April 23, 2024

If you ask most Americans, whether they are Democrats or unserious presidential candidates, the fate of U.S. democracy depends on how November’s election goes. If you ask Donald Trump, the election could determine the fate of the United States itself.

“If we don’t win on November 5, I think our country is going to cease to exist. It could be the last election we ever have. I actually mean that,” the former president said at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Tuesday.

In fact, looking at Trump’s plans for a potential second term, it’s more likely that the opposite is true. He has claimed that he wants to be a dictator, but only on “day one,” and plans to install his legal allies at all levels of government. And his Cabinet? It’s sure to be full of ideologues, immigration hard-liners, and outright fascists. Even conservative judges claim he’ll shred the legal system.

But Trump’s remarks could also be a veiled threat that he should win, or else. The far right, from Trump down to militias, hate groups, and grassroots MAGA supporters, could react violently if the election doesn’t go in their favor.

As Brynn Tannehill wrote for The New Republic in March, “The election cycle either ends in chaos and violence, balkanization, or a descent into a modern theocratic fascist dystopia.” It might not be a stretch to suggest that Trump could plan another January 6–type event if he loses. After all, only months prior to the Capitol insurrection, he urged the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” on a debate stage.

But it could all be bluster, as well. Trump is no stranger to hyperbole, particularly on the campaign trail. In October 2020, for example, he suggested he might leave the country if he lost the election that year. At a rally in April 2022, he claimed to be “the most honest human being, perhaps, that God ever created.”