It's impossible to ignore.
Federal agents dressed in military gear have been bundling protesters into unmarked vehicles (allegedly rented from Enterprise) in Portland, with additional reports from Chicago and San Diego. The White House has announced that they'll be rolling these troops out nationwide.
Reports suggest that these agents are run by the Department of Homeland Security under the same law that allows the Federal Protective Service (also a DHS agency) to protect federal facilities. ICE, CBP, and FPS are now effectively a federal political police force, operating at the whim of the President.
At the same time, the President told Fox News this weekend that he isn't necessarily going to accept the result of the election if he loses, in part because of mail-in ballots. He's been drumming the mail-in ballot line for months now, despite there being no evidence of voter fraud using this method. We're in the middle of a pandemic: of course there will be an increase in mail-in voting. It's certainly how I plan to do it. By seeding the idea that this kind of voting is fraudulent in a year when a huge proportion of votes will be cast this way, the administration opens the door to deny the outcome of the election.
Such an act would be the end of the American experiment. America depends on the government making way for its constitutionally-elected successor; without this mechanism, there is no democracy, and there is no representation. The richest country in the world, with by far the world's largest military, would be under the direct control of Donald Trump.
It sounds like science fiction. It rhymes with a Philip K Dick story. But here we are.
"It can't happen here" doesn't carry any weight anymore, if it ever did. It is. It would be easy to dismiss the rhetoric as bluster if it weren't for the troops in our cities, the concentration camps on our borders, and the corrupt profiteering eating away at our institutions.
Which isn't to say that those institutions were in any way perfect. I think people like to believe in the theory that Trump is a Russian asset because they like to think that nothing like this could be American. But this is a country of Jim Crow and domestic assassinations; it's the country that aided in the Iranian revolution and paid Osama bin Laden to build an army. This kind of fascism is as American as apple pie (which is to say, invented in Europe and coated with a little extra sugar). I'm not, to be clear, saying that Trump isn't necessarily a foreign asset. But it certainly isn't a given that he is; divisiveness and bigotry have been a part of the culture since the Europeans invaded.
I can see a few possible futures, all unfolding like a slow-motion train wreck.
In the first, Trump wins the election fair and square, and considers his re-election to be a mandate. Don't discount it.
In the second, he loses to Biden, and concedes. People with a sense of human decency everywhere rejoice. And then either the Democrats rapidly undo as much of the last four years as they can, or disappointingly squander those first two years in power as its conservative wing desperately fights against the improvements demanded by its progressive wing.
In the third, he loses to Biden and doesn't concede. This is the one where America ends. At the point where an election is meaningless, democracy is meaningless. The modern day version of the Reichstag passing the Enabling Act under the threat of the gun is passing emergency powers under the threat of information about our representatives being made public.
I would like to be wrong.
I would also like all this to be over.
I would like to not be thinking about what to do if the third future comes to pass.
But it's very hard to ignore, and to concentrate on the details of the rest of our lives while this unfolds as we stand by, powerless.
We're not quite powerless, of course. We can still vote (and we must). We can support institutions like the ACLU that fight for our freedoms. We can support journalism, which more than ever is the vital connective tissue for democratic society. We can march. And we can use our own voices, in our own spaces and with our own communities, to raise the alarm.