Welcome to American Interregnum. We’ve been kicking around the idea for this pop-up newsletter for a few weeks, as the broad contours of what may make this post-election period uniquely challenging have been apparent for a while. But a lot changed this week- and scenarios that seemed like hypotheticals suddenly became more concrete.
Consider the developments of just the past 72 hours:
On Tuesday afternoon, the President told reporters his rush to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is driven by his belief that the Supreme Court may have to decide the result of the 2020 election because of his theory- which he has advanced almost daily with no evidence- that there is widespread ballot fraud underway.
On Wednesday morning, The Atlantic published a shocking feature by Barton Gellman that contained just the right mix of conjecture and frightening new detail- backed up with interviews with Trump campaign and GOP officials- to spark an urgent conversation about steps the Trump campaign is taking to prepare for a contested election. “The worst case,” Gellman wrote, “is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him.”
Just hours later Wednesday the President very blatantly refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election, again falsely asserting a “hoax” around mail-in ballots.
It was in this context that Thursday Christopher Wray, the Trump-appointed FBI Director, told a Senate Committee that the FBI has “not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it's by mail or otherwise,” and that “ to change a federal election outcome by mounting that kind of fraud at scale would be a major challenge for an adversary.” That did not stop the President from doubling down on his refusal to promise a peaceful transition Thursday afternoon.
And finally, first thing this morning White House chief of staff Mark Meadows charged out in a CBS This Morning interview to bash Wray, disputing his Senate testimony and arguing Wray "needs to get involved on the ground" to investigate the incidents of alleged fraud the President continues to propagate, including in campaign messages delivered by Donald Trump Jr.
Phew. Now that we’re caught up on the state of play, we hope this newsletter- delivered thrice weekly- will help you make sense of these developments, connect you to analysis and provide context, and empower you to maintain your agency in the process- before you vote and after.
Driving the Conversation
The Election That Could Break America, Barton Gellman, The Atlantic.
The President is "discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority," reports Gellman in this must-read cover feature.
Trump Again Sows Doubt About Election as G.O.P. Scrambles to Assure Voters, Reid J. Epstein, Emily Cochrane and Glenn Thrush, The New York Times.
The President, reports the Times, “declined for a second day to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the election, while Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, implicitly rebuffed him, promising an ‘orderly transition.’”
I’ve Never Been More Worried About American Democracy Than I Am Right Now, Richard Hasen, Slate.
“The idea is to throw so much muck into the process and cast so much doubt on who is the actual winner in one of those swing states because of supposed massive voter fraud and uncertainty about the rules for absentee ballots that some other actor besides the voter will decide the winner of the election,” writes Hasen.
Facebook vows to restrict users if US election descends into chaos, Hannah Murphy, The Financial Times (paywall!).
In an interview with the FT, “Nick Clegg, the company’s head of global affairs, said it had drawn up plans for how to handle a range of outcomes, including widespread civic unrest or ‘the political dilemmas’ of having in-person votes counted more rapidly than mail-in ballots, which will play a larger role in this election because of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Darcy rounds up the reporting on the storm of disinformation on social media and concludes “with a major election just weeks away, and as Trump and his allies peddle outright lies, it is both disconcerting and alarming that, years later, we are still in a position where millions of people are poisoned with garbage information each day.”
Trump Can’t Lawfully Use Armed Forces to Sway the Election: Understanding the Legal Boundaries, Deana El-Mallawany, Christine Kwon and Rachel Homer, Just Security.
Just as “Trump continues to threaten to send in active-duty troops to crack down on civil rights protests, he has also been explicit about the possibility of using law enforcement to interfere with the election.”
What we know about those discarded Trump ballots in Pennsylvania, Philip Bump, Washington Post.
“What we have learned, in fact, isn’t that Democrats are trying to rig the election. It’s that the Trump administration — including the Justice Department — and the Trump campaign are willing to use sketchy allegations in an effort to undermine confidence in mail-in voting.”
Teri Kanefield pours cold water on the worst case scenarios put forward in the Barton Gellman piece: “Look how easy it is. His 'legal advisor' puts something like this forward. Then most of Twitter takes the bait. Twitter peeps instantly (and obediently) begin discussing whether he can.”
Josh Geltzer asserts that “we're not powerless to ensure a peaceful transfer if Trump loses,” and lays out a number of legal obstacles that will greet the President if he decides to go off the rails on November 4th.
Asha Rangappa reminds us “every time Trump spouts this kind of garbage, he is revealing that he is TERRIFIED.”
Steven Dennis collects Republican responses to Donald Trump’s refusal to promise a peaceful transition of power.
Calls To Action
More than 100 organizations from across the political spectrum have joined together in a coalition called Protect the Results to “ensure that every vote is counted, and show up to demand that the losing candidate put their ego aside and concede for the good of our country.” More information is here.
Your Moment of Cute
It’s not all anxiety. In honor of the fall equinox, check out Stella’s best leaf jumps (click through for the timeless video):
American Interregnum is a pop-up newsletter covering the issues and ideas that will define the Presidential transition period from November 3rd, 2020 to January 21st, 2021. It is written and edited by Justin Hendrix, Greg Greene, and Melissa Ryan. Got questions or comments? We love your feedback. Reply directly to this email. We read all responses and respond to most.