The US Presidential election is coming up. Donald J Trump or Joe Biden. One of these two will be the victor on 3 November. I haven’t commented on US politics much but seeing parts of their televised Presidential debate the other week and some of the comments from Mr Trump [Pictured above; image from Politico] there was something I wanted to pick up on.
Make no doubt about it, the debate itself was embarrassing to watch. That said, as a Brit, we currently have to put up with his mini-me (Boris Johnson). I have so far delayed this post as Mr Trump went through his bout of coronavirus shortly after the debate and didn’t feel quite right putting this post together while he was down. Thankfully, he did not succumb to the virus. I am no fan of Trump but I do not wish Coronavirus on anyone and if Trump is to be beaten by anything this year, I would much prefer it to be the ballot box. However, it is his comments about the ballot boxes that prompt this post.
A lot of attention was rightly afforded to Trump’s acknowledgement of right-wing group Proud Boys instructing them to ‘stand by’. Stand by! Really? Was he encouraging violence on the streets provided it’s from a group he deems acceptable? That is not the rule of law. It’s disgusting! However, the comment that alarmed me because of its potential implications on democracy and democratic processes when towards the end of the debate he stated…
‘I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen. I’m urging them to do it’.Donald J Trump at the first 2020 Presidential debate
That is THE comment but, what is the issue with it?
The comment carries on the same vai of similar attacks from Mr Trump criticising postal voting as more states have pushed towards mail-in ballots due to the pandemic. He has attacked it as contributing to this year being in his view the ‘most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT election in history’ and in September he claimed ‘the ballots are out of control’ as he has hinted towards counterfeit ballots mad by foreign countries, claims of ‘unsolicitated ballots’ and that the Democrats were somehow responsible for it. However, there is no basis in fact of any of these statements and the suggestions of foreign-made counterfeit ballots were dismissed by University of California Professor in Law and Economics Richard L Hasen.
To be honest, I cannot see what the issue is here. Here in the UK, we can vote via post and there have been minimal issues with it. The only one I can think of is how did Laura Kuenssberg seem to know that the postal votes were not looking good for Labour before 10 pm at last December’s election. That said, the integrity of mail-in voting has not been questioned. However, if mail-in ballots or postal voting helps make elections more accessible for those who cannot physically make it to their nearest polling station for whatever reason, then that is a good thing!
But does Trump want that? Perhaps he doesn’t.
It may well be possible that he believes that if fewer people vote, the more votes he can suppress and prevent going to Biden then he will be able to win. At the moment, Trump is trailing Biden in the polls shows Biden has a higher approval rating. The Economist is predicting Trump is almost certain to lose in the popular vote and has less than 7% chance of winning in the electoral college. He has a 91% chance of losing Nevada as well as states such as Florida, Michigan and a 90% chance of losing Pennsylvania.
Trump trying to delegitimise the result of the election is nothing new. In September when asked if he would commit to a peaceful transition in the event he was beaten in the election, Trump responded ‘There won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation’. Basically, in his mind nothing will change, If course, it was only a hypothetical question at the time and very rarely will a politician even contemplate losing a few months away from election day. It would evaporate the confidence in him. However, to say a ‘continuation’ implies that he does not see himself losing and at worse not conceding defeat even if he loses which goes down a path towards a dictatorship.
A dictatorship is not a democracy. Let me remind you of what a democracy is…
A democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all eligible embers of state (electorate) through elected representatives. In the UK, they sit in the House of Commons, in the US it is the House of Representatives. Electors vote for the president every four years and the votes in each state send a set number of representatives to Washington to represent them.
A key part of democracy is the elections and the principle of having a free vote to choose who you want to represent you and to lead your country. That means a vote free from intimidation, coercion or anyone telling you explicitly who to vote for. Now, retiring to the quote from Mr Trump during the debate, ‘I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen. I’m urging them to do it’.
Can you imagine going to a polling station somewhere in the US and there is a supporter of Mr Trump (MAGA shirt and cap in hand) standing next to the booth? How would you feel? Would you feel intimidated? Would you feel scared? Would you feel you really did have a proper choice with this person stood next to the booth?
If that happens in some areas successfully then in those areas, can it be considered a ‘free’ election? It is corrupt. It is the sort of intimidation tactics you would expect from dictators. It is akin to the current situation in Belarus with Alexander Lukashenko holding on to power after a contested election. It is something you would have expected from Robert Mugabe during his long reign of terror in Zimbabwe, Trump’s words also have a worrying echo with 1930s Germany…
After Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor in January 1933, they held elections in March of that year with the Nazi’s aim of gaining an electoral majority. It was considered the last ‘free’ election of Weimar Germany. Interior Minister Hermann Goring established police auxiliaries (they would later help form the Gestapo) to help ‘monitor’ the election process. These auxiliaries intimidating tactics prompted people to vote for Hitler not out of choice but out of fear for their safety.
Am I saying Trump could be the next Hitler? Not necessarily but whether he believes what he is saying or not, there is a worrying trend that he is leaning towards being a dictator and emboldening fascists in America through his rhetoric. He points the finger towards ANTIFA, even wanting to make them a terrorist organisation back in June but awkwardly, ANTIFA is not an organisation but an anti-fascist belief. He wants to point the finger towards the left but as exposed by the FBI leaked emails, the same ‘Proud Boys’ he told to ‘stand by’ are doing the intimidating through emails telling people to ‘Vote for Trump or else’.
How does he go about challenging the democratic vote? It would seem his desired route is through the Supreme Court. He stated as such on 23 September ‘I think the election will end up in the Supreme Court’ and on 29 September reiterated the importance of having nine justices to ‘look at the ballots’.
The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg opened a vacancy which he hopes to fill with Judge Amy Coney Barret. Let me just say, Ginsburg was an incredible woman! Everything she experienced from childhood through to getting her education and the impact she had on the country, just Incredible! It is a shame that she seems set to be replaced by someone who could not have had more contrasting views. The argument over her replacement I think that while obviously, a President has the authority to nominate a replacement, the replacement should perhaps not have been selected until after the election as was the case in 2016. It feels hypocritical especially as the Senate could have a new political makeup after 3 November.
The Supreme Court becomes important though because Barret’s successful appointment would tip the balance of the court towards a 6-3 conservative-leaning majority. Three of those six will have been appointed by Trump and based of his rhetoric he will be hoping they could offer him a reprieve if he loses the election and really believes it has been rigged against him.
Could that work? It would not be the first time in US history that the Supreme Court has decided the US election most recently with the 2000 election between George W Bush and Al Gore. That contest came down to just one state; Florida with the court perhaps fatefully (depending on your view with the Iraq War) gave the states 25 electors to Bush. Bush won the election despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore.
Of course, that was also how Trump defeated Hilary Clinton four years ago. Clinton had amassed around 3.5 million more votes than Trump but lost on the electoral college. That is the US system, I don’t agree with it or any situation but that is the US system. Could that happen again who knows? If the Court were to get involved then if it could get messy. Could it make a difference? I think it would depend on the nature of the result and if it is clear cut. If polls are correct then Biden could be set for an estimated 335 seats on the electoral college; a majority of 61. It would take something messy and protracted to overturn such a majority.
Of course, polls aren’t always correct.
However, Trump’s rhetoric is one certainly of someone whom to me wants to consolidate power for himself, like a dictator. It would also appear he only wants to accept democratic results and processes when he is winning. If the courts were to side with Trump as he hopes might be the case, then what would there be to stop him going even further and say overriding the 22nd amendment confining a President to two terms of four years and turning the Trump name into a dynasty.
So, when it comes to 3 November when the people of the US go to the polls and I hope they vote in their numbers and I hope they vote overwhelmingly against Trump.