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Thu 1 October 2020
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With US voters heading to the polls on 3 November, CJ Werleman sets out why he believes the next five months could be some of the most dangerous ever for America – and the rest of the world

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On this day 56 years ago – 17 August 1964 – the Indonesian dictator President Kusno Sukarno used the Italian phrase “vivere pericolsamente” meaning “living dangerously” during his Independence Day speech.

With his country crippled by his corrupt leadership, costly expansionist military operations and economic malaise – including an inflation rate exceeding 600% – Sukarno could clearly see that his ‘presidency for life’ was unravelling at the same time the fragile balance of power he had shared between the military, communists, nationalists and Islamists was rapidly dissolving.

Significantly, the military was being divided by a left-wing faction backed by the Soviet Union and Communist Party (PKI), and a right-wing faction courted by the US.

Almost exactly one year after Sukarno warned that 1964-1965 would be the year of “living dangerously”, the left-wing faction launched a military coup in the early hours of 1 October 1965, resulting in the kidnapping and murder of six top-ranked generals, before it was snuffed out later that same day.

The failed plot set off a chain of events that would result in the rise of General Suharto, the fall of President Sukarno, and a US-backed democide that would leave roughly one million PKI members, communist sympathisers, ethnic Chinese and alleged leftists shot and hacked to death over a six-month period spanning October 1965 to March 1966.

To this day, communism and political parties adopting communist policies remain banned in Indonesia, while leftists remain objects of suspicion by both nationalists and Islamists.

If August 1964 to October 1965 was Indonesia’s “year of living dangerously”, then the same could be said now for the United States – and the rest of the world.


Trump Plans Ahead

The period spanning this coming Labor Day (7 September) – the unofficial start date of the US Presidential Election – to Inauguration Day (20 January) arguably has the potential of being the most dangerous four months the world has known.

The global chain of events that could potentially be ignited by an undemocratic US Presidential Election and/or a less than peaceful transfer of power are as many as they are unthinkable.

With the election now fewer than 80 days away, and with early voting starting even sooner, President Donald Trump finds himself trailing his Democratic rival, the former Vice President Joe Biden, by double-digit points – a margin that has remained stubbornly consistent for the past several months, indicating that voters have made their minds up on the incumbent. They want him gone.

And, despite his bluster and bravado, Trump knows his handling of the Coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic catastrophe has killed his re-election chances. His internal pollsters are providing him with the exact same data found on scientific-based polling sites. The polls were laser accurate when they predicted a Hillary Clinton win by two to three points in 2016 (national polls predict the outcome of the popular vote, not the electoral college count), and they were even more accurate when they forecast a Democratic Party landslide in the 2018 mid-term elections.

In betting terms, Trump has fallen from a slightly better than even-money chance to a 100-1 outsider since the start of the year. Biden is very likely to be the next President of the United States. That is if all votes are counted.

The bookies know this. The pollsters know this. And, more significantly, Trump knows this, which is why he is doing everything in his might to suppress voter turnout and steal the election. He started off by falsely claiming mail-in voting is subject to fraud, but then backtracked months later, after learning this strategy was discouraging his supporters from registering in the key battleground states of Florida and North Carolina.

But with his campaign team discovering that Democrats now enjoy a huge lead in requested mail-in voting application forms, Trump has waged war on the US Postal Service in cahoots with one of his top 2016 donors, who happens to be the US Postmaster General, by denying it funding and thus the ability to guarantee that all votes will be counted on time.

This is an unprecedented crisis in American democracy.

In the middle of a pandemic, one that has already killed 170,000 Americans, the President is making it harder for voters to cast their ballot safely and freely in order to secure his political survival.

While the Republican Party has devoted an incredible amount of energy and resources to suppressing voter turnout over the past two decades – from passing controversial voter-ID laws to reducing the number of polling stations to purging voter rolls – there has never been as naked an assault on the US voter as that currently taking place.


Violence and Political Impasse Predicted

By Trump’s design, election day promises to be one of chaos, confusion, intimidation and violence.

The Republican Party is seeking to recruit 50,000 Trump supporters and deploy them to polling stations in battleground states to intimidate voters and make waiting lines even longer. The GOP has already devoted $20 million to this voter suppression effort. It is almost impossible that there won’t be violent confrontations when voters try to cast their ballots.

When right-wing groups and militias, many of whom were armed, violently interrupted Black Lives Matter protests in Georgia, Michigan and Oregon over the weekend, resulting in dozens of arrests, it provided a minor prelude to what awaits on 3 November.

It is also highly likely that Trump will refuse to accept the will of American voters, having already warned that the 2020 election will be the “most corrupt in US history”. This is a man who even claimed an election he won was “rigged” because “millions voted illegally” in 2016.

As others have suggested, Trump isn’t running for a second term, he’s running from being prosecuted as an ordinary citizen. He faces a slew of federal and state law suits brought against him by individuals, companies and state attorney generals for his business and personal dealings.

When a bipartisan group, comprising both Republican and Democrat political operatives, academics and former government and military officials secretly gathered to game-out a contested Trump-Biden election, the predicted outcome was chaos and bloodshed.

“All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse,” said Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown law professor and former Defence Department official who co-chaired the group known as the Transition Integrity Project. “The law is… almost helpless against a President who’s willing to ignore it.”

Should Trump refuse to concede defeat or transfer power to the President-Elect, the scale, intensity and ferocity of nationwide protests and riots that are likely to follow will make those that followed the police killing of George Floyd pale into insignificance, especially given that Biden and the Democratic Party enjoys a huge majority of support in the nation’s cities and suburbs. 

In the unlikely event that Trump is declared the winner on the evening of 3 November, it is equally unlikely that Biden voters and the Democratic Party will accept their defeat, given that Trump has made no secret of his intent to steal the election or use unconstitutional means to influence the outcome. He was impeached by Congress in January, charged with doing exactly that.


Others Left Vulnerable and Exposed

The violence that will be turned onto American streets should Trump successfully convince his supporters that the result was stolen from him because of fraudulent mail-in ballots, millions of illegal voters or a ‘Deep State’ plot are of great concern.

It is inconceivable that Fox News won’t amplify and give a veneer of credibility to his lie. Many of his most ardent supporters will feel called upon God to avenge his defeat by any means necessary.

In the past week alone, self-proclaimed prophet Hank Kunneman declared that “God is trying to re-elect President Trump” and that anybody who refuses to vote for him is defying God. Meanwhile, Pastor Curt Landy claimed that Trump is under attack from a “Leviathan Spirit” and Pastor James Robison said that COVID-19 is “Satan going ballistic” to help Biden win. The former Trump campaign advisor and evangelical Frank Amedia told his viewers that the election “pits Trump against the spirit of the Anti-Christ”.

These individuals are not crowing their dangerous comments across an empty bar, late at night, but rather into the living rooms of millions of Trump supporters across social media platforms and mainstream right-wing media outlets. It doesn’t take a scholar in conflict and terrorism to comprehend what might happen if tens of millions of Americans feel compelled by God to avenge Trump’s defeat at the hands of Satan and his accomplices. It is a destiny known all too well by millions of people in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

“To me, current conditions feel disturbingly similar to things I have seen in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Cambodia,” observes Dr David Kilcullen, a former soldier and diplomat who is widely considered the world’s leading expert on counter-insurgency strategy.

What particularly worries Dr Kilcullen is the fact that the country is awash with 300 million guns, hundreds of billions of rounds of ammunition, and three million US military veterans who have brought home the skills of urban and rural warfare from Afghanistan and Iraq.

“If violence does spread, it will not be a re-run of the American Civil War,” says Dr Kilcullen. “Rather, given the multiplicity of groups involved, their geographical overlap and loose structure, we can expect something much more diffuse.”

The likelihood of violence is best understood by the fact the country was already in the middle of a right-wing domestic terrorism crisis well before COVID-19 hit.

None of this is good news for the rest of the world. A United States that is left faced with a collapsed democracy and widespread political violence, teetering on the brink of civil war, in the middle of a deadly pandemic, is a United States that leaves both Europe and Asia-Pacific vulnerable and exposed to an increasingly opportunistic and aggressive China and Russia.

For all its numerous missteps, miscalculations, blunders and disasters, the guiding hand of the US has overseen the longest period of peace and economic prosperity in Europe and Asia, while at the same time encouraging a rules-based international system and increasing global economic interdependence.

When Trump suddenly and unexpectedly announced the withdrawal of 12,000 US military personnel from Germany last month, he sent a chill through the corridors of NATO headquarters in Brussels – a move seen by European partners as an open invitation for Russia to move increasingly and aggressively westward.

The governments of Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea are similarly apoplectic about the prospect of a retreating and disengaged US, as Chinese warships sail ever closer towards their respective shores. Cold wars are easily turned into hot wars by a single miscalculation. A new arms race in Asia and Europe serves no one well.

And so the next five months promise to not only be the United States’ half “year of living dangerously”, but also the rest of the world’s.


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