by Prof. Bob Buzzanco
Planned Election Protests Shouldn’t Have Been Postponed
First, there’s not going to be a “coup” or any other type of stolen election. The hysterics surrounding this issue have frankly become embarrassing on the Left. No reason to go into the particulars here (though I did in a lengthy piece a few weeks ago), but it’s not going to happen. Trump won’t be president after January 20th, 2021.
But coup-or-no-coup is a pretty weak line on gauging political success. The standard for Pass/Fail shouldn’t be the worst possible outcome—the actual theft of government power. The way some people are sizing this up, anything short of tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue flying Confederate flags with the Proud Boys and Q him- or her-self leading the attack with Kid Rock providing the marching music would be a victory.
Having said that, there are reasons to be angry. The great Alexander Cockburn, one of the founders of the once-great Counterpunch, used to ask interns and activists “is your hate pure?” Is it unadulterated—are you willing to hate putative or contrived friends as much as obvious enemies.
Today, the Left needs to decide if its outrage is pure. Outrage against Trump is easy. He’s the most outrageous human on earth. Hating on Trump is like enjoying ice cream and whiskey—it’s innate and the easiest thing in the world to do.
But there are others who deserve outrage, a couple targets in particular. Obviously, Biden and the Democrats lead the pack here. There may have been some virtue in Biden’s initial approach to Trump’s blathering about a rigged election and his lawsuits and unhinged tweets that he won easily. Letting him air his grievances for a while did no harm. More GOP officials and others are now shoring up the plain fact that Biden won the election.
In that sense—no harm, no foul. In a different political universe, I’d even assume that Biden and his political allies have been having long-term contact with backchannels in the Pentagon, Justice Department, even the White House, as well as having constant chatter with Wall Street. But these are the Democrats, who I long ago ordained the #WashingtonGeneralsofPolitcs.
So it’s time for Biden’s appeasement to end. Polling on the legitimacy of Trump’s defeat has been erratic—I’ve seen one poll suggesting less than 10 percent believe he won the election but another that suggest well more than 50 percent of Republicans believe he did. Those numbers have gotten bigger as this has dragged out. Biden needs to stop the nonchalant “I won and I’m just going to go ahead with my transition whether Trump’s officials recognize it or not” and do whatever he can—maybe just rhetorically—to say this absurdity has to end. Even if it’s just sounding tough, he needs to do it.
Trump has ridden his “tough guy” act pretty far, especially for a spoiled privileged rotund rich boy who never worked a day in his life, never succeeded at anything other than running for president in 2016, and ran every business he touched into debt. The GOP loves to act tough, and the Democrats are the party of “civility” and morality. Civility and morality are great—surely in grave deficit today—but the Democratic Party’s constant, open, intentional weakness has been perhaps its greatest political liability.
Does anyone take anything that Pelosi, Schumer, Clyburn, Hoyer, or other Dems say seriously? When Pelosi said the Dems said they would use all the arrows in their quiver to stop the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, was there a single GOP official in American not laughing? Why do you think Pelosi hates “The Squad?”–Because it’s actually an oppositional, and assertive, group.
Liberals love the theatrics of the Speaker clapping at Trump or tearing up his speech, but real resistance?–Not so much. So some kind of unequivocal and strong stand against Trump—“you lost, accept it, and get out” at least has some symbolic value. As my mom said to my dad a million times, “Nick, the door swings both ways, so don’t let it hit you in the ass on the way out.” Sure, we laughed, but we all got the point too.
Lefties have no problem dogging on Biden and the Dems, so that part is easy for them, and Liberals need to learn it too. For the Left, we’ve gotten as much out of Biden as we were ever going to get–Trump’s defeat. An expanded public health program, let alone M4A, or significant laws to restrain police violence, or meaningful regulations on banks and corporations were never in the offing. Anyone a little left of the “center” that Biden inhabits has to realize that he’s just not into you.
But the second object of outrage is more internal—Lefty groups which had been organized to defend the election against any Trump chicanery or “coup” (it’s just absurd that that term has become the de facto description for an operation best exemplified by Rudy G’s speech at the Four Seasons Landscape Company next to a porn shop) all decided to stand down on the morning of November 4th because it was clear by then that Biden was going to win.
Several groups had been planning for months and had organized at least tens of thousands of people to pledge to go into the streets to protect a secure vote and a fair election—and they stood down. To better understand the dynamics of that retreat see an excellent Twitter thread by the labor organizer Jane MacAlevey .
If you’ve had gut-wrenching anxiety for months about a “coup,” if you’ve been terrified by Trump being a “fascist” since January 2017, if you’re existentially certain that Trump will do something horrific and he’s an evil genius and he’s not going to leave the White House, why would you postpone your operations because Biden had a lead in a few key states less than 12 hours after the polls close?
Why, after all that fear and panic and drama, would you give the “all is well” sign and then call “at ease?”
There’s virtue in intimidation, as the Right only knows far too well. A couple dozen crazy people with AKs at the state capitol get immense media coverage and terrify liberals (and anyone who’s sane to be honest) yet the people opposing them—on the streets of Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, New York, and a hundred other places—always outnumbered them exponentially. Public polling always supported the people standing up for Black Lives Matter or wearing masks by big numbers.
Yet, the Right intimidated and terrified Liberals in every encounter. It, as it’s done for decades, created its own reality and then sold it to the country in general. Conservatives are the ultimate Paper Tigers, as the Chairman would have said, but they owned the spectacle.
Imagine hundreds of thousands of protestors, defiant and even angry, in the streets at 6 A.M. on Wednesday morning after the election? Trump is easily intimidated despite the tough guy bravado and he’d have been in the Bunker in an instant. That’s not speculative–that’s what happened just a few months ago. But the protest groups stood down.
If they’d maintained their plans, this whole absurdity might be much further along, or over. And Trump can still wreak havoc–pardons, executive orders, firing and hiring people–without a “coup” and has plenty of time to do it given the long interregnum before the inaugural (and to think it used to be March 4th), so street actions could be directed not just at the past (the election) but the future (Trump insanity and Biden’s sure-to-be-corporate administration).
Trump’s playing with house money—he can do all these bizarre things that aren’t going to work, but he buys time to get MAGA crazies more riled up, to help two thuggish Republicans in Georgia run their senate campaigns, to confront the real possibility of myriad legal problems when no longer sheltered in the White House, and to continue his life-long grift by getting people to donate to his “fair election” slush fund.
The sights of people who spontaneously went out to celebrate Trump’s defeat was joyous, and they deserve fanfare, and not criticism. Not only did they enjoy deposing Trump, but went hardscrabble against the much fewer number of MAGA people who went out to harass them. But organized political groups who’d spend the past couple years freaking people out about fascism and a coup, only to go to brunch instead of the barricades on November 4th, need to be confronted with outrage, pure outrage.
The GOP isn’t going to suddenly revert from the party of Trump to Mr. Rogers, and the resistance better be ready, like yesterday, to get into the streets, because while the president’s days are numbered, the struggle for a better life is already underway and the bad guys have a head start. Bowing out of street action because of something as simple as projections that showed Biden winning Pennsylvania and Georgia is a really bad sign…..
Professor Robert Buzzanco is a professor of history at the University of Houston. He specializes in, writes about and talks on the Vietnam War era, military-civilian relations, foreign policy, Vietnam, radical social movements, economics, and other stuff.