It is nearly a certainty that, if Joe Biden appears headed toward victory, American democracy will face a threat of potentially historic proportions.
That threat seems the inevitable result of the combination of two characteristics of Donald Trump’s character fully demonstrated by his conduct over the past four years:
• First, that – more than anyone we’ve seen in American public life – Trump would be incapable of accepting defeat.
• And second, that – again, to an extraordinary degree – Trump has shown himself apparently willing to do anything to protect himself from having to acquiesce in such a defeat.
On the first point…
• Trump seems to divide the world into “winners” and “losers,” and has demonstrated how intolerable it would be for him to be made a “loser.”
• Trump appears to have an intense craving for power (as evinced by his repeated usurpation of powers not granted a president). A defeat would strip him of power.
• Trump puts a high priority on receiving people’s adulation, and an electoral defeat would constitute a stinging rejection by the people.
• Perhaps most dramatically, Trump seems to have no tolerance whatever for criticism (despite its being the lot of every president to be the target of constant criticism). The people’s rejection of his bid for reelection would constitute unmistakable and powerful implied criticism.
In all these ways, the psychological portrait Trump has presented makes it quite clear: Trump will have a most intense motivation to prevent that electoral outcome.
Given that powerful motivation, we come to the second issue: How far might Trump go to protect his power and, above all, his (self-) image (as a “winner” without fault or flaw)?
The answer begins with a general observation: to a degree unprecedented in the history of the American presidency, Trump has shown an utter lack of respect for the Constitution, the rule of law, and the norms of the American political system. His rule seems to be: “Whatever I can get away with.”
More specifically, Trump has already committed serious transgressions – unthinkable from any previous president – to advance his chances of winning the upcoming election.
For example, as “commander-in-chief” of the United States, Trump has steadfastly refused to protect the United States from an ongoing attack on American democracy by our nation’s major adversary (Russia). (He’s refused despite repeated warnings from his own FBI director, his director of National Intelligence, and the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee.)
Trump has shown clearly that his desire for illegal help from the Russians (who, according to all of our nation’s intelligence agencies, intervened to help him win in 2016) outweighs any concerns about protecting the heart of our constitutional democracy.
In addition, the impeachment process proved beyond any doubt that Trump was willing to sacrifice the interests of the United States with his attempt to extort the Ukrainian government to give him help – again illegal – in his re-election effort.
(And the forthcoming book from Trump’s former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, reportedly claims that Trump repeatedly sacrificed the good of the nation in his pursuit of his overriding priority: getting reelected.)
And now Trump seems eager to suppress the vote, i.e. to disenfranchise voters he believes are likely to vote against him. Raising the bogus issue of “voter fraud” – which itself has repeatedly been shown to be itself fraudulent – (and with his menacing of the U.S. Postal Service), Trump has shown his intent to thwart measures to enable voters to vote safely in this time of deadly pandemic.
Moreover, Trump’s threats to the health of our democracy wouldn’t necessarily end even after election day. We should not forget how, in 2016, when he thought he was going to lose, Trump endangered the peace of the nation by claiming – with no basis whatever – that the elections were being “rigged” against him. If Trump cannot avoid defeat, he’d apparently be willing to sow national discord by telling his followers that the defeat was illegitimate, that they’ve been robbed.
We can therefore assume that Trump will do all he can to steal the election if that’s what it takes to win. If that fails, we can assume: Trump will do all he can to persuade Americans he’s been robbed.
We can assume Trump will not be restrained in such efforts by concerns about their destructive impact on the foundations of our constitutional order (with its arrangements for “the peaceful transfer of power”).
Armed with that knowledge, the duty falls on every aspect of America
• From the citizens who love their country as their founders created it;
• To the officials who must not obey unlawful orders
• To the political leaders who can forewarn the people
• To the media who can dramatize the unfolding attempted coup
to plan and mobilize now to pre-empt, to block, to resist every kind of Trumpian attack that can be anticipated on our precious heritage as a constitutional democracy.
Andy Schmookler is a prize-winning author. Many of his works can be found at www.ABetterHumanStory.org.