Business & Politics
Donald Trump’s Threat to the US Elections
20th August 2020
Donald Trump didn’t think his latest election threat all the way through, but he continues to set a terrifying precedent for a nation which touts itself as a global inspiration for democracy.
He suggested on 30th July that the election be delayed – an idea which most press outlets and even the US congress assured was not going to happen, putting the president firmly in his place.
But he has continued his attacks on the American postal system (USPS), which is more important than ever in light of COVID restrictions.
More broadly, it’s part of a campaign of confidence-erosion that he started when he first arrived in the White House, suggesting at the time that voter fraud was the reason he lost the 2016 popular vote to Hilary Clinton.
No evidence has ever been found to support this claim.
It’s widely considered improbable – although not impossible – for the President to bypass the rulebook and hold on to his job even if he loses this year’s election, but it may not matter whether he remains in office. The damage to trust is already done.
A recent NBC/Survey Monkey poll has found that 65% of Republican voters are not confident that the election will be conducted fairly. 55% of independent voters and 46% of Democratic voters believe the same thing.
Huge swathes of each American political sphere do not trust the contest that’s about to decide their future. Whether this is because of Trump’s rhetoric or in spite of it; it’s clear enough that his words have not helped to defuse things.
Wind the clocks back 20 years, when another controversial US presidential election took place.
George W. Bush went up against Al Gore, and their leadership race fell into total confusion. For weeks, Florida couldn’t confirm who won their state-wide vote, since the results were so tight. And without Florida’s verdict, the election was deadlocked.
Recounts were called, lawsuits were filed, and the US Supreme Court had to step in to settle the argument. This controversially handed the victory to Bush. But afterwards, instead of hostility, there was a truce.
Al Gore accepted the supreme court’s decision and conceded the election ‘for the sake of the unity of our people,’ while George Bush vowed to be a president for all Americans, whether they voted for him or not.
Fast forward to today, and the present climate would suggest those resolutions and acts of healing wouldn’t fly with the current parties involved. The race, like US politics in general, has become so much more polarised.
“Huge swathes of each American political sphere do not trust the contest that’s about to decide their future”
Do Trump’s attacks on election integrity form part of a plan to subvert the constitution and remain in power in an authoritarian way? If they do, they don’t have a lot in common with historical analogues.
In 1920s Italy, a new law was created to give the largest party – in this case the fascist party – a boosted majority of seats in parliament. In 1930s Germany, emergency legislation was enacted to let the Nazi Party rule without restriction. In Eastern Bloc countries after the Second World War, the presence of the Soviet military ensured that communist-friendly governments would come to power in elections.
So, to behave like a true authoritarian, it seems that significant political influence, emergency legislation, military power, or a combination are what Trump would need.
However, Donald Trump has a shaky-at-best political influence over the US congress, half of which is firmly against him. He has limited power to declare emergencies, which congress can also overturn. Furthermore, he has made a lot of critics and enemies amongst the military, some of whom have openly attacked his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The US political machine might be too big for Trump to transform, especially if his only weapon is unsupported claims of voter fraud, but this doesn’t make America immune to large disputes.
The 1876 election was so hotly challenged amid claims of fraud in four separate but pivotal states, the only way out was a behind-the-scenes compromise.
It resulted in US troops being withdrawn from the southern states, where they had been stationed since the end of the Civil War. This, at the time, meant disaster for civil rights.
With the troops gone, white southerners re-established control in those states and passed laws to strip most African-Americans of voting rights, laws which remained in place until the 1960s. They supported this with the argument that states have the right to legislate as they choose.
Always a thorny issue in America, the issue of states’ rights could surface again in a disputed 2020 election. Red states may refuse to recognise a Biden victory, blue states may refuse to recognise a Trump victory.
American history has always fluctuated between periods of national unity, and periods of fracturing as the states disagree. Perhaps an era of re-fracturing is what’s awaiting us if Trump continues to convince people that they can’t trust their own democracy.
Featured photo by Visuals