There is some evidence that Trump might be at least contemplating declaring martial law and trying to stay in power long enough to conduct new elections in those places where he’s contesting the results. Michael Flynn, Sydney Powell and others seem to be in his ear suggesting that he do this. And I suspect that he has so convinced himself of his stolen election narrative that he would think himself justified in this attempt. I strongly suspect that the military, who he’d need on his side in order to pursue this path, would balk. Since Trump doesn’t understand really how these things actually work, he’s likely declare martial law prior to determining whether the military is on his side. After all, he thinks those below him in government simply work for him and so will do anything, no matter how crazy, that he tells them to do. If he declared martial law and the military refused to follow, there would be no more clarifying event than this. All those who’ve been saying that he’s a fascist-in-waiting would be proven right. Next time, we’d have to take more seriously the very real danger that demagogues pose to our regime. Trump’s full intentions and his profound danger to our constitutional order would finally be made perfectly clear to anyone with sufficient integrity simply to open their eyes even a little bit. Moreover, he’d look weak and foolish, incapable of commanding the military–the presidency’s most powerful asset. It would almost guarantee that he could not run in 2024. And the dialectical nature of politics would also clarify, I suspect, that there’s something very dangerous about us having granted the presidency itself, not just Trump but all of the presidents of the couple of decades, so much power and having such a weak Congress. It’s possible that we reconsider that arrangement and encourage and reward members of Congress who stand up for their institution rather than just their party. Just as Congress was stronger in the wake of Watergate than it had been before, so too it’s possible it would be stronger after Trump’s failed coup.
Of course, there’s always the danger that the military doesn’t balk at this, but I’m tempted to say, in that case, perhaps there might even be something good about the revolutionary reaction that would demand of the people. It would require people in the streets standing up against the coup. At the risk of sounding too Jeffersonian, such a revolutionary reaction from the people might not be the worst thing. We’ve lost any real sense of civic virtue. Perhaps a real reaction to Trump’s coup might help us recover that some. Of course, in this case, the danger is that precisely because we’ve lost any real civic virtue, we react not by taking to the streets but by writing lots of angry op-eds, preferring to go on with our private lives rather than insisting on self-government.