Taking Sides

From the courts to law enforcement, if there is a fight over the outcome of the election, it matters which way things break.

Good evening. Voting in the 2020 presidential election ends in 13 days.

The Latest 

As the election draws nearer, we’ve gotten a look in recent days at the sides that key players and institutions might choose — or have chosen — as potential battles over voting, or the vote count, approach. Let’s look at a few:

Right-wing federal judges. Some observers (including me) reacted in horror on Monday when a four-justice bloc of the U.S. Supreme Court made known that it would have blocked Pennsylvania’s highest court from extending a deadline for receiving ballots postmarked by Election Day. The news suggested that the four justices were poised to reject the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s interpretation of Pennsylvania law — and raised the question of whether, if Judge Amy Coney Barrett were confirmed before Election Day, the U.S. Supreme Court might intervene to throw out ballots that arrive before the current deadline. 

What seems clear: Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Thomas will choose to put a judicial thumb on the electoral scale, if given the chance.

Law enforcement. The saving grace and Achilles’ heel of the American model of policing are one and the same: with responsibilities scattered among tens of thousands of agencies, no single decision-maker can do much to undermine the democratic process. But with tensions high in the wake of summer’s protests over police violence, some clashes over voting were inevitable — and, well, here one comes.

What this portends in a broader sense, it’s too early to say — but let’s hope that remains an isolated incident. 

QAnon. Disinformers are going to side with the disinformer-in-chief, like birds of a feather; that should surprise no one. But Renée DiResta of the Stanford Internet Observatory has looked at how the Trump/Q alliance is evolving as a Trump defeat begins to appear likely:

The threat of a “color revolution” is only the latest to expand through QAnon’s ready-made distribution channel. Amplifying prophecies about attacks on the legitimacy of the election ultimately positions QAnon to continue past November. If Trump loses, the prophecy of the deep-state color revolution will have come true, and Q will spin tales about the secret doings of an illegitimate new administration. If Trump wins, the exposure of the nefarious plot will have deterred the deep-state forces, and the battle against the cabal will continue.

So either way, we get four more years of conspiracy theories — from the White House, or churned up by QAnon from below. Great, just great.

The Trump/Q connection. On Tuesday, Interregnum collaborator Justin Hendrix came in for a hazing by Trump administration officials & far-right media after he pointed out the obvious: that a Department of Homeland Security announcement about “human trafficking” may have been in part a thinly veiled callout to QAnon followers — an important constituency for Republicans that Donald Trump has promoted for months, and notably refused to denounce at the last debate.

Even questionably acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf joined in the criticism:

Given news just this Tuesday that Trump administration policies had orphaned over 500 children separated from their parents after they crossed the border, one might be forgiven for taking the administration’s professed interest in trafficking as less than sincere. Which leaves us contemplating the specter of federal officials using government resources to fuel an anti-democratic conspiracy theory.

Never Trumpers. I have to hand it to the estranged Republican consultants at the Lincoln Project: they’re sticking with their categorical opposition to the Republican Party’s turn toward autocracy.

You know what Republican elected officials have said about Trump behind closed doors from the start because you are often — maybe always — behind those doors. You’ve seen the haunted look in a colleague’s or a boss’s eyes after a meeting with the unstable, unfit man who is our president. You know in your heart that Trump should not be president for another day. … As conservatives, we long argued that culture was the soul of America. We were right, but it is Trump who now assaults our nation’s soul.

The time for choosing is at hand. Will you choose a republic or an autocracy?

Also on Tuesday, the Lincoln Project issued a video featuring former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele endorsing Joe Biden: 

They’re choosing the side of principle, and of free and fair elections — and I have to concede that I love to see it.

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Driving the Conversation

The U.S. government has concluded that Iran is behind a series of threatening emails arriving this week in the inboxes of Democratic voters, according to two U.S. officials. Department of Homeland Security officials told state and local election administrators on a call Wednesday that a foreign government was responsible for the online barrage, according to the U.S. officials and state and local authorities who participated in the call, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity. A DHS official also said they had detected holes in state and local election websites and instructed those participating to patch their online services. The emails claimed to be from the Proud Boys, a far-right group supportive of President Trump, but appeared instead to be a deceptive campaign making use of a vulnerability in the organization’s online network.

If Joe Biden defeats President Donald Trump next month, he’ll quickly face a new challenge: standing up a new administration to lead a divided nation through a series of historic crises.

Worst-case scenarios for Election Day: Illegal militias show up fully armed at polling places. People are intimidated from voting. Extremist groups launch violent protests that last for days. Why it matters: Mayors are playing down the threats — projecting a "we've got this" tone of reassurance — but some law enforcement officials and people who monitor extremists are telling them to be prepared for anything.

Moreover, failing to hold accountable those who abuse their power signals to future abusers that all will be forgiven. It tells people in power that they can commit atrocities while they hold office, because nobody will be coming for them when they’re on the other side. It is important to distinguish crimes against humanity from mere political policy differences, but acting like no distinction can be made is a mistake.

Senior Democrats are already eyeing the special legislative vehicle to disperse trillions of dollars in policy priorities, including for a massive infrastructure plan backed by a prospective Biden administration. “I don’t think there’s any question of whether we’d use it, if we had to,” House Budget Chair John Yarmuth said in an interview. “The possibilities are endless. I think you’d want to do it for the biggest possible package you could.”

Go Deeper

Join the German Marshall Fund for a discussion of different scenarios that could play out on Election Day and in the days, weeks, and months after. U.S. legal experts to discuss what to expect and what role precedents and constitutional controls will play in the process.

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American Interregnum is a pop-up newsletter covering the issues and ideas that will define the Presidential transition period from Nov. 3, 2020, through — we hope — Jan. 21, 2021. It is written and edited by Justin HendrixGreg Greene, and Melissa Ryan. Have questions or comments? We love your feedback. Reply directly to this email. We read all responses and respond to most. 

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