Since Donald Trump was elected president in November of 2016, many of his critics and opponents have convinced themselves that the end of his presidency was just around the corner. This tendency began during his campaign when many believed that inevitably Trump’s bizarre statements, checkered personal history, overt racism, history of being a sexual predator, extreme lack of qualifications and insufficient intellectual capacity would stop him from getting nominated and then elected.
The belief that the Trump era cannot last has led many believe in various deus ex machinas ranging from Hamilton electors to Robert Mueller III to impeachment to the midterm elections to Trump magically maturing once he got into office to congressional republicans having a sense of ethics and patriotism to the 25th amendment and much more. Some of these hopes seem like something from a long time ago. For example, how many people even remember the discussion about Hamilton electors in late 2016. However, this sentiment, despite being proven wrong over and over again, still persists. As recently as March of this year a smart and respected American writer speculated that due to Trump’s mishandling of the Coronavirus crisis, his presidency was effectively over. In the more than two months since that article was written, Trump’s handling of the crisis has gotten much worse, and tens of thousands more Americans have died of the virus, but the Trump presidency is very far from over.
There is reason to believe that between voter suppression laws, the challenges raised to the election because of the pandemic and the likelihood that universal vote by mail options will not be implemented across all states and groups, this election will not be free and fair
During the last months the newest deus ex machina has emerged in the form of the election. Consistently encouraging polling data as well as the reality that Donald Trump’s reelection platform rests on death and depression, have led too many to believe that Joe Biden is likely to defeat Trump in November. If that happens, so the thinking goes, we will be able to relegate the Trump experience to the realm of political nightmare and begin to rapidly restore American democracy. This view is not exactly wrong, but unfortunately it is not right enough.
It is true that Joe Biden is leading in most polls and that he is the favorite to win in November. However, there are a lot of caveats to that that should not be overlooked. First, there is reason to believe that between voter suppression laws, the challenges raised to the election because of the pandemic and the likelihood that universal vote by mail options will not be implemented across all states and groups, this election will not be free and fair. Republican political shenanigans that include limiting access to mail in ballots, harassing voters of color and passing voter ID laws targeting students and people of color, all of which are almost certain to occur in the coming months, mean that the election will be held not an even playing field, but one that has been tilted to favor the Republicans at the expense of fairness and democracy.
It is also now evident that Donald Trump will not leave office easily if he loses the election. While his contempt for democratic processes had always been evident, in recent weeks Trump has accelerated his efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the election, in the eyes of his followers, by consistently, and groundlessly, equating voting by mail with election fraud. Therefore, if Biden wins on November 3rd, he very likely will have to navigate a 14 week period in which Trump will claim election fraud and mobilize legal and political strategies to remain in office. This will be done with the full support of the Republican Party which is now irreversibly intertwined with the Trump cult. Additionally, given that in recent weeks Trump has asked his supporters to take up arms to oppose the decisions of Democratic governors. It is not at all hard to imagine him asking those same supporters to behave similarly to make sure Trump can stay in office. Thus, the assumption that an electoral victory leads to a transition in power is no longer a given in American politics-and to believe that is, sadly, to believe in yet another deus ex machina.
Even if he leaves office, Trump is not going to resist continuing to Tweet, hold rallies and spread lies among his cult followers… Local Republican may believe Trump’s lies about the election and refuse to recognize Biden’s authority
Trump’s efforts to remain in office after losing may ultimately fail, making it possible for Biden to be sworn in as president in January 2021. However, even if that happens, Donald Trump is unlikely to go away. Even if he leaves office, Trump is not going to resist continuing to Tweet, hold rallies and spread lies among his cult followers. That agitation will be amplified on Fox News and will present a real challenge to President Biden’s ability to govern. Local Republican may believe Trump’s lies about the election and refuse to recognize Biden’s authority. To some extent, this is already happening as some local authorities have refused to enforce their state’s social distancing policies.
This may sound far-fetched, but in Donald Trump’s America too many things that seemed far-fetched once have now become reality. Instead, this should be a reminder that when it comes to building American democracy, we are in for a difficult and long struggle, and that even elections and new presidents are not a deus ex machinas.
Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LincolnMitchell