Lawrence Lessig has a message for America:
Donald Trump’s assault on democracy in 2020, with his stolen-election lie and refusal to concede the White House, may have been shocking, but wait till you see what’s coming next.
“We are in a profoundly dangerous moment,” the Harvard law professor says. “This is a catastrophic year, and the odds are not in our favor.”
Such a blunt warning carries the gravitas of its source. Lessig is a leading thinker on how public institutions can be corrupted, and has probed deeply into vulnerabilities that leave US democracy undefended against authoritarian attack.
Lessig has teamed up with Matthew Seligman of the constitutional law center at Stanford. Their new book, 🔸How to Steal a Presidential Election, 🔸asks whether a second Trump attempt to subvert democracy could succeed.
Their answer makes for uncomfortable reading.
“We are convinced,” they write, “that an informed and intelligent effort to undermine the results of a close, free and fair election could work in America – if the rules governing our presidential elections are not changed.”
It is a sign of troubled times that prominent scholars are wargaming the next election.
Nor is this Lessig’s first such thought experiment.
Four years ago, months before Trump launched his stolen-election conspiracy, Lessig and Seligman devised a class at Harvard law school:
They looked at whether it would be possible to hack the presidential election and send the losing candidate to the White House.
Their conclusion was that American democracy had dodged a bullet.
“We discovered that Trump didn’t really understand what he could have done,” Lessig says.
“There were obvious moves he and his team could have made, but they didn’t take them.”
The insurrection on 6 January 2021 was tragic in its loss of life, but as a method of overturning the election it was the “dumbest thing they could have possibly done. No court would ever allow the election to be decided by force of bayonets.”
Having repeated the wargaming exercise for the new book, Lessig is far less confident that another assault on democracy would end so positively.
With the former president almost certain to secure the Republican nomination, having won in Iowa and New Hampshire, Lessig has no doubt about how far Trump is prepared to go.
“We’ve seen that he’s willing to do much, more more than we expected back in 2020,” he says.
Another reason for people to be “very anxious” is that Trump and his inner circle have had four years to conduct their own wargames and are likely to be far more sophisticated:
“Trump didn’t understand how to undo the structures of government. Now he’s well-trained, he knows exactly what he needs to do.”