If your stomach isn’t churning right now, you probably aren’t an American. I’m willing to bet though that much of the rest of the world has a churning stomach too as they too wonder how our election will turn out. Like it or not, our election affects virtually everyone. It’s pretty clear who should win the presidency (Joe Biden) but it’s less clear whether he will succeed in actually taking office.
I am one of many pundits that proclaimed the next likely steps. In the past you could count on the loser graciously (sometimes with arms twisted) conceding, thus smoothing the path for the winner. (Obviously 2000 was an exception, but Al Gore did concede when the Supreme Court effectively voted Bush into office.) The peaceful transition of power has been one of the hallmarks of American democracy. That’s likely now about to change.
Trump’s already signaling his next steps: declare an early victory when early results in states like Pennsylvania make him appear momentarily ahead. Declare that votes not cast on Election Day don’t count and claim that those cast by mail were rigged somehow. So, it will quickly be off to the courts (both state and federal) to try to invalidate as many votes as possible.
Meanwhile Trump supporters will try to foment violence. We saw a touch of it over the weekend when Trump supporters managed to delay a Biden/Harris campaign bus on the road in Texas. Needless to say, although it caused two campaign events to be canceled, Donald Trump had no problem with it. Meanwhile, the White House is becoming even more of a fortress, with scale-proof fencing being rapidly installed around its perimeter.
So, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Trump won’t concede, as it would assume civil behavior from a man who has never shown any. Trump is counting on “his” Supreme Court, not to mention the many district and circuit court judges he appointed to come through for him. Republicans have packed a lot of state courts too in the last ten years, so expect a lot of monkey business as we get all sorts of incredulous rulings from these judges that try to put the Republican Party and Trump’s interests above those of the masses. Biden’s margin of victory and the fact that many swing states aren’t wholly controlled by Republicans though mean there are likely too many moving parts for Republicans to ultimately succeed in the courts.
Here in Northampton, Massachusetts we got a taste of what’s to come yesterday. In this extremely progressive city, a bunch of Trump supports waving Trump flags occupied the corner of Pleasant Street and Main. This soon drew counter protesters across the street at King Street and Main. The chanting and jeering went on for a couple of hours. Police managed to keep the groups separated. Most likely these Trump supporters came from the hill towns.
In short, after a years-long campaign, the election is merely an event in a long series of events whose ultimate outcome is unclear. Those wanting it to all go away will be disappointed. The only question is how bad it will get.
One theory is that if Biden wins a huge victory it will suppress the emotions of Trump’s supporters and keep them from engaging in violence. I don’t expect this. Trump will simply goad them on. They are all being used but it’s clear Trump doesn’t care. Thousands who picked up the virus at his many rallies will likely die, but none of that will matter to Trump. Sociopaths simply don’t care and may take pleasure at inflicting pain on others. At some level, I expect that if Trump ultimately loses, he will blame his supporters for not trying hard enough.
I expect I will be in the streets doing my best to peacefully protest, but I expect there will be counter protests and it could get ugly and violent. It will be mostly up to governors and local police departments to try to keep things civil and quell violence. It’s unclear whether we have enough resources to do this.
Ultimately though there may be some good that comes from all this. Americans may embrace democracy again and the forces of radical Republicanism may finally be checked, perhaps fatally so. So much depends though on the majority of us standing up, not just to vote, but to carry on with grit and determination afterward.
Democracies are the most fragile forms of government. If we want to keep it, we’re going to have to work for it. If nothing else, we’re going to find out how vested we are in a civil society.