December will be very dangerous
It's too early to celebrate, back-to-brunch Democrats.
Liberal voters are counting President-elect Joe Biden's corporatist Cabinet picks. But we still don't know for sure that President Donald Trump will let them hatch. There's still a significant chance -- I would put it at 50-50 -- that the "outgoing" president will engineer a coup d'etat in order to remain in power.
Democratic-aligned media outlets are promulgating wishful thinking. They're crowing about a routine, peaceful transfer of power. They're making fun of the Trump campaign's losses in court challenges to the election results and making light of the president's hope that faithless electors will trigger the 12th Amendment scenario by causing Biden to fall short of 270 electoral votes. The mainstream pundit class points to the bureaucracy's granting of access to Biden's transition team and to excerpts from a recent Trump interview as evidence that he has accepted defeat. (In fact, Trump said that if the Electoral College votes for Biden, it will have "made a mistake, 'cause this election was a fraud.")
But they are ignoring human motivation.
Trump has every reason to use radical means to remain president, democracy and constitution be damned. If he leaves the White House on Jan. 20, the former president loses executive immunity and becomes exposed to an array of fraud and corruption charges related to his businesses. The New York state charges are the most hazardous. He could well be convicted and sent to prison on them. Even if Biden were to issue a presidential pardon, a law specifically directed at Trump ensures that a federal pardon would not apply to New York's state convictions. Trump is an old man, hardly in good health. He could spend the rest of his life in prison -- unless he declares martial law and becomes America's first dictator.
Cynics, a group I usually identify with, believe that wealthy and powerful white guys such as Trump are never held accountable for their crimes, much less go to prison. For Trump, that has been the case so far. But there have been exceptions. As happened to Martin Shkreli, Bernie Madoff and Jeffrey Epstein, everything indicates that Trump's white privilege card has been revoked. The ruling classes are dying to see Trump humiliated, perp-walked and mug-shot in a jumpsuit that matches his skin tone. The neoliberals never considered the master of crass to be one of their own. Now he is a full-fledged class traitor, our Huey Long. Populist and verbally skeptical of the militarism and job-exporting free trade agreements that line the capitalists' Cayman accounts, Trump has proven that a sizable portion of the American public -- on the right, no less! -- agrees with him. The elites despise him for this. They will not save him.
Trump's lawsuits will fail. (He knows.) The Electoral College will elect Biden.
Trump will then have five weeks to decide what to do. Await his fate at Mar-a-Lago? Trump isn't passive, especially when he fears he's going to lose. Fly to exile in Israel or Saudi Arabia? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is too beholden to the U.S. to risk offending an incoming Biden administration; Saudi Arabia is one of the most unpleasant places on Earth.
Trump's coup calculus is simple: What's the worst-case scenario if he fails? Arrest and prison? He'll be no worse off than if he didn't try.
Trump has two major advantages that the usual coup plotter doesn't. First is incumbency: He has his hands on the levers of power. He's not looking to change anything; he's trying to keep things the way they are. Second, he doesn't have the support of the military -- but he doesn't need it. His would be a "police coup" carried out by the numerous local police departments whose unions endorsed him for reelection, alongside federalized state police and deputized paramilitary MAGA goons.