The 2020 US Presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden could end up becoming the fire that burns down American democracy. Trump’s refusal to concede, having lost by nearly six million votes in the popular vote and by a very comfortable margin in the electoral college system, should be causing an uproar.
But it’s not.
People will always be divided over the idea that America is “the greatest country in the world”, yet there is no arguing about what a terrific democracy it is. The constitution is treated like the Bible to many Americans, while others fairly criticise its (typically racist) exclusionary undertones. But it is the gold standard on a theoretical basis and has rightfully been celebrated all over the world for its success on a practical basis.
The enshrinements of rights like free speech, the right to vote and own private property has created the bedrock for a liberal democracy that has stood for almost 250 years – that’s 59 elections. The United States, right now, however, is on the precipice of losing its status as a bona fide democracy, and incumbent President Donald Trump seems likely to be making a power grab.
Months before the elections took place, Trump began undermining the election process saying that he “doesn’t trust the [mail-in] ballots”, which many Americans would be using in the interest of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump was plummeting in the polls and at one point was a full 10 points behind Democratic nominee, Biden. And while he was making thinly veiled threats that he wouldn’t accept the results of the election – which he clearly knew he was going to lose – he was fast-tracking the Supreme Court confirmation of his nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. Therefore, if there was any legal contention for the election that went all the way to the highest court in the land, Trump would have the deck stacked in his favour with a 6-3 conservative majority.
And, as one could have predicted, Trump lost the election – by a massive margin, both in the electoral college system and by the popular vote. With 5.9 million votes (by the latest count) separating him from Biden in terms of the popular vote, Trump is trying to contest state-by-state. Some of the key swing states that he lost in the election were Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Georgia was by far the closest and, as per state law, a recount was conduct by hand. However, Biden was confirmed to be the winner of the state, while three other states from around the country threw out cases of voter fraud presented by Trump’s legal team.
So the Trump team is literally just flinging lawsuits at the courts, with “sworn affidavits” being the only form of evidence produced in their legal challenges. The cases simply aren’t holding up in any courts and Trump’s legal team members are resigning one-by-one, including one leading the case in Pennsylvania. What is slightly more concerning though is Trump’s recent decisions to fire White House staff members, such as Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chris Krebs, who issued a statement saying that “this was the most secure election in US history, with CIA director Gina Haspel’s and FBI director Christopher Wray’s heads also rumoured to be on the chopping block.
Trump is systematically cutting ties with anyone in his government whose loyalty is under question and, for the most part, Republicans aren’t standing in his way… and neither are the Democrats to be fair.
What’s truly scary is that Trump has a loyal army of followers and supporters who, right now, are convinced that Democrats stole the election. The division in America, by sheer numbers, is frightening – and everyone lives in their own tiny echo chamber where the left’s news coverage and the right’s news coverage (and the centrists’ news coverage) are indistinguishable from one another. There is no common ground on anything and the idea of reaching consensus anywhere is a pipe dream.
With the legitimacy of the election being undermined from both sides, really, there seems to be no chance that anyone will be accepting that their preferred candidate lost the election. How can a democracy survive when nobody believes in it anymore?
Add to this that a quarter of a million Americans have died during the COVID-19 pandemic and cases are skyrocketing right now, and you’ve got a melting pot that can only ever end in disaster. I don’t think it’s fair to call Trump a fascist, or at least it’s not fair to suggest his supporters are. Trump is refusing to accept that Biden won the election and is willing to take America’s democracy down with him as he clings to power. So why is everyone acting so indifferent about it?