To the Democrats’ surprise, Donald Trump had been re-elected in 2020. The conventional wisdom was that Joe Biden had simply been too old to be a credible candidate. Although four years of a Trump administration had not improved the economy, Republicans were mostly happy with the President’s regressive agenda. It wasn’t long into the second term, however, that even the most enthusiastic supporters were experiencing a severe case of buyer’s remorse. By the time people would normally be thinking about the next election, Trump’s approval hovered around 15%.
It was January 5, 2024, and the official government celebration of Christmas was coming to an end. More people than ever had been jailed for saying “Happy Holidays” in public, but President Trump was expected to issue his usual general pardon on January 6.
Rumors were rife that the President would run for a third term despite the constitutional prohibition and his dismal approval rating. The underground media, include the Web sites hosted overseas that changed their URLs frequently, suggested that Trump might simply cancel the 2024 election. The mainstream media, particularly The New York Times and The Washington Post, had avoided any mention of an upcoming election. The successful federal prosecutions of the papers for anti-government propaganda had decimated their financial assets and their staffs, put their editors in jail, and discouraged all but the most innocuous political reporting. Both papers had dropped their editorial and opinion pages.
Trump’s prospects for a third win, assuming the constitutional limitation could be finessed, were bleak indeed. The country had been divided in the 2016 election, and divisions had only gotten worse. Liberals loathed Trump more than ever. Although most Trump voters had lost faith, a minority thought Trump’s policies insufficiently draconian. “Let Trump Be Trump” was their battle cry.
The only development everyone seemed satisfied with was the precipitous decline in the prices of natural gas and gasoline. Drilling in national forests and national parks had greatly increased domestic supplies. Arctic oil from Russia was being shipped west in the ice-free Arctic Ocean, which had also helped hold down energy prices. Congress had eliminated the federal gas tax as part of the government’s retreat from the transportation infrastructure business. Three corporations now maintained Interstate highways, which had become a network of toll roads. Airports were mostly run by local corporations, which had increased fees to the point where fewer and fewer people could afford to fly except when absolutely necessary. Passenger rail had been abandoned, and river traffic, without federal maintenance of waterways, was rapidly disappearing.
The pro-life lobby was delighted that the Trump Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade. Abortions were everywhere illegal now, and the high mortality among young and middle-age women was seldom remarked upon. That rate had seen a recent upswing with the outlawing of contraception in many states.
Other Supreme Court decisions had made it almost impossible for individuals or states to sue corporations for misrepresentations or for selling faulty products. On the other hand, it had become easy for corporations or the government itself to sue publications or individuals for libel.
One of the least popular moves of Trump’s first term was the trade war he set off with China. Not only had his 45% tariff on Chinese goods put many products, especially electronic products, out of the reach of many Americans, but it also led to massive layoffs in the export-dependent sector. China had found other trade partners, of course, but the U.S. had not.
Corporate support for the President had gradually increased, largely because the corporate tax had been reduced to 5%, and the Environmental Protection Agency, along with its myriad regulations, had been eliminated. Polluted water alerts had become commonplace, and smog had become a serious problem in the larger cities. The occasional die-offs, which mostly affected children, were seen by the administration as a cost of doing business. Despite the administration’s pro-fossil-fuel policies, however, coal mining jobs had reached a modern low.
The system of public schools had disappeared. Parents were given vouchers to be used at charter schools of their choice. Poor neighborhoods often had no schools to choose from, and the vouchers did not cover all school costs anyway. An increasing number of children were dropping out of school and working to help their families afford housing and food.
Domestic problems were overshadowed by problems abroad. The administration had substantially increased the military budget, even pouring more funds into F-35 development, yet the President showed little inclination to actually deploy the military.
Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv had re-ignited the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran had quickly entered the conflict, and the destruction of Israel seemed imminent. The U.S., however, had not intervened. Likewise, America stood by while Russia re-annexed the Baltic states. President Trump declared that, since NATO countries were not shouldering their fair share of defense costs, the U.S. would not come to the aid of Europe.
The one place where President Trump had decided to show American muscle was in the South China Sea. American ships attacked military installations built by the Chinese on their man-made islands. This had set off a brief but nasty war that resulted in many American casualties and the return of Taiwan to Chinese control. The Joint Chiefs had warned that the only way an American defeat could be prevented was through the use of nuclear weapons. Although Trump considered that alternative, representatives of Congress had made it clear that such a move would be Trump’s—and perhaps the country’s—last.
President Trump was genuinely uncertain about what to do about the upcoming election. The Trump Organization had grown increasingly profitable during his administration, and the President was generally considered to be the world’s richest man. An electoral loss—the Democrats had a full bench of presidential hopefuls, as well as candidates for Congress lined up—could result in investigations of his administration. If he ran and lost or did not run at all, jail time seemed a real possibility.
All things considered, cancelling the election seemed the best choice.
— LED, 12/18/2016, rev. 12/19/2016