It is November 3, 2020. Election Day in the U.S.A.

There’s a dusting of snow on the ground as Ekaterina Sokolova, 34, leaves her Moscow apartment for her 20-minute commute to 22 Komsomolsky Prospekt, an office of the G.R.U., the Russian security service.

She is assigned to Unit 26165, consisting of uniformed computer nerds. Captain Katya, as she is called, wears four stars on her uniform, but her true authority comes from her doctorate in computer science from Moscow State University, where she studied under the eminent Viktor Korolev. It is eight in the morning, midnight on the East Coast of the United States, where most polling stations will not be open for hours.

Katya makes her way through security—fingerprint scan, iris scan, facial recognition—and finally enters a room using an old-fashioned key. Six men and two women are at the ready. They jump to attention, and Katya responds with a smart, regulation salute. She scans the room and shouts, “Are we ready to elect a president?”

The room erupts in a roaring “Da!”

As the polls open in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, things start to go haywire.

In Detroit, the power goes out and voting machines lock up.

In Miami, poll workers are summarily dismissed via text messages due to “extraordinary circumztances.” They don’t notice the spelling error.

In Los Angeles, the traffic lights allowing cars onto the 10 and the 405 freeze on red. The backup is miles long. The city is snarled.

In Indianapolis, a group of preppy-looking white men interrupt the vote count. They burst through a glass door, insisting that the president’s vote is being undercounted. They chant, “Count the votes that count!,” unnerving the poll watchers, one of whom runs out of the room in tears. Counting is suspended until the state police arrive. They seal the room. All of this is seen on TV.

In the desert outside Riyadh, Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud sits in the king’s box at the annual camel festival. Off in the distance, a cloud of agitated sand is coming closer, but it will be another 10 minutes before the first camels cross the finish line, and M.B.S., as he is called, awards the winner a Toyota Hilux that, he notes wryly, can later be outfitted with a PK machine gun and sold as a “technical” to the devious Yemenites.

M.B.S. is here at the request of his father, the aged and infirm king, but his mind is elsewhere—on the American presidential elections. He needs the president to win re-election. The two families have become close—business interests that have yet to become public—but more importantly, the president appreciates the threat of Iran, just across the Arabian (not Persian!) Gulf. His opponent, the Democrat, had been drifting to the left, and his vice-presidential choice, a Black woman, has demanded the U.S. “fundamentally reevaluate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.” If Tehran is meddling with the American ballot box—and they must be—then so must he.

The winning camel, ridden by an emaciated 14-year-old Bedouin boy, streaks across the finish line as M.B.S.’s phone rings. It’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

M.B.S. answers. “Shalom,” he says.

“Ahlaan,” Bibi responds in Arabic.

“It works,” says M.B.S. cryptically.

“Yes, we are watching. It will work.”

“Inshallah,” Bibi says.

“L’ Chaim,” M.B.S. chuckles.

The Night Without End

With nightfall, exhausted election officials call a pause in the count so they can get some sleep. In New Orleans, mountains of mail ballots are found in a warehouse. Exhausted U.S.P.S. workers, their numbers depleted by three waves of the coronavirus, sleep on mounds of uncounted ballots.

Running mates?

In Minneapolis, WCCO-TV (Channel 4) shows kids sledding down hills of mailed-in paper ballots.

Armed militias are on the move, pouring into key states. Caravans are seen on the road. Some Republican governors provide police escorts. The reported number of militia members varies—from dozens to thousands. Social media is on fire.

At three in the morning, Wisconsin goes to the Democrat and, at dawn, Florida follows. But absentee ballots have yet to be counted, and Governor Ron DeSantis, suffering from his third bout of the coronavirus, says that could take weeks.

In Miami, poll workers are summarily dismissed via text messages due to “extraordinary circumztances.” They don’t notice the spelling error.

Wisconsin and Florida are the key states. In the last election, they went for the president. With these two states, the Democrat has 271 electoral votes, one more than needed to claim the presidency. The president has 267; he demands that the votes be impounded in Texas, which he just lost by a hair. The governor hesitates. The president announces he’s federalized the Texas Rangers—a state agency beyond his purview. They pour out of field offices anyway and zoom to the polling stations.

More militias are on the move.

On TV, Rudy Giuliani says the president has reason to be suspicious and warns that various Antifa factions are spoiling for a fight. “The left wants to take this into the streets,” Rudy says.

Fox News falsely reports that some militia members have been shot and killed and that in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Camden, New Jersey, armed Black Panthers are turning the president’s voters away from the polls.

In his office on the 34th floor of 1211 Avenue of the Americas, Rupert Murdoch takes a call from Paul Ryan, the former House Speaker, who remains his influential adviser. Ryan tells him that Fox News is recklessly irresponsible and doing grievous harm. Murdoch, he warns, will seem the fool, an immigrant who repaid his adopted country by despoiling it.

Roused and somewhat addled, Murdoch goes to the newsroom, where he confronts Sean Hannity, who is wearing a holstered gun. The anchor blows him off. “This is the moment!,” Hannity yells. “The Resistance, a bunch of Commies, want to take everything back. Everything we’ve worked for.”

Murdoch is red-in-the-face livid.

“Leave the building,” he tells Hannity.

Two security guards appear. Hannity nods to them, and instead of taking Hannity by the elbow and guiding him out of the newsroom, they seize Murdoch instead.

A white-nationalist militia called the Base heads for the Capitol. As it marches—flags flying, bugles sounding—the heavily armed group is surprisingly joined by a scattering of young Black men, who explain to the media, “They want change; we want change.” The two sides embrace, united in their alienation.

Around midday, Democrats, citing Wisconsin and Florida, claim victory. They call on the president to concede. The president responds with a tweet: “I have won a beautiful victory. God Bless America.”

The tweet is issued as the president is being measured for an inaugural tuxedo by Martin Goldberg of Brooklyn’s Martin Goldberg Clothiers. As Goldberg puts in pins and takes out others, the president sends tweets. Goldberg tugs at the jacket. “I’m going to make you look beautiful,” he says. “A regular Cary Grant. He was a real gentleman. Paid his bills on time.”

“Well, he was a fucking idiot. He should have billed you for wearing one of your fucking suits.” The president looks down at Martin, pinning his cuffs. He kicks him away. “Did you come here to collect a bill?” The president erupts. “Fuck you, Marty. I’ll go to Brioni. Great suits. Great price. For me, nada. Nothing.” He stops. Looks down.

“Give me a good break, Marty.”

Two security guards appear. Hannity nods to them, and instead of taking Hannity by the elbow and guiding him out of the newsroom, they seize Murdoch instead.

Both the right and the left think the vote count has been compromised. The middle is impotent. NBC assembles a panel of historians. Jon Meacham says not to worry. The country has gone through hard times before. Doris Kearns Goodwin cites Lincoln’s address at Cooper Union. But Niall Ferguson tells the Washington fire department to be ready: the Reichstag is about to burn.

The president fires James Murray as director of the Secret Service, explaining that Murray asked to return to his former post as director of training. In that same tweet, he names Murray’s replacement: Keith Schiller, the president’s former bodyguard.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, wearing body armor, take up positions on the White House grounds. CBS and The Washington Post report that the Border Patrol Tactical Unit has set up a camp on the grounds of Gallaudet University, the federally chartered school for the deaf in Northeast Washington. The news media is checking out rumors that ICE is also occupying the former Old Soldiers’ Home, where Abraham Lincoln spent summer nights.

From the South, the militia groups Patriot Front and American Identity Movement move up I-95 toward Washington. They are cheered as they roll by. Some of the marchers sing “Dixie.” At White’s Travel Center, the militiamen stop when they are met by a swarm of TV cameras. All they want to do is ensure that democracy prevails, they assure the reporters.

Fox and other media outlets demand to know if the military’s Special Operations Command is not relaunching Operation Jade Helm, an exercise to simulate an enemy occupation of American territory. The Pentagon says no and trots out General Richard Clarke, the commander, to deny the reports. He is still in Tampa, the army says. But a Breitbart crew goes to his home on MacDill Air Force Base and finds it dark.

“Faithless Electors”

Mitch McConnell says the lame-duck Senate will quickly meet to confirm all presidential appointments. He will not wait for the new Senate to be seated. Democrats are in an uproar.

The Electoral College is set to meet December 14. The president needs to flip two electors. He offers bribes, federal appointments, ambassadorships, judicial appointments.

Mississippi and South Carolina go narrowly to the Democrat, but both states have intensely conservative legislatures, which will try to intervene. Mississippi governor Tate Reeves immediately summons the state legislature into special session. South Carolina follows. The law, as usual, is confusing.

Violence erupts in both Jackson, Mississippi, and Columbia, South Carolina. In Jackson, state senator Luther McMasters invokes the memory of the late senator James Eastland, an ardent racist, who rallied opposition to the Supreme Court’s school-desegregation decision. He quotes Eastland: “You are not obliged to obey the decisions of any court which are plainly fraudulent sociological considerations.”

In Texas, Democratic electors are simply banned from the statehouse.

Armed militias are on the move, pouring into key states. Caravans are seen on the road. Some Republican governors provide police escorts.

Electors are surreptitiously photographed having extramarital or kinky sex. Hackers in Russia watch as one Democratic elector is wrapped in plastic by his lover, who urinates on him. Within an hour, the elector gets a call from his local police chief, who has the video. He is threatened with exposure on the Internet—unless …

The president zeroes in on Maine’s Electoral College delegation—three Democrats, one Republican—which has no law governing so-called faithless electors. The potentially “faithless” elector is identified as James G. Blaine VI, named for his great-great-great-grandfather, the three-time 19th-century presidential candidate.

Blaine is fixated on his ancestor, who was also twice secretary of state. He considers him unfairly slighted by history and still suffering from slanderous charges of corruption. The Democrats called him “the continental liar from the state of Maine.” James G. Blaine VI shudders at the thought of the ugly chant. He is willing to make a deal, he tells the president. He will switch to the president in exchange for renaming Cadillac Mountain, in Acadia National Park, to Mount Blaine. The president says he, too, feels that the Blaine legacy has been slighted. He, too, knows how it is to be unfairly judged. Soon, Blaine announces that “James G. Blaine from the State of Maine” is getting the recognition he deserves. “A mountain instead of a molehill.”

The next “faithless” elector seems to come out of nowhere. Jimmy “the Wrench” Brzezinski, president of a plumbers union local, whose members have worked on the president’s family’s construction projects since the late 1940s. “All I know,” he tells the press from his home in Island Park, on Long Island, “is that the president gets the job done.” Brzezinski stands on his private dock. His boat, the 42-foot Solidarity Forever, sailed away earlier in the day and is missing from the photo op.

The Base, ready to defend.

The Electoral College is tied. The election must now be decided by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Under the Constitution, the Senate chooses the vice president and the House chooses the president.

An Influencer Appears

McConnell schedules an early vote, but within his own caucus objections are sounded. The president’s abrupt decision 31 days before the election to dump his vice president never did go down well, even though, with the outcome projected to be close, a woman was considered the smart choice. Countless op-ed columns predicted the candidate would be Nikki Haley, the Indian-American former governor of South Carolina, or Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News personality close to the president. Haley demurred and Pirro was vetoed by the president’s eldest daughter on account of her “bridge-and-tunnel look.” In the end, the decision was made to choose a white suburban woman, and so the president offered his former running mate the first available Supreme Court seat and named a woman to replace him. She was someone none of the White House staffers had ever heard of.

“She’s an influencer,” the president says. “Like me.”

“She’s an influencer,” McConnell repeats later that day. But then a hot mike catches him asking an aide, “What’s an influencer?”

“Someone who influences,” the aide whispers. McConnell beams idiotically and says, “Just make sure she’s pro-life.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, wearing body armor, take up positions on the White House grounds.

Some in the party have their doubts. But those evaporate when Pence is asked if he would have lunch alone with the influencer. In an image captured on TV, he looks to his wife, who nods her assent. “Yes,” he says.

The Republican National Committee quickly approves the choice. In the Senate, McConnell overrules Mitt Romney’s objections and the body elects the influencer vice president of the United States. “This is awesome,” she says tearfully. “My name is Karen and I am super-excited to become vice president of the United States. I’m a mom and a Christian and I have 43 million followers. This morning I am wearing Yearning 4 Yu blush.”

In the House, everything goes sideways. Here the roll is called by state—one vote per state. (For example, California and North Dakota each get only one vote.) House Democrats have a majority of members but not of states. In the new Congress, some state delegations have an even number of representatives—Arizona, Iowa—and end up tied, and some are so close that the vote of one member can make the difference. The members are intensely lobbied. Some hear from their landlords, their banks, their kids needing a job, former girlfriends, boyfriends, plastic surgeons. Two flip. One is promised an ambassadorship to “a country with good wine,” and the other is offered a pardon in a tax investigation that is underway but not yet public. Peter Welch, Vermont’s only representative, holds out for the promise of universal health care. In Minnesota, which is split 4–4, Ilhan Omar threatens to bolt unless the American Embassy in Jerusalem is moved back to Tel Aviv.

Fistfights break out in some delegations.

Some members scatter and go into hiding. They flee across the district line into Maryland and Virginia. They hide in motels and with friends, shack up with girlfriends, check in to hospitals, go on religious retreats and on epic benders—all this in an attempt to deny either side a majority. Republicans demand that the sergeant at arms find the missing members, but the poor man is not a cop and, anyway, he takes his orders from the Speaker, who tells him he seems a little pale and orders him to go on sick leave.

Mitch McConnell says the lame-duck Senate will quickly meet to confirm all presidential appointments. He will not wait for the new Senate to be seated.

The president directs the F.B.I. to find the missing Congress members. The F.B.I. director balks. Not his job, he says. In a tweet, the president fires him. Bernard Kerik is appointed interim F.B.I. director.

A massive manhunt is organized, with militias on the loose and vigilantes everywhere poking into motel rooms and private homes.

The House is unable to choose a president.

It is January 20, 2021, and since the United States of America has no president, the influencer becomes acting president. She promises to remain “a people person” and an example to moms everywhere.

A House Divided Against Itself

At Fort Steinem (formerly Fort Bragg), Lieutenant General William (Buffalo Bill) Quinn is reading Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night, about the storming of the Pentagon in 1967 by unarmed anti-war protesters. Quinn is head of the U.S. Northern Command, and he has been tasked by the Joint Chiefs to secure Washington, D.C. The last time it was under siege was by Vietnam War protesters.

Quinn slips the book into his attaché case, starts to leave his office, hesitates, and returns to retrieve an M18 handgun from his desk. He then swiftly exits the building, and within minutes he’s boarded a government G-IV for a flight to D.C. While in the air, he changes the flight plan from the usual Andrews Air Force Base to Quantico, the heavily guarded Marine Corps air base. There, with high security, he boards a waiting Marine helicopter and is whisked to the Pentagon. As he flies, he arcs over the Potomac so he can look down at the White House.

The president is alone in his bathroom, shaving. He peers into the mirror and imagines seeing his father. “Looking more and more like you every day, Dad,” he says, breaking into a smile. His father does not return the smile. Instead, he barks, “Get dressed. We have business to do.” And the youngster, eight years old, sits next to his father as they drive in the family Cadillac from the tony Jamaica Estates section of Queens to the Shore Haven development in the working-class Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. There, they meet a Kings County sheriff. “Good morning, sir,” the sheriff says. “Is that the one?” He points to a ground-floor apartment.

The father nods. The sheriff pounds on the door and a pregnant woman in a housecoat opens it. The sheriff puts a document in her hands. “You’ve been served,” he says. “Now get out.” He elbows past her and into the living room. Father and son follow. An infant is in a playpen. The sheriff looks to the father for instructions.

“Get her out,” he orders.

The woman breaks down, crying, but the father looks past her to his son.

The kid’s a block of granite.

The father smiles with pride. He turns to the sheriff.

“Do your job.”

In the mirror of the White House bathroom, the president smiles back at his long-dead father. “Miss you, Dad,” he says. He rubs some aftershave on his palms and slaps it on his face.

“It’s party time,” he says.

“My name is Karen and I am super-excited to become vice president of the United States.”

In Manhattan, a black U.S.-government vehicle pulls up to 628 Park Avenue, a pre-war luxury apartment house. A middle-aged woman is waiting. Even though it is not raining, the doorman opens an umbrella and shields the woman as she’s seated in the car. The car pulls urgently into traffic. The woman sits in the back holding a tin of potica, the traditional nut bread of Slovenia. She knows her little sister will be comforted by a nibble.

The “victory” celebration is underway at the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Most of the Cabinet is present, but none of them know how long they will remain in office. They nervously check Twitter every two seconds or so.

Lincoln with the steward of his Grand Old Party.

The Marine Band stirs. The drummers and the buglers alternate four ruffles and four flourishes. The president appears. He is accompanied by his wife and all of his children. The president is buoyant, exclaiming over and over again, “I won! I won! A landslide! A landslide!”

Suddenly, his mood shifts, and he gives a bitter speech about how he won and how he won’t allow the election to be stolen from him. He recalls the media’s attempt to rob him of the largest inaugural crowd in history: “The biggest in history. Bigger than Obama. Bigger than anyone!” He pauses as if distracted.

“Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV,” he says. He smiles. “Could my opponent do that?”

His mood changes again. He vows revenge on his enemies. He rambles. He starts and then stops and then starts again. He invokes Roy Cohn. He gets teary when he mentions Mike Flynn and Roger Stone: “Great Americans, very great Americans. They sacrificed their lives for me. When the time comes, I will order that they be buried in Arlington.”

“They’re our heroes,” the president goes on. “As far as I’m concerned, they could dig up Kennedy and put Flynn in his place.”

“I’m going to make Hillary dig the hole,” the president says.

“Lock her up!” the audience yells.

The president steps off the rostrum. The First Lady is waiting for him. She whispers in his ear, and they walk off together, holding hands. Adversity has brought them closer. They confer, they talk, they fret about their son, and they obsess about loyalty. Their personal staffs not only never talk to the press, their very names are not known. The couple’s married life is confined to a tight no-comment zone. It is the same with the president’s childhood homelife—the father’s Teutonic tyranny, the father’s mistress, the father’s brush with the Ku Klux Klan. None of that is mentioned. Erased. No comment.

Once again, the family is a black hole, impenetrable to outsiders, unknown to anyone other than themselves. There is no sex. There almost never was.

The president looks to his son-in-law, who nods to him and mouths the word “ready.” The president heads for the door and swiftly enters a waiting limousine. It zooms away and just moments later arrives at the Lincoln Memorial. He steps out of the car into the frigid night. Secret Service director Keith Schiller drapes a camel-hair coat over his shoulders. It looks like a cape.

The president slowly mounts the steps to the massive statue. As he does so, searchlights bathe the crowd. We see the lit faces of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Kardashian starts to hum “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Others take up the tune. The president approaches Lincoln, bows, and then turns around and comes down the stairs. By now, Kanye West has joined the singing and, out of nowhere, his Sunday Service Choir appears. It launches into the third stanza and everyone is singing, including the president.

In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free
While God is marching on

The president turns his back to Lincoln and faces the audience. The Sunday chorus hums, and searchlights dart in and out of the throng.

“Aside from the fact that this was a great man, this is a great work of art,” the president says. “That’s one of the greatest sculptures, one of the greatest statues, to me, anywhere in the world. And you can go to Italy, you can go anywhere. That’s, to me, one of the greats.”

He pauses. “Look, I am greeted with a hostile press the likes of which no president has ever seen. The closest would be that gentleman right up there. They always said, Lincoln—nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse.”

“I am not the man to give up a struggle already begun. I have proved this my entire life, and I shall prove it now. When I began my political career, I declared to my supporters—and, believe me, there were so very, very few of them, very few—I declared, there is no such word as surrender in my vocabulary. What I am planning or aiming at today is nothing compared to what I have already accomplished and achieved. The road from Queens in New York to this memorial in Washington was harder than the road will be ahead. The very long road ahead. Very long.”

With that, a tear appears in his right eye, and the chorus swells and Kanye and Kim sing out:

Glory, glory, Hallelujah! Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
Glory, glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on!

The president then waves to the crowd and starts down the steps to his limousine.

General Quinn’s first priority is to secure the Pentagon. Located across the Potomac River from Washington, it is nevertheless the heart of Washington because it contains the city’s most durable and democratic institution: a military sworn to democratic values.

Quinn believes this fight will end like all others. The winner will be the side with the best organization and the most guns, and no one is better organized or has more guns than the U.S. military. This election will be settled in the streets. The generals will prevail. If necessary, Seal Team Six will storm the White House. It has been practicing all week on the Bradlee Mansion, in Georgetown.

The Base and other paramilitary groups mass for a march up Pennsylvania Avenue. (They are denied a permit but march anyway, brushing by the cops, some of whom cover their badges with black tape and join them.) They are confronted by what later would come to be called “The March of the Ancients”: Jimmy Carter, Bob Dole, Walter Mondale, James Baker, Harry Belafonte, and Betty White.

Dole and Belafonte are in wheelchairs, pushed by Medal of Honor recipients from recent wars. The leader of the Base, who goes by the pseudonym Roman Wolf, salutes the Medal of Honor winners but then walks right by them. He ignores the others, and his followers do the same. The Ancients are left stranded in the middle of the avenue. One cop, wearing a MAGA cap, slaps Carter with a jaywalking ticket.

The woman from Park Avenue arrives at the White House and is taken immediately to see the president’s wife, her sister. To her surprise, her mother is already there. The sisters embrace.

“Ljubin te,” the sister says.

“I love you, too,” the other responds.

The mother looks on and starts to cry.

“Here,” the sister from New York says, extending the tin of potica.

“He’s not going to leave,” the other sister blurts out. “He says he won. He’s furious. He can’t even get Rupert on the phone.”

“Then you should leave him,” the New York sister says.

She gets a glare in response.

The wife’s eyes are brimming. “Never, never” she says. The sisters hug each other, and then the president’s wife abruptly steps back. She reaches for a dress on the bed and holds it up against her body. She smiles with satisfaction.

“Well?” she asks. “Dolce & Gabbana.”

After his victory celebration, the president retires to his room and places a call to Bill Barr. “They’re going to come after me,” he says. “That Letitia James in New York. The A.G. She’s gonna get me on taxes. Corruption. Everything but murder. Even the feds will gun for me. I’m gonna pardon myself. Why not? I deserve it.”

While talking, the president grabs the remote control and switches on Fox News. Alan Dershowitz’s face fills the screen. “Thirteen words will do the trick, Sean,” he says to Hannity. “Count ’em: ‘The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.’ Easy. Done. There go presidential term limits. Roosevelt won four times.”

“Another great New Yorker,” Hannity says.

“Yes,” Dershowitz agrees. “You could say New York has a tradition of four-term presidents.”

The president drops the phone and hits Replay. He watches the segment again.

And then again.

Richard M. Cohen was a longtime columnist for The Washington Post