Good morning. The president just announced a coup.
If you went to bed at a reasonable hour last night—and congratulations on your excellent judgment if you did—here are some developments you missed:
Neither candidate crossed the threshold of 270 electoral votes needed to win the election, though Biden appears to be narrowly ahead.
Every state projected so far has remained unchanged from 2016, except Arizona (according to Fox News) and a single electoral vote from Nebraska (according to NBC), which seem to have flipped to Biden, with seven crucial states left to go.
Trump staged an illegal 2 a.m. press conference in the White House’s East Room in which he declared victory, called for “all voting to stop,” and pledged to use his newly packed Supreme Court to certify him as the winner.
What’s that, you say? Sounds a like a coup? The same sort of autocratic delinquency that the United States has used as a pretext to cut off aid, topple leaders, and invade less powerful nations for over a century?
Yes, exactly. That.
OK, so what now? The consensus among the overnight commentariat is that he can’t do that. Several analysts pointed out immediately that it is not up to him: The states’ tabulation of legal votes will continue, as it does past Election Night in every election. (For instance, everyone remembers the Florida debacle in 2000. Fewer recall that there were four other states still outstanding the next day, including Oregon—whose “count was delayed because of a mail-in ballot system.”)
He can’t automatically go straight to the Supreme Court either. He’d need to have a case—brought by someone with legal standing—in each state whose results he wants to overturn.
But Trump’s followers waking up to this news will have no problem understanding what the president wants from them; a president who recently told one of his loyal neo-fascist boy gangs to “stand back and stand by.” As Fox News’ Chris Wallace said immediately after the press conference: “This is an extremely flammable situation. The president just threw a match into it.”
This is the moment those of us who were paying attention feared for the last four years. Trump is a fascist by temperament and philosophy. He is backed by a party that—facing the electoral headwinds of, most likely, a fourth straight loss of the popular vote, even with its incredible voter suppression efforts—has taken to rejecting the idea of democracy itself. And, don’t forget, that regardless of the ultimate outcome of this election, Trump’s autocracy, kleptocracy, racism, and misogyny did garner the votes of millions of Americans, many of whom will eagerly take up whatever call for action he puts out in the next couple of days.
That still leaves the rest of us, to calmly but firmly insist that every single vote gets counted, and the results of the election respected. This isn’t a gameshow. It doesn’t matter the order the votes get counted in, or when the people on TV put the right color in the state. Every one of us has to watch each move from here on out closely, demand justice, fairness—and recusal, if necessary—from every still-standing institution. And, speaking for myself, to get some rest in the meantime. There are likely some long days ahead.
3:57 a.m. ET
Jonathan Myerson Katz is a journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. His next book will trace the life of Gen. Smedley Butler and the making and breaking of America’s empire. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.