As the election fades into the past, Donald Trump has once again led the US to an extraordinary moment. Individually and collectively, Americans are faced with a choice.
New York (Brussels Morning) We can choose to live in a Trump concocted fantasy where election officials from both parties, thousands of Democratic operatives, the postal service, various news media and whoever else comes to Trump’s panicked and defeated mind come together in an elaborate conspiracy to allow the Republican Party to pick up seats in the House of Representatives, make gains in state governments and likely retain control of the senate, while simultaneously denying Donald Trump a second term as president.
Alternately, we can choose to live in reality and recognize that Joe Biden beat Trump in the election. Most Americans have chosen the latter as have most foreign leaders, including those, like Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who have had close relationships with Donald Trump.
Trump’s insistence on claiming victory, filing lawsuits and spreading lies about election fraud are unlikely to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president on January 20th of 2021, but those actions, particularly given the widespread support within the Republican Party for Trump’s claims, will do lasting damage, not just to Biden’s presidency, but to American democracy and the country more generally.
2/3 of Republican voters believe election was stolen
By spreading doubt and trafficking in deliberate lies about the election, Trump and his Vichy Republican enablers are continuing to undermine America’s faith in its democracy. Trump’s universe, where elections either end in victory or fraud, is the product of his narcissistic and authoritarian mind, but when that view becomes widespread it threatens the basic processes and functioning of democracy.
A fundamental tenet of American democracy is that the loser of the election both lives to fight another day and believes that they can win the next time. Trump clearly does not subscribe to that view, but the humiliating ranting of a defeated president is not, in of itself, a crisis. However, if tens of millions of Americans adopt Trump’s approach of screaming fraud and denying reality, the country will not be able to move forward.
Instead of addressing the daunting problems of Covid and the pandemic ravaged economy, the entire country will be dragged into relitigating an election that wasn’t even particularly close.
The view that Biden’s presidency is illegitimate is already widespread as roughly two thirds of Republican voters believe the election was stolen by the Democrats. If that remains the case after Biden takes office, the Republicans in the senate will feel it is their duty not only to stop Biden from passing any meaningful legislation, but also to drag the country into endless, and groundless, inquiries into Democratic election fraud.
The Republicans will say this is what the Democrats did after the 2016 election, but this false equivalency is exactly where Trump and the rest of the Republican Party wants to lead the US.
It is true that the Democrats in congress spent a great deal of time investigating the 2016 election. However, while many progressive citizens never saw Trump as the legitimate president, elected Democrats almost never suggested his entire presidency was illegitimate.
It should also be noted that the investigation led by Robert Mueller III, that found “(t)he Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion…(and) that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the (Trump) Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts”, was overseen by Trump’s Department of Justice and led by somebody who was hardly a partisan Democrat.
Additionally, in late 2020 a Senate report found “the IRA (Russia’s Internet Research Agency) sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.” That investigation was led by Republican senators. In other words, the concern around Russia’s role in the 2016, no matter how loudly Donald Trump and his apologists yelled hoax, was in fact very legitimate.
All of this will create enormous challenges for Joseph Biden when he takes office. Biden will not only have a slim Democratic majority in the House, and perhaps no majority at all in the senate, but it is very likely that he will run up against the GOP alternate reality with some frequency.
While it is true that Republicans will have to cooperate with Biden if they want anything, it is also the case that untethered by the responsibility that comes from controlling the executive branch of the government, the Republicans will revert to the obstruction and attack mode with which they have long been most comfortable. Keeping false narratives about Democratic election fraud alive will be a natural part of that approach.
This is the context in which Trump’s post-election gambit and the Republican support for him at this moment must be understood. It is driven substantially by a fear of upsetting Trump and his supporters, and short term political gain in the form of hoping to drive up Republican turnout in the two runoff elections for the US senate in Georgia on January 5th.
Even if, as appears likely, Trump’s lawsuits lead nowhere, no evidence of election fraud is produced and Joe Biden becomes president, Trump and his party of intimidated enablers will have deliberately further torn apart America’s political fabric at a time when division and political volatility already threaten the future of the country.