What if the unthinkable becomes all too real?

What will we be doing if Donald Trump loses the election and discredit the results? What happens when he refuses to peacefully transfer power come Jan. 20? We need to be talking about this now.

ATHENS — I am assuming that for all of us, there is no question what we'll be doing on Nov. 3. If we haven't done so already through mail-in ballots, we will be participating in what is unquestionably the most important act that we as citizens of this country have ever done.

We will be electing the next president of the United States, and in so doing, deciding the fate of our threatened democracy.

But what happens after Election Day? What will we be doing if Donald Trump loses, and perhaps by a landslide (as polls presently indicate is quite possible), and he then engages in the variety of maneuvers that he has promised to discredit the results?

What happens when he refuses to comply with a Constitutionally mandated, peaceful transfer of power come Jan. 20?

Are we prepared to resist and prevent such an attempted coup on the part of the present occupant of the White House?

It is important that we give serious thought about this now and not wait until Nov. 4, when events could be cascading helter-skelter, overwhelming us.

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For those of us who share this concern, we need to be having conversations with our families and friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners, work and school mates. We need to be asking them if they are thinking about what they will be doing on Nov. 4.

We need to be doing this most important task right now, especially with the many people we know who are not necessarily activists but whose hearts are in the right place.

This large group of non-activists - the bulk of our allies and friends who, while expressing supportive sentiments, don't usually demonstrate them in public actions - need to be involved on Nov. 4 and for whatever follows. They will potentially make the decisive difference in preventing an attempted Trump coup.

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We might come up with a variety of options, including peacefully protesting and engaging in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, work stoppages, and school strikes; de-escalating potential violence, and providing mutual aid and community protection.

We could join local groups while being part of a larger, nationwide resistance, though it is important that whatever our efforts, they remain centered on our local communities and their well-being. This is where our power resides as a people.

We should also participate in local forums, such as the interactive workshop ”What Happens after Election Day?,” which a number of local, Brattleboro-based groups are co-sponsoring. The workshop takes place online from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 22. To register and for more information, visit bit.ly/583_afterelection.

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This is not a hypothetical exercise that I'm suggesting, but one that takes seriously what Trump has been talking about daily over recent months.

The president insists that the only way he can be defeated by the American people is through a fraudulent vote, especially with the use of write-in ballots. Trump is desperate, and on the basis of his observed behavior, we know that he is quite capable of the unthinkable.

We need to keep in mind that for Trump, retaining his office is a life-and-death matter, for once he is no longer president, he loses the protection the presidency currently affords him from being pursued by law for the several federal crimes he has allegedly committed.

We also need to keep in mind that we cannot count on the institutional safeguards that, in the past, might have protected us from the kind of authoritarian outrage that Trump threatens us with.

The power of an imperial presidency has been gathering strength since at least the administration of Richard Nixon and has achieved its most dangerous expression with Trump, who has declared on several occasions that under Article II of the Constitution, “I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Over the past four years, we have witnessed the further shredding of the Constitution, the appointment of many ultra-conservative justices, and the erosion of the separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. We have also seen the politicization of law enforcement.

All of which advances a totalitarian state.

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Perhaps what we fear will not come to pass - but I wouldn't count on it.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility to protect and preserve our democracy. This is our job as citizens of our democracy. If we don't do it, no one is going to do it for us.

And this begins now, by talking with one another about Nov. 4, by discussing what we're going to do should what some of us would like to dismiss as unthinkable becomes all too real.

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