3. Sizable camps of people in both parties don’t see any way that the other could win honestly and won’t regard the ensuing government as legitimate. Trump has essentially commanded his followers to take that view.
And he’s foreshadowing legal shenanigans by his team that would leave many Democratic voters feeling robbed. Try this on for size: Litigation to determine the next president winds up with the Supreme Court, where three Trump-appointed justices are part of a majority decision in his favor. It’s possible.
“Things that seemed off-the-wall are now on-the-wall,” Hasen told me. Last February he released a book, “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy,” the title of which now reads, if anything, as understated.