During the debates last Tuesday the whole world saw a president who knows he is going to lose against Joe Biden, and who probably knew this long before the pandemic arrived and crashed the economy.
Two days after the debate, and the day the October Surprise dropped (Trump has the virus), David Leonhard opened the New York Time's Morning Newsletter with a piece, "Trump’s fear of Biden," that contains a number of important insights about why Trump is making every effort to throw Americans into confusion. "There is a theme that has run through President Trump’s entire re-election campaign," writes Leonhardt. "He is afraid that he cannot beat Joe Biden."
Knowing that the path to retaining power is not presented by democracy, Trump has decided not run against Biden, but rather against the electoral process itself.
[Fear of the former Vice President] explains [Trump's] extraordinary efforts last year to prevent Biden from becoming the nominee. And it explains his more recent efforts to discredit the election. Rather than running against Biden, Trump now seems to be running against democracy itself.
We can drop the word "seems" and say with great confidence that American democracy is his only opponent in the 2020 election. Now, the question should be this: Why is American democracy so vulnerable to a man who is an obvious charlatan?
The answer is not hard to find if you let go of the assumption that democracy is a flower of capitalist development. We can blame a mid-century economic model called the Kuznets curve for popularizing the idea that the richer a society becomes, the more its democracy matures. Obversely, the poorer a society, the more authoritarian it is. But in truth, the birth and expansion of democracy in the West has its locus not within capitalism but outside of it.
Modern democracy, which is distinct from other democracies, such as the rich and deep democracy of the Tswana people, kgotla, has its existence defined and explained by a long conflict with the priorities of a market historically determined by mass production. Democratic programs—from the abolition of child labor in the 19th century to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s—were only institutionalized after great resistance from those who pull the levers and gears of capitalism.
If this is one's understanding, then voting, an institution of modern democracy that in the US only obtained something approximating universality in the US in the 1960s, has a completely different aspect. It's not as solid and sacred and substantial as it's often imagined to be. It is a flower even frailer than Biden.
The GOP has been attacking voting rights for several decades. This party very well knows that its bag of tricks for maintaining power (patriotism, for example) is empty. California, the state that always finds itself in America's future, is minority-majority and has a political spectrum that begins with the center-left and ends with progressives. The GOP is not in this future. Nor is their leader, Trump. And so, his campaign mission is simply to accelerate his party's decades-long effort to deracinate an institution that's still young and vulnerable.