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.