The indecisive outcome — stage 2. Assuming Trump doesn’t reverse course from a lifetime of unmodulated self-aggrandizement, the country would face two paths forward, neither of them good. The first would be a military intervention (a coup) to depose the president. Unlike resistance fantasies of a group of officers nobly facing down Trump in the name of democracy after he unilaterally declares himself dictator for life, in this more realistic scenario Trump would benefit from ambiguity. The very indecisiveness of the election would enable him to portray himself as the defender of democracy against those who would circumvent the rule of law to defy the rightful outcome of the vote. That would make the military intervention maximally fraught, with considerable potential for bloodshed as Trump supporters express their fury in the street. And even if it succeeded, it would set a terrible precedent for the American future.

The second way forward would be just as bad. In this scenario, the military doesn’t intervene, but the demonstrations Brooks prophesies quickly spiral out of control and descend into violence. Instead of a larger version of the peaceful “pussyhat” rallies from the period following Trump’s election in 2016, any post-2020 election protests would be highly chaotic affairs, in which hundreds of thousands of well-meaning patriotic Americans mix with antifa troublemakers on one side and pro-Trump vigilantes on the other. Marches, speeches, chanting, rioting, looting, burning, fist-fights, paint balls, gunplay — all of it would mix into a tableau of anarchy resembling a televised civil war more than a demonstration of civic resolution to settle the outcome of the election in the fairest way possible. And through it all, Trump would be there, doing everything in his power to provoke further bad behavior in order to make the case that those taking to the streets are the true enemies of the people, refusing to accept the outcome of a democratic election.