Newsletter by Mary Buffett
Much has been speculated about how Donald Trump will behave on and after Election Day. Armchair psychologists predict that his own ego is far too fragile to accept a resounding defeat and he will fall back on a series of extra-constitutional impulses to either corrupt or ignore the will of the American people.
These concerns will fall along three lines:
- Trump will choose to delay the election.
- Trump will refuse to accept the election results and will not leave.
- Trump will unleash political chaos in the final weeks of the election and it will extend until Inauguration Day 2021.
Let’s get the first two issues out of the way.
Can President Trump delay a Presidential Election?
No. Congress—and only Congress—can delay an election and everybody in both Houses and in both parties have no desire to change Election Day. In fact, as of September 18th, early voting has already begun in four states, Virginia, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wyoming. So, Trump cannot put the halt on an election period that has already begun.
Can President Trump simply ignore the reported results and remain in office?
No. It’s quite possible that Donald Trump will cry foul and refuse to accept defeat even if the numbers show a clear Biden victory. It’s quite possible that President Trump might refuse to meet with the new President-Elect and the oncoming Biden administration to ensure a peaceful transition of power, which has been an American hallmark since 1789. A refusal to synch up with the new administration would put American domestic and foreign policy into a deep freeze because it would be very difficult for the new administration to understand policy challenges, both foreign and domestic, especially those that are highly classified.
However, Donald Trump’s current presidential term concludes at 12 noon on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Period, full stop. The winner of the Electoral College will determine who is the next president. It could either be Joe Biden or a second term for Donald Trump. Electors will meet in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in December to certify the results. In January, those totals will be forwarded to the US Senate, where the President of the Senate—who is also the Vice President of the United States—will read and record the final electoral totals.
If Donald Trump locked himself in the White House bathroom on his final day, all of the secretive passwords, nuclear keys, and all of the other levers of power that allow a President to do his job would vanish when the clock strikes noon. The changeover from one administration to the next is something that the Secret Service and the Office of Transition manages remarkably well.
However, can President Trump wage chaos from now until Inauguration Day 2021?
Yes, and that should scare the hell out of everybody.
Trump has made a career out of instigating chaos and taking what he wants, until he moves to the next self-created crisis. This will emerge again as the replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg moves to the forefront of our national drama.
Right now, Donald Trump is setting the stage for creating a counter narrative if he loses the presidential election. It will be—as it always has been—somebody else’s fault.
His grievances are already well known to his adoring base in 2016; each will be trotted out whenever there is a need for a diversion. He will whine that the election has been stolen from him by hordes of illegal immigrants who have somehow engaged in voter fraud. Instead of coming to terms with 200,000 dead coronavirus victims, Trump will bleat that only he can protect a nation against legions of anarchists, Antifa, and the villain of the moment. He has already turned the nation’s military—as was done on the streets of Washington, D.C.—against the hearts and minds of peaceful protesters.
Let’s not mince words here.
Donald Trump has energized and legitimized the darker corners of political hate in America. From Charlottesville to Portland and all points east and west, Trump revels in division. White Supremacists who are drawn to QAnon conspiracies find a president who is all-too-willing to fan the flames and equally unwilling to denounce their evil. Extremist paramilitary groups, like the Boogaloo Boys and others, tried to insert themselves into the summer’s protests as a cover to cause more disturbances and further enflame violence.
Instead of a protest as chaste as the “Brooks Brothers Riot,” where a group of Bush 2000 volunteers shut down the voter recount in Miami-Dade County, what’s on the horizon is far more ominous. If the Election Day numbers are even remotely close, Trump will unloose this and more upon the American landscape. The more extreme Red Hats will become American Brownshirts. The battles between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators that took place this summer in American cities will serve as “spring training” for chaos that is to follow.
However, it does not have to be this way.
After George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, the defeated president took a gracious approach and extended his hand to ensure a seamless transition. Even when the most contentious of presidential contests are over, elective politics will give way to the necessary grind of governing. New Administrations come and old ones retire, something that is as old as our constitution.
But we are now in uncharted waters.
Even if Trump loses, “Trumpism,” once at the outer edges of our political landscape, will now be mainstreamed and fully legitimized by an American president who was more than willing to pull down every American institution and societal norm to protect his immature ego.
And that is how democracy dies.