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What Is To Be Done?

As Trump drags us closer to crisis, three suggestions for how we should act now—and prepare for what’s to come.
September 24, 2020
What Is To Be Done?
(GettyImages / Shutterstock)

The election is approaching. The president is spreading disinformation about the vote; he’s trying to suppress some votes; he’s exploring ways to disrupt or distort the counting of the votes; and he’s refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he nonetheless loses the vote.

What is to be done?

(1) Ignore the voices of worldly complacency or pseudo-sophisticated reassurance. Yes, maybe it’s just talk. Maybe he won’t really try anything serious. Maybe he’s too incompetent to get away with it if he tried. Maybe the system would hold even if he did try.

Or maybe not. It all sure seems alarming. So maybe we should be alarmed. Better safe than sorry.

So everyone: Sound the alarm. Put the country, the media, the voters, state and local election officials, elected officials at all levels of government, and the individuals who matter in the federal government on notice. Suitably alarmed, they can act in appropriate ways to mitigate the danger.

That’s the first and most straightforward thing to be done.

(2) It would also be very useful to get others who haven’t so far been in the camp of the alarmed to say now, out loud, that they’re alarmed.

One thinks of people who’ve served in the Trump administration, who have said things privately, but haven’t yet come forward.

One thinks of people who’ve served in previous administrations who haven’t yet spoken up.

One thinks of a variety of elected officials—former but also current—at both state and federal levels.

And one thinks especially of those who are Republicans, whose remarks can’t simply be written off as partisanship.

So I’d say to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, to Jim Mattis and John Kelly and Dan Coats—the time has passed when speaking out against Trump was a tough question or a close call. The danger is now near enough and real enough that duty surely compels it.

(3) What of those still in the Trump administration who could play a role in averting a disaster?

I appeal to them to be ready. Be prepared. Coordinate privately with others you trust. If you serve in the Trump administration now, it could eventually fall upon you, whether you’re serving in DOJ or DOD or DNI or DHS—or even in the White House—to decide whether to cooperate with an illegal order or an anti-Constitutional scheme.

Plan now for what you would do in such a situation to publicize what is being done in the shadows, to thwart illegal activities, to save the rule of law and of the Constitution. Be prepared. Discuss this discreetly now with others who might cooperate in averting disaster. Be ready to speak up and to act.

The odds are such actions may not be necessary. But we can’t be sure.

And when the stakes are so high, then even a small chance of calamity should be taken seriously.

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.