If He Loses
If He Loses
a novel in 22 episodes
by David Vigoda
Copyright © 2020 by David Vigoda
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
This novel is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events; to real people, living or dead; or to real locales are intended only to give the fiction a setting in historic reality. Other names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and their resemblance, if any, to real life counterparts is entirely coincidental.
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Navigation: At the bottom of this episode is a link to the next one. You can go to any episode by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking the “If He Loses” tab.
* * *
“Here we go, ladies and gentlemen,” said Chip, as the car came to a stop in the church parking lot. “‘Welcome back, Chip. Say, what’s this we hear about you being indicted for conspiracy to commit a terrorist act? Nice of you to pick this moment to return to church.’”
“Keep your heads up,” said Bob.
It was one thing to say it, though, and another to endure the embarrassed greetings and furtive stares. Jillian took it the hardest.
In his sermon, Pastor Whitcomb reaffirmed his commitment to the president, repeating his belief that he was ‘God’s man.’ “Here we are,” he said, “three days from inauguration and the nation still does not know who will be our next president.” For this he blamed ‘the forces of division.’ “No doubt, many of you have heard the reports that a justice of the highest court in the land has thrown up his hands in despair. For what else are we to call it, when in a moment of candor he lets it be known that the court sees no remedy it could provide prior to inauguration to resolve the Electoral College dispute?”
He leaned over the pulpit to stare at the congregation, as though expecting someone to call out an answer. He pulled back, shaking his head. “Of course everyone wants to know, which justice? Is it the chief justice? After all, is he not the one, first among those who occupy that august bench, to stand before the tribune of history? Whomever it was, what did he say?” he thundered. “‘There are so many legal issues,’ he said, ‘some extremely complex, some without legal precedent.’ He said it could take years. Years! Inauguration is in three days.”
More quietly he said that this was without precedent, and asked what was to be done. “Is this the moment to abandon our leader? He began to talk about ‘promises kept’ and to list achievements. “He has lowered taxes. He has appointed conservative judges. He has supported Israel. He has protected the Second Amendment. He has eliminated hurtful government regulations. He has withdrawn from treaties that do more harm than good to our nation. He has stood up to China. He has resisted climate change actions that kill jobs. He eliminated the purchase mandate from Obamacare. He has brought jobs back to America, opened federal lands...”
He stopped suddenly, as if to indicate that the list went on and on, then again leaned forward to say, “He has remained faithful to us. Are we about to be unfaithful to him? In his hour of need?”
* * *
Said a reporter, “While we should emphasize that as yet we do not know which justice is the source of the leak, consensus is quickly building that it must be the chief justice. He, after all, is the likely swing vote to break an expected 4-to-4 tie on any decision that would determine the outcome of the election.”
Asked a studio anchor, “What do you say about the rumors that the chief justice has been agonizing over the possibility that it could fall to the court to decide the election—if not now, then eventually?”
She nodded thoughtfully before answering. “At a minimum, the extraordinary occurrence of a leak of this nature, from such a source, at this late moment, surely indicates a desire to keep the pressure on Congress to resolve the logjam. Further, some interpret it as the chief justice signaling to Democrats not to appeal to the court for relief.”
“Does that mean the court deems it legal for the president to continue exercising power as an appointed ‘special adviser?’”
“If the chief justice is, quote, ‘agonizing,’ I can assume that is one of the reasons. Perhaps the main reason.”
* * *
On the way home from church, Bob announced that he would no longer work on Sunday. “I’m going to church. We’re all going to church. I let worrying about bills get between me and Jesus. That stops now.”
Jillian asked if this was related to what the minister said about the president.
“It’s what this family should have been doing all along,” he replied, quickly adding, “I blame myself. And in the afternoon, Chip, you and I are going to do something together.”
He started to say, “I can hardly wait,” but stopped himself.
When they got out of the car, Kaylee found a moment to whisper, “That was dad trying to make amends.”
Dinner was surprisingly uneventful. Jillian said little, made small talk. Bob challenged Chip to a few rounds of one-on-one... “If you’ll spot an old man a few points.” Kaylee said, before they did that, she had something to show Chip.
Upstairs, he said, “You don’t have something to show me, do you?”
She shook her head. “I just wanted to say... Maybe try not to be too hard on dad? I know he’s...”
“Yeah,” he said with a chuckle, “he’s very.”
“He’s trying, right? Also, I was kind of hoping we could talk, before I have to leave.” He shrugged assent. “Maybe now?” He invited her into his bedroom. “I didn’t get to ask how school was,” she began. “Pretty rough?”
He sighed deeply, thinking. “I didn’t know what to expect, you know? I figured, ‘Hey, it can’t get much worse.’” He shrugged. “I don’t know how it was. I think I was in a fog the whole time.”
She nodded as though she understood. “So nobody...”
“Nothing obvious. I mean, people are always... People are weird, you know? Anyway, Dirk was there.”
“I was going to ask.”
“In one way, he’s a total dick. In another way, he’s the closest thing I have to a friend.”
“No,” she replied, starting to choke up. “I’m the closest thing you have to a friend.”
He glanced at her and looked away, sniffing hard.
They took a moment to settle their breathing. To break the silence, Chip asked, “What do you think is going to happen?”
She knew what he was talking about. “Who knows? It’s crazy, right?”
“Am I right that you’ve turned against the president?”
She stared, nodded quietly. “I can’t live with this.”
“I think you know why not. At least I have to believe that.”
* * *
A commentator said, “There’s no question about it. Pressure has been steadily mounting on House Democrats to admit the Florida Republican slate and settle the election. The alternative, to let the president effectively continue in office as unelected ‘special adviser’ to his former vice president...”
Another commentator said, “The president-elect is absolutely feeling the pressure. The president’s threats of chaos and violence, not to mention tyranny, if Democrats don’t concede are getting too great to withstand. ‘For the sake of the country’ is rapidly becoming the new mantra for more and more Democrats.”
Another commentator asked, “But where is this pressure coming from? Certainly from within the congressional Democratic caucus, party insiders, probably some corporate donors, and to some extent among liberal journalists. But among the rank and file? Not so much.”
Another commentator said, “Many, maybe a majority, maybe a decisive majority want to hold fast and continue the fight, but core leadership, no question about it, you can feel the ground shifting. How much is concern for the country versus their own political prospects is an open question.”
* * *
Kaylee told Chip about her new friend, Alison. “She’s like amazing. You know what I told her? I said, ‘I don’t know if I’m more grateful than scared that I met you, or more scared than grateful.’ Really, Chip, I think God might have sent her to me. She’s helping me deepen my faith, by opening up a whole new... I never knew evangelicalism could be like that.”
“And you’re telling me this because...”
“I don’t believe the Lord is done with you. And I don’t think you’re done with Him. I know, I know—but listen. When I told her that, she said, ‘An amazing teacher once told us that there’s two ways to deepen your faith. You can dig your hole deeper, till you can’t see anything else... or you can climb out of it and take a look around.’ Is that amazing?”
“Wait, don’t tell me. You want me to...”
“Think about it. You climbed out of the hole the minister helped you dig—to say the least, right? But do you think you might have dug another hole for yourself?” Chip remained silent, but she could see he was listening. “There’s a lot more to evangelicalism than what we’ve been taught. I guess what I want to say is, you’re too smart to get caught in... No, seriously. Think about it, you were the first one to see through Whitcomb. Right? I won’t say you found the best way to express it, but... I didn’t see it. Mom and dad didn’t see it. I’m not sure dad sees it even now. But you saw it.”
He threw his arms around her.
She hugged him back affectionately, but then she could feel his chest heaving. When she heard sobs, she held him tighter. “It’s gonna be okay,” she whispered.
“It’s not gonna be okay. No way it’s gonna be okay. I did it, I’m guilty.”
“Can I tell you something else I learned? Admitting a serious error is the biggest step toward correcting it. I know that sounds kind of...”
When he stopped sniffling he said he had something to confess. She waited. “I kind of miss you calling me ‘little brother.’”
* * *
“In case you’re just joining us, at 6:42 this evening, eastern time, the president-elect released a brief written statement to the effect that ‘the constitutional process will proceed.’ This is taken to mean that the House Democrats... Recall, the Florida Republican slate has already been admitted in the Senate, which is controlled, if barely, by Republicans. The House Democrats will now agree to do the same. If this occurs—if this occurs—the election has been decided. The president has been re-elected.”
* * *
“Hey,” said Bob, “you were the one who insisted we go back to that church.”
“Where else am I gonna go? That’s my church. We were there long before he was. But he really went off this time. And you loved it.”
“Guilty. But you know what? I love you too, Jill. And if you don’t...”
“Uh-uh. That’s my church.” More calmly she added, “I guess everyone’s entitled to their opinion, right?”
He watched her. “So, what do you think, about you know...”
“I think I’m surprised that you’re not staying up to watch TV.”
He admitted that he was tempted, but didn’t want to upset her.
“Upset me? I’m ready to kill myself, but other than that... Bob, don’t you see what’s happening here? I just don’t get how you can...”
“Politics is a filthy business, Jillian. The goal is to win, not to play nice.” Before she could reply, he added, “Let me ask you a question. If the election were held today, is it obvious the Democrat would win?”
“Are you serious? Now the election doesn’t even matter? If you don’t win, you hold it again?”
“I’m just saying...”
“Do you know why the president-elect withdrew? To save the country. To save the country, Bob.”
“All he’s doing is allowing the constitutional process...”
“Yeah, come on. He conceded the election is what he did. He surrendered for the good of the country. And to celebrate that kind of victory...” Bob went to brush his teeth. When he returned, she said, “I think the final straw was the chief justice, basically saying, ‘Don’t look to the court for any help...’”
“I agree. They don’t have a case.”
“They don’t have a quick and easy case, for sure. Well, I’m not qualified to know what kind of case they have. I’m shocked to discover that I married a constitutional lawyer.”
He smiled. “You know you’re turning me on, right?”
She ignored him. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s fighting in the streets, maybe people killed. Is there an excuse for that too?”
He frowned. “That’s kind of low. I was hoping we were past that fighting thing.”
“We’re not. God only knows what will happen now.”
* * *
When Greg heard a scream, followed by loud wailing, he knew Ellen had seen the news. He rushed upstairs. “It’s okay, Ellen, it’s okay.”
“It’s not okay. My God, the P-E surrendered. The P-E surrendered, Greg. Caved. Oh my God!”
“It’s not the end of the world. The Democrats are publicly committing to pursue justice after inauguration.”
“Wonderful! And they’ll be tied up in court for, let me guess, four years?”
“Calm yourself, dear. I agree, our legal position is not as strong as theirs, thanks to the governor of Florida being a Republican. So he certifies the Republican Electoral College slate. But that defied the popular vote. I agree, it’s going to be long and arduous, but...”
“Four years, Greg! That’s how long. So what good is it?”
“Ellen, Ellen, calm down, it’s okay.” He had taken her hand and was stroking it. She didn’t seem to notice.
“There’s gonna be rioting, mayhem, maybe armed conflict. The National Guard will come in and shoot to kill, maybe the army.”
“It’s illegal to call out the army.”
“Tell him that.”
“Okay, come on. You know I’m scared too. But we have to be optimistic.”
“We stand a really good chance of taking the Senate in two years. That will give us a powerful check on presidential over-reach.”
“In two years. If it happens.” She shook her head in negation, anger, despair. “The P-E should not have conceded the election. No way.”
“That’s not what happened. They’re simply allowing the electoral process to go forward while they seek relief in court.”
“Oh, please. ‘Allowing the electoral...’ Will you listen to yourself?”
“I’m trying to be helpful, Ellen.”
“Well you’re not, Greg!”
He swallowed hard, dropped her hand, walked in a circle around the bedroom. “You’ll see. They won’t let this drop. They can’t, and they know it.”
Her face changed. He didn’t like it. “You know, I thought this was a lousy joke, but... Well, it’s not a joke anymore. The legal solution to this crisis is to divide the USA in RUSA and BUSA, Red America and Blue America.”
“Like the partition of India. A million dead.”
“Yeah. Like the partition of India.”
* * *
“Mom, have you heard the news? There’s going to be a counter-inauguration.”
“Counter-inauguration. A demonstration against the inauguration. Mom?”
Jillian had to catch her breath. “So my daughter has not only become a political activist, she’s coming out against the president.”
“I’m just trying to keep up with you is all. You’re right, of course. People who used to support him need to let him know... But, since when do you go to demonstrations like that?”
“I went to Chicago, mom. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I was there when they caught... You know, caught those guys.”
“Oh my God,” she whispered.
“I know, weird, huh? To think that Chip...”
“Stop. I don’t want to talk about that. Sorry, I’m just not ready to go there.” She was breathing heavily.
“You okay, mom?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m just trying to get my head around you going to a Democrat rally.”
“I kind of went for Joanne. We just went to observe.”
“There was a group of us. Mostly evangelicals. Mom, you wouldn’t believe... It’s really great, mom.”
“You sound excited.”
“I am excited. It’s... This might sound... I don’t know, but I feel closer to Jesus. I feel that He’s guiding me.”
“Honey, that’s wonderful. Just be careful, okay?”
“I’m meeting some really great people. Don’t worry, these are not radicals. I suppose dad might think so. They just see things differently—but they’re all committed Christians. Anyway, about the counter-inauguration...” She asked if Jillian might like to go with her. “Mom?”
She chuckled. “What’s too much these days? It is a lot, though. Boy, can you just see your father’s face?”
Kaylee said she was pretty sure there would be a bus going from campus, and that you didn’t have to be a student to ride. She said she’d find out if her mother was interested. “It would be so cool if you came. Mom?”
“Sorry. I keep... I’m asking myself if I’m interested. Honestly, I don’t know. I know how I feel. But... You have more courage than me, and I’m just so proud of you. I’ll have to think about that.”
“And talk to dad, right? How do you think...? Will he like go ballistic?”
“Probably. I don’t know, I shouldn’t pre-judge him. I mean, look at me, who would have thought? Maybe he’ll come. Be a great place to get into another fight.”
* * *
“...Who knows, who cares where the idea started? ‘Grassroots,’ people! Grew everywhere. Counter-inauguration: keep it going, make it happen...”
“...It’s Sun. night, the tyrant swears Wed. noon, so 48 hrs.—not even—to make it happen. Hire that bus, pool that car, head for the Mall. See ya Wed, people!”
“...So we need a million, make it two million people, on the mall, while it happens, to say ‘nfw’ to this tyrant...”
“...Individuals and organizations from every corner of the country are feverishly making plans to get to Washington in time to protest what is widely seen as an illegal inauguration...”
“...Travesty. Unconstitutional seizure of power. Democracy dies Wednesday at noon. Be there to add your voice...”
“...Add your voice to a multitude. Democracy lives when those who cherish it will not let it die...”
“Phony counter-inauguration led by thugs, radical leftwing anarchists waging merciless campaign to wipe out our history, erase our values. No permit for domestic terror! Law and order! Inauguration will be beautiful. When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
“...Just heard National Park Police have denied permit for counter-inauguration. True?”
“...Permit denied! Park police cite ‘insufficient time to insure public safety and protection of property.’ Yeah, right.”
“...It’s hard to believe, but an organizing committee has emerged already. After being denied a permit by the National Park Police to demonstrate on the National Mall, a separate request has been submitted to the DC Metropolitan Police for a permit to march...”
“...This just in, the DC police have refused a march permit, citing ‘insufficient time to insure public safety and protection of property.’”
“...It may be worth noting that a marching permit is not required, even in the street, providing no more than a single lane is occupied. Whether this will satisfy would-be ‘counter-inaugurators’ remains to be seen.”
“...Just heard org in DC handling permit requests advises street march legal, but expect to be treated roughly by cops. Do we go ahead? I’m thinking...”
“...The counter-inauguration has reportedly been canceled. This after last-ditch appeals to neighboring towns outside the District of Columbia denied permits to event organizers, citing ‘risks to property and public safety...’”
“...In fairness, they have a point. Unlike the DC police, who of course are highly experienced in this sort of thing, these are suburban towns that lack the resources, not to mention a large-enough open space, to handle anything like the turn-out that was expected...”
“...Whether or not he had a hand in the decision, the president scored another victory when the ‘counter-inauguration’ had to be canceled, due to a failure to obtain a permit. An alternative march through Washington without a permit was apparently considered and rejected, citing risks to public safety...”
“...So I say we go anyway. Too much is at stake...”
“...I agree, we should go—but peacefully. Don’t give the other side an excuse to dismiss us. We are in the right...”
“...Memo to other side: FU! See you Wed...”
“...It’s the National Mall, not the president’s mall...”
“...Forget counter-inaug. Cops will bottle us up and move in. Infiltrate & disrupt...!”
“...No, we cannot, must not sacrifice our dignity. We are there to defend the Constitution, not start a brawl...”
* * *
“With cries of ‘no permit, no peace,’ millions of Americans have spontaneously taken to the streets this ‘inauguration-eve,’ if we can call it that, to protest what they consider an illegitimate, if not illegal inauguration of a president they claim lost the election.”
“I think it’s fair to say that ‘main street,’ if not ‘downtown,’ in a very large number of America’s towns and cities, is occupied this evening by significant, sometimes massive numbers of Americans angry about tomorrow’s inauguration.”
“Surprisingly, perhaps shockingly, not everyone protesting tonight is a Democrat. I spoke to a number of people who said they are Republicans—sometimes life-long Republicans—and are ashamed of their party tonight and cannot support what some are calling a ‘usurpation of power.’”
* * *
Bob and Jillian were watching it on television. They were sitting apart, making comments to each other, sometimes neutral, sometimes not. Kaylee was with Alison and a group of her new friends, all checking their phones constantly. They were outside, like almost everyone else, not demonstrating or counter-demonstrating, just being there, chattering, chasing rumors. Chip was alone in his room, watching on his computer. Greg sat beside Ellen on the couch in the living room, his arm around her, as they watched it on television. Her expression was surprisingly calm, intent. His chest was heaving.
There were calm, peaceful demonstrations, there were loud, boisterous demonstrations. There were belligerent demonstrations, with police charges. There were riots, mayhem. There was arson, looting. There were street fights. The National Guard had been deployed in every state, in many places they moved in with drawn weapons. Shots were fired in numerous locations, the death toll rose. Television cameras captured scenes of agonizing grief, wailing over bodies, screaming.
Death threats were reported against public figures on both sides of the electoral dispute. Some were considered credible, security details were quickly reinforced. The president went down into the underground bunker beneath the White House, built to withstand nuclear attack. The White House itself was being rapidly fortified. A high metal fence was hastily being erected around the grounds. Security personnel were put on high alert, and heightened security protocols were activated. A blackout was imposed on the entire building.
Rumors, of course, were rife. Some could be debunked quickly, others not, while some turned out to be true. One that could not be easily categorized involved reports that large numbers of the president’s supporters were converging on Washington DC. They were said to be dressed in battle fatigues, sporting confederate flags, heavily armed, and ‘ready to rock and roll.’ As the district had a strict gun law and ‘open carry’ was prohibited, it was not immediately clear what the response would be if this situation were to materialize. A related rumor, harder to confirm, had it that the White House was in close communication with the Metro Police chief, regarding how to handle the situation.
Networks provided national coverage, reporters checking in from all over, public statements by law enforcement officials, interviews with participants and political commentators of all stripes, also historians, legal experts, politicians, party officials... Some were sober, some were not. Some cited facts, some avoided facts. Some were candid and forthright, some hid behind euphemisms, partial truths, truthiness, almost no truth, no truth at all. Some said America would never be the same, others said this would all go away in a day or two.
The president had already tweeted dozens of times. His public relations people made pronouncements, his cabinet members gave statements. All of this was more or less predictable until he called out the army and marines.
This was not a tweet. It was a direct order. The president ordered the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to occupy Washington, especially the National Mall and the White House. The order specified that bayonets were to be issued. Large numbers of additional units were ordered to various cities around the country—in states like California, New York, and Illinois, but not in states like Texas, Georgia, and Florida.
The order quickly came to light when, in an unprecedented and almost unthinkable move, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff immediately countermanded it, declaring it ‘unlawful.’ Instead, he ordered all active duty military to remain on current duty. He also issued a ‘directive,’ stating that any member of the military who followed an unlawful order would be courtmartialed. “The armed forces of the United States are the greatest fighting force in the world,” he declared in a live broadcast, “and this is ultimately because they pledge their allegiance to the Constitution, not to the president.” Here he stopped, appearing to have completed his statement, but then added, “The people of this great nation are the ultimate commander-in-chief.”
Kaylee sent a message to Roy that said, “Wish you could be with me now. Never so scared—or so hopeful. Weird?”
Chip sent no messages, answered no messages.
Jillian said, “I hope the minister is praying for the nation tonight. I sure am.”
Bob said nothing.
Greg said, “If anyone had suggested on election night that we would be here at inauguration, I would have called him insane.”
Ellen said nothing.