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Preventing the Very Real Possibility of a Trump Coup

2020 seems to be the pinnacle of chaos and destruction after four years of relentless attacks on our democracy and the political stability and strength of our nation. Our wellbeing and the health and safety of those in nations around the globe are continually being put at risk. And yet, we may be in for an even worse catastrophe at the end of the year. The very real possibility of a Trump coup is being written about in books, pamphlets, blogs, and mainstream news articles by scholars in politics and history, experts in social movements, and veteran activists.

While we in the United States have lived in the longest running democracy in the world, our democracy is fragile, more so now than it has been in decades, and it is imperative that we see how easy it would be for Trump to destroy it with the upcoming election. If we don’t begin to prepare now for any of a few very likely scenarios initiated by Trump and his cohorts, we risk losing our democracy, erupting into small and large-scale violent conflicts, dying in increasing numbers from the pandemic, and suffering catastrophic disruptions from the climate crisis. The time to act is now. This is not hyperbole. Instead, it is fair warning to prepare for the worst so, should we need to, we can face what comes with relative composure that can only come from organized, strategic nonviolent resistance.

What follows is a very clearly written and practical guide on different steps we can take to protect ourselves and our country. I quote a few sections of this 52-page guide to provide an idea of both the importance of this issue and the usefulness of the information given. Access to the entire guide can be found in the links provided below as well as here. Additional resources for more information are given at the end of this article.

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Quoted directly from Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy by: Hardy Merriman, Ankur Asthana, Marium Navid, Kifah Shah (

“On June 1, 2020, President Trump ordered members of the military to repress nonviolent demonstrators in Washington, DC. Seeing this as a severe abuse of power—and an indication of the lengths Trump might go to try to stay in office—the four of us got together and produced this guide over the course of several months. We are an interracial, intergenerational group with experience in U.S. activism, organizing, and training (in the U.S. and abroad), as well as expertise in pro-democracy movements around the world.


How could President Trump lose the election and stay in power? What other problems could arise around the election and the presidential transition? And what lines do we need to protect?

In June 2020, a group called the Transition Integrity Project (which is separate from the authors of this guide) gathered a bipartisan group of more than 100 experts to explore different election scenarios that could play out between Election day (Nov. 3, 2020) and Inauguration day (Jan. 20, 2021). A summary statement from ​their report​ was:

‘We assess with a high degree of likelihood that November’s elections will be marked by a chaotic legal and political landscape. We also assess that... President Trump is likely to contest the result by both legal and extra-legal means in an attempt to hold onto power.’

In particular, the Transition Integrity Project issued several key findings:

  • ‘The concept of ‘election night,’ is no longer accurate and indeed is dangerous.’ Because of the large number of mail-in ballots this year, we may not know the winner of the election on election night, and it may take a week or weeks to count every ballot―especially when we consider possible court challenges. This provides a significant amount of time for Trump to cast doubt on the eventual election results, and/or declare himself the winner even before all the ballots are counted.

  • ‘A determined campaign has the opportunity to contest the election into January 2021.’

Regardless of whether a clear winner emerges on election night, the amount of lawsuits, misinformation, polarizing media, and disputes around ballot counting provide the opportunity for campaigns to refuse to concede and instead to continue contesting the election results all the way to Inauguration day. President Trump has already set the stage for this by shaping a narrative where he can claim a Biden victory is illegitimate because of his accusations of vote fraud. In addition, Trump has certain powers of the federal government that he can exercise to influence the election’s outcome significantly, even after all votes have been cast.

  • ‘The administrative transition process itself may be highly disrupted.’ Even if Biden is declared the winner of the election and Trump accepts defeat, the transition process until January 20, 2021 is likely to be very challenging. Trump will have opportunities to engage in financial corruption (i.e profiting from deals; diverting government resources; bribing people) and other forms of abuse (i.e. seeking pardon of associates or Trump himself; declassifying records or intelligence for political gain). While this guide focuses more on protecting the election results and democracy, the possible transition period is also likely to require vigilance and action.

In light of these risks, what are some possibilities that could occur? It is beyond the scope of this guide to cover all scenarios, but here are three that could unfold:

Three potential scenarios:

  • SCENARIO 1: Election day results are unclear, and Trump declares victory anyway.

  • SCENARIO 2: Election results show significant irregularities and/or signs of tampering, and Trump declares victory.

  • SCENARIO 3: Trump loses the election but refuses to leave office.

We are not including a scenario where Trump legitimately wins the November election because ​this is a guide dedicated to making sure this election is as fair as possible and that democracy is protected.​ If Trump legitimately wins the election, we would have grave concerns about the future of the country, but we would respect the results. ​This guide should not be seen as providing guidance to “undo” fair election results that we don’t like.

The three scenarios on which we do focus, and some of the possible challenges that they could bring, are outlined in further detail below. There’s no guarantee any of these three scenarios will happen, but the fact that any of them could happen points to the need for preparation.

Reading about these possible scenarios can make people feel anxious, overwhelmed, and confused. All of these emotions can lead to inaction. But in this guide, ​we are going to move beyond anxiety and into action because clear and decisive action is what is going to make a difference ​(see ​Part III for action steps). As you begin reading these scenarios remember that there are many things that people can do to prevent some of these tough possibilities from happening. In fact, we believe that the most important factor in ensuring that all votes are counted fairly is the involvement of millions of Americans like you coming together to hold local officials, election boards, state representatives, and potentially even your member of Congress accountable and to stand up for our democracy.”

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Other Resources

Cohen, Roger (Aug 28, 2020). New York Times, “An American Disaster Foretold.”

Choose Democracy: What Will You Do if there is an Undemocratic Power Grab in America this Fall?

Douglas, Lawrence (2020). Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020. Twelve: New York, NY.

Peterson, Barbara (2018). Reclaiming Power: Building a Stronger Resistance in the Age of Trump. River Run Press: Portsmouth, NH.

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