New Orleans I’ll admit when I find myself agreeing, almost point by point, with Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist for the New York Times, I have to put my head in my hands for a temperature check to make sure I’m still of sound mind and body. Nonetheless, I’ll also admit that I read this guy regularly as part of my regular opposition research project or what most people would call daily life. Partly, I’m rewarded for the effort not because he is a conservative, but mainly because he is a contrarian willing to pick the scab, say what’s on his mind, and seemingly is unconcerned about how close or far he might be out of step with his own tribe.
On my side of the line, I’m surprised these days how many conversations I have with comrades, family, and friends who ask me seriously about the various nightmarish scenarios of Trump trying to remain in office after losing the election on November 3rd. I’ve spoken and written of this before. I think conspiracy theories on both sides of the debate suck time and energy out of the fight, while also potentially depressing the votes we need, as some misinterpret the threat as devaluing the importance of their individual participation.
Douthat in a recent column from the other side of the moon pops this balloon repeatedly as he reminds that fundamentally Trump is a blowhard “weakling,” surrounded by sycophants largely too incompetent to spell coup much less execute one. Douthat argues that despite Trump’s authoritarian impulses and rants, he’s all bluff and little brass without the support he would need to make good on his threats, saying…
… it’s also important to recognize all the elements of authoritarianism he lacks. He lacks popularity and political skill, unlike most of the global strongmen who are supposed to be his peers. He lacks power over the media: Outside of Fox’s prime time, he faces an unremittingly hostile press whose major outlets have thrived throughout his presidency. He is plainly despised by his own military leadership, and notwithstanding his courtship of Mark Zuckerberg, Silicon Valley is more likely to censor him than to support him in a constitutional crisis.
In another direct hit, Douthat reminds readers that, “Our weak, ranting, infected-by-Covid chief executive is not plotting a coup, because a term like “plotting” implies capabilities that he conspicuously lacks.” It’s hard to argue with that point. Half the time it seems the next day, Trump can’t remember or doesn’t care what he said the day before, and that was prior to his coronavirus condition with whatever chaos that condition may have left him with as well.
Douthat’s real mission in the column is to prod liberals to avoid “hubris” and prepare to govern with “vision and restraint,” which is less an insight than a plea for mercy and a warning that overreach courts a backlash. For all of the points, good and bad, that Douthat makes in aligning his case with my own, the heart of my counsel to not waste time on conspiracy theories, but hunker down to the task at hand and focus on winning, not worrying, is the one clear reminder from him that is the touchstone of my belief that we’ve got this, if it comes to mischief after the voting, because “…there is no mass movement behind him: The threat of far-right violence is certainly real, but America’s streets belong to the anti-Trump left.”
As long as we hold the streets, the peoples’ voice will be heard and heeded.