Barton Gellman has written an article for The Atlantic, one which asks a rather threadbare question: “What if Trump refuses to concede the election?” Although this piece wasn’t meant to be published until November, it has been made available to readers “because of its urgency”, a justification that ought to be of interest to those who have condemned Julian Assange for his alleged partiality. It is remarkably apropos, released only hours after a reporter asked Trump to “commit … to a peaceful transferal of power after the election”. What this reporter, a reporter unnamed in all of the articles I have read on this story, really wished to know was how Trump would respond if he were to lose in the general election. Seemingly every journalist in Trump’s vicinity has asked him this question or some derivative, though none, to my knowledge, have asked the same of Joe Biden, even after Hillary Clinton publicly exhorted him to refuse to concede the race, regardless of the final tally of the votes.
To repurpose one of Ralph Nader’s observations, the question is politically bigoted, reflecting the inquirer’s dogmatic confidence in Trump’s inevitable defeat as well as Biden’s irresistible success. While the Democrats have tempered this presupposition, incurably traumatized as they are by their surreal disappointment in 2016, still they cannot fathom, still they struggle to accept, the possibility of Trump winning re-election. Their compulsive, though by no means unenthusiastic, indulgence in nightmarish fantasies wherein Trump refuses to concede the election proves that, in their view, Biden’s victory is a fait accompli and Trump can maintain power only dishonestly or illegitimately. On a personal level, this behavior permits them to pleasurably reassure themselves of their moral superiority; in a broader context, it prepares the public to accept a scenario wherein the Democrats claim they won the election, despite the contrary conclusion of the official results.
No one has written speculative commentary on that hypothetical, even though it is of a far greater likelihood. Instead, we read and hear exclusively of the dreadful situation foreseen by Gellman, in which Trump declares the rule of fiat and assumes indefinite, autocratic control. There is a market for inherently unsubstantiated material on this as-yet unrealized event (Gellman cites a number of books written on this fictional subject), though it is of interest only to Trump’s critics, who, I would imagine, do not like to contemplate it. Why, then, have they revisited this theme more frequently with each passing month of his presidency? Perhaps it is time for us to acknowledge the sadomasochistic element of this peculiar conduct and to recognize it as the single most salient symptom of Trump Derangement Syndrome. At the end of this decade, several years after Trump has vacated the Oval Office, the bourgeois left will complain of recurring night terrors in which Trump returns to Washington to distress them again.
Certainly, their fertile collective imagination will supply them with bounteous inspiration. Gellman weeps for the political intelligentsia, a group to which he probably belongs, who “find themselves in the uneasy position of intelligence analysts in the months before 9/11 … They see the obvious signs that we all see, but they also know subtle things that most of us do not. Something dangerous has hove into view, and the nation is lurching into its path.” Personally, I wouldn’t expect a national “lurching” to be subtle, but Gellman is paid to be more prescient than I, even if he isn’t paid to be precise: the “something dangerous” is something mysterious, as well, defined not just as Trump’s tyrannical takeover, but also as a “deluge of mail-in ballots” that “could keep the outcome unsettled for days or weeks”. While I haven’t heard any credible report that multiple weeks may be needed to count every vote, why would this be so disastrous? If we fail to declare a winner before midnight descends on the east coast, then we may declare a national crisis? Are we really so impatient and pampered as that?
The real calamity, though, would be Trump’s refusal to accept the officially reported results of the election, should the Biden campaign emerge victorious. Again, we are speaking of a hypothetical occurrence emerging from another hypothetical outcome, and while we could try to approach it as a harmless intellectual exercise, we cannot fail to notice the bevy of journalists and commentators who conducted this same exercise, and produced an abundance of ominous material on this subject, all within a few hours of each other. As mentioned previously, Gellman wrote his article in advance of this controversy, almost as if he anticipated an opportunity to capitalize on a frenzy yet to come. Two days after his piece hit the presses, Bill Maher released a montage of the many occasions on which he also predicted that Trump would lose the election and declare himself the winner.
We shall not accept the proliferation of such commentary, nor its simultaneous distribution, as an innocent coincidence. Like any mass media phenomenon, it was coordinated with the intention of broadcasting a uniform message to the widest possible audience. The message is a warning of the catastrophe that must come in the aftermath of the general election. Hitherto, we have emphasized the Democrats’ conception of the catastrophe, which always involves Trump’s mendacious denial of his own defeat, but the Republicans participate in the fearmongering, as well, accusing the Postal Service of tilting the election in Biden’s favor. The bipartisan adumbration inspires consumers of the mainstream media, regardless of their ideology, to expect a hellish epilogue to the election.
The ruling class is training the peasants to expect devastation in November, maybe even to desire the political carnage. The public is trained, through this preparatory process of desensitization, to accept the impending chaos as an inevitability, even though it is obviously being manufactured in the corporate media. We have already examined the problem of substituting television for reality, but we may be living out the long-term consequences of such a vicarious, dehumanized existence. If blood is shed en masse in November, as Gellman, Maher, and their colleagues certainly appear to hope, then we must remember that they handed us the weapons whereby we destroyed ourselves.