Donald Trump’s decision to launch of a full-throated declaration of war on the US electoral process this morning paves the way for what may well be a chaotic three months of legal and extra-legal efforts to thwart the result.
“If you count the legal votes I easily win,” the president said, insisting he had won major undecided states by “a lot” and calling for an end to the counting of ballots arriving late. Earlier, he had demanded “STOP THE FRAUD” and “STOP THE VOTE” on Twitter.
While Trump’s tactics and attempt to delegitimise the election as “rigged” were long predicted in the event he was defeated, they confirm that any support for Trump’s tactics now amounts to attacking democracy.
Many on the right appear willing to embrace that chaos. In fact, among the lesser outcomes of this week has been the emergence of many on the right as fully-developed advocates of chaos.
The enthusiasm for Trump in right-wing circles here in Australia has always been driven by similar sentiments to those that animate much of his base in the United States: they love him because he infuriates and enrages the left, and prosecutes culture wars with the same gleeful joy they do.
That’s overridden what used to be core beliefs for the right — fiscal discipline, free trade, foreign military intervention — because culture wars and reflexive oppositionism have replaced any meaningful ideology as the dominant motivator for so many right-wingers.
But that turned out to be merely a gateway to something more extreme: an endorsement of Trump’s attacks on democracy and assault on US democratic institutions.
In the op-ed pages of The Australian, where the likes of Kelly, Sheridan and Kenny queued up to praise Trump’s apparent victory yesterday; in The Australian Financial Review, where reactionaries like John Roskam (following the example of Alexander Downer) have detailed their support for Trump; in the fetid recesses of the Coalition backbench from where the likes of George Christensen have issued forth to declare their expertise in US electoral fraud; from glad-handing ambassador-turned-lobbyist Joe Hockey, Australia’s senior right-wingers have backed Trump’s attempt to derail the legitimate outcome of the election with all the subtlety of a Latin American dictator.
In an excellent analysis in the highly conservative UK Telegraph, that paper’s business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard spelt out the implications of this. Noting that Trump’s “allegation of a giant ‘fraud on the American people’ was not an off-the-cuff remark in the heat of the moment … this gambit was pre-planned”, Evans-Pritchard says “a machinery for legal guerrilla warfare has been set in motion across the battleground states and will now cause weeks of havoc. Have markets understood the gravity of what is unfolding?”
Indeed, have Trump’s right-wing supporters here and elsewhere understood, either? Seemingly, they have.
They have embraced the chaos that Trump represents, the deliberate, indeed systematic, well-planned undermining of democratic institutions. Enjoying Trump’s culture warrior politics has simply been a gateway drug to becoming full-fledged cheerleaders of the havoc he intends to wreak on democracy and key institutions.
In doing so, these highly-paid commentators, think tank gurus and politicians have followed a similar trajectory to tens of thousands of radicalised youths and young men online, for whom transgressive internet behaviour, meme-sharing and trolling were gateway drugs to actually embracing white supremacism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and fascism.
The kids came for the jokes and then started believing them. The commentators and politicians came for Trump’s culture wars, and stayed for his assault on democracy and vandalism of institutions. Something in the chaos he revels in is deeply appealing to them.
That this is at odds with the conservative values many of them claim to espouse is one thing. But to reinforce the point made by Evans-Pritchard, havoc and chaos aren’t good for business. In fact, assaulting the key institutions that prop up liberal democracy undermines the basic support systems of capitalism.
If you can attack democracy and insist only the votes for you ought to be counted, and try to appeal it to the court you stacked with partisans, why not take the same approach to, say, property rights? To the enforcement of contracts? To taxation? Once you start enforcing the law in your own interests, the basic mechanisms of capitalism break down.
In short, once you see the law not as a protection for all but a tool for you to exploit, you can guarantee someone else will end up using it to exploit you.
You want chaos? There’s plenty more where that came from.