WHO hasn’t thought, as they’ve watched the racism, rioting and police brutality in America this past week: if only another President was in charge? If only it wasn’t Donald Trump in the White House. A man uniquely unfit for public office is leading America at a time when crisis is piled upon crisis – a human flamethrower in a dynamite factory.

But there’s a thread of hope that runs through those thoughts, too: the notion that Trump may soon be voted out of office in the November 2020 presidential election. Four years of madness would end, and the American people could go on to try and heal their country’s wounds and fix the nation’s ills without being trolled by their commander-in-chief.

Let me pose a question that may upset that applecart of optimism: what if Trump doesn’t go? What if Trump loses the election in November, fails to secure his second term, but still refuses to leave the White House? What happens then?

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I’ve covered American politics for most of my 30 years in journalism. I’ve worked in the country. I’ve family and close friends there. I know the United States pretty well. Navigating its politics has been part and parcel of books I’ve written and documentaries I’ve made. Increasingly, though, the question of whether Trump will quit if he’s beaten in November is creeping into conversations with Americans I know. It puts a shiver of ice through my veins.

When the question first cropped up, my automatic reaction was to scoff and laugh: don’t be silly, I’d say. How on Earth could that happen? He’d have to go. It’s the law. It’s a democracy. He’d be dragged out of the White House whether he liked it or not.

But once you get past the craziness of the premise – and haven’t we been taught that there’s nothing too crazy for the Trump presidency – the lessons of the last four years don’t point to an optimistic answer.

Name one political norm Trump hasn’t instinctively violated? Back in 2016, when everyone thought he’d lose spectacularly to Hillary Clinton, Trump was already claiming the election was rigged – before voters even went to polling stations. Of course, when he beat Clinton, the election stopped being rigged and became the greatest political victory humanity has ever seen. So great. So beautiful.

Trump has attacked and undermined democracy at every turn. The list of his anti-democratic actions would fill this newspaper cover to cover. When it comes to the institutions of democratic government: he’s undermined a free press, the judiciary, the intelligence services, the civil service and bureaucracy, the apparatus of the federal government, and Congress itself. He’s undermined global governance, trashed America’s reputation. He’s spurned democratic allies, flirted openly with dictators. Nepotism, money and self-promotion are the president’s driving forces. He’s whipped up hatred and division daily – cosying up to white nationalists, sneering at black Americans. This is a man who cannot open his mouth without the shrill squeal of a dog whistle being heard across 50 states. That’s even before we get to Russia, collusion, and allegations of sexual assault against numerous women. He’s brought vulgarity into every American living room. Do I need to go on? And on? And on?

Do you really believe that if Trump loses in November he’ll go quietly? It’s an inevitability that Trump will claim the election is a fix if he loses. The US Supreme Court – which stepped into the disputed presidential election in 2000, ruling in favour of George W Bush – is tilted towards the Republicans. Five justices were appointed by Republican presidents – with Brett Kavanaugh Trump’s most infamous nominee – and four by Democrat presidents. Republican place-men have shown themselves either incapable of standing up to Trump, or happy to collude with Trump, since 2016 – from links with Russia to refusing to condemn the president’s worst excesses.

Chillingly, this coming election is preceded by what we see today on the streets of America. Yet another black man, George Floyd, killed by white police. Fury and rioting by the powerless against the powerful. Police brutality and intimidation on a terrifying scale. National Guard on patrol. Reporters arrested, a truck driven into demonstrators, buildings ablaze. America stands on the brink of God knows what. It’s terrifying to think where this nation may go next.

When it comes to Trump, there’s one thing you can depend upon: he tells you what he’s thinking. About a year ago, he said this: “I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad”.

Some weeks ago, heavily armed men entered Michigan’s state capitol building protesting lockdown. Trump had earlier tweeted: ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN!’

Just a few months ago, The Atlantic, one of America’s most respected political and cultural magazines, published an article asking what would happen if Trump wouldn’t leave the White House. It mentioned former Republican Governor Mike Huckabee talking of Trump running for three terms. US presidents are constitutionally limited to a maximum of two terms in office.

Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, told congress – before he was jailed – that “given my experience working for Mr Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power”.

Trump’s confidante, Roger Stone – also sentenced to prison – once said that if Trump were impeached “you will have a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen”.

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So what would happen if Trump loses in November, says it’s a fix, and stays put in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

Perhaps, the Secret Service or the DC police department will drag him out of the Oval Office. But what then … ?

America will slouch towards this election through a long, hot summer of violence, racism and rising unemployment. Lines have long been drawn in American society – black, white; left, right; blue state, red state. Now those lines are marked by rubber bullets and tear gas canisters. This November, the election could prove to be a case of either kill or cure when it comes to the future of American democracy.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald