This piece is part of a series from Backbench exploring the US 2020 presidential election. To have your say and share your opinions on this defining moment for the US, email your pitches and articles to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cast your mind back to a blisteringly cold day in Washington DC, on January 20th, 2017. Watching the Obama’s handing over power to their political opposites, was a cornerstone moment, handled with graceful ease. But will the same be said for Trump if he concedes the election to Joe Biden?
Trump, in the run-up to the 2020 election, has already refused to commit to a “peaceful transfer of power” which tells us all we need to know. Due to a cocktail of excuses including the false accusations of voter fraud, subtle tactics of voter suppression and his characteristic fake news agenda – it is highly likely that Trump will fail to acknowledge the result if it’s anything but in his favour.
Despite his many criticisms of the rival superpower, China, Trump has in the past praised the Communist regime for abolishing Presidential term limits. This is a president who desperately wants to cling onto power and believes he has a God-given right to a second term. He will do whatever he can to make sure he gets what he wants – after all, he always has.
Prediction polls can never give us an answer, but currently, Biden is ahead in the Nationals by 51%, compared to Trump’s 43%. Not only this, Biden appears to be taking a lead in the battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that will be crucial for making up the Electoral college. Polls are merely predictions, but already, Trump has made his opinion known, in his favourite way,
.@FoxNews Polls are totally FAKE, just like they were in 2016. I am leading in all of the states mentioned, which you will soon see. I thought Fox was getting rid of its pollster. Sadly, it never happened!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2020
Polls aside, what’s more of a prospect is Trump denying the outcome of the election if it doesn’t swing in his favour. Due to the surge in mail-in ballots because of the pandemic and US voters wanting to avoid queues on polling day, the President has used this as an opportunity to frame these as a pathway to voter fraud, calling them “a whole big scam” which plays into his framing of the election, if it goes against him, as “rigged.” Sound familiar?
Setting this up is deeply dangerous, one because there is no basis for mail-in votes being susceptible to voter fraud and two, it is a direct tactic to put American’s off from voting. It works to undermine faith in the political system and dissuade an entire swathe of the population from participating in their democratic right.
America has a deep history of deploying voter suppression tactics. After the Civil War, when African Americans were given the right to vote, poll taxes and literary tests were introduced to make it harder. Nowadays, there have been instances of socio-economic voter repression as shown by requiring voters to print out a form enabling them to cast a ballot, which has dissuaded predominantly young and poorer voters as they are less likely to own a printer.
Additionally, the US has a strict ID policy, whereby you must prove who you are before you can cast a ballot. The argument is that everyone has a form of ID to do activities such as being able to drive or board a plane, but the poorest in society are less likely to engage in these activities, making it less likely for them to have a formal form of ID.
Trump’s dismissal of mail-in votes as fraudulent plays into this tactic of subtle voter repression and is one way in which he could kick up a fuss if he loses the election. The counting of mail-in votes can often last for several days after the result of in-person voting – there is a danger he will declare victory before these have been decided, and then contest against the outcome.
During Trump’s four years in power, we have seen a continuation of a post-truth style narrative, including a worrying dismissal of the media that feeds into general, public distrust in the value of facts. His declarations of “fake-news!!” have become a well-known trend within his time in office, alongside his endorsement of conspiracy theories. He has managed to achieve mainstream, well-established post-truth discourse in public life, which may culminate in his ultimate dismissal of an election result favouring Biden.
The pandemic, ongoing police brutality and rise of the far-right mean this election is going to be unlike any other and fraught against divisive lines. But now we must contend with the idea that if Trump loses, he won’t agree to a transition of power. What happens then? All votes will have to be confirmed via Congress, which is why he was so adamant to get his Supreme court judge, Amy Coney Barret nominated.
Overall, it will be incredibly unlikely that we will know the result by the 4th of November. And it will be likely that if the results are not what he wants – Trump will refuse a peaceful transition of power. This would be the icing on the cake in his irreverent fake-news agenda that he has worked so hard on in the past four years, and will be many miles away from the graceful passing over of power seen during Trump’s 2017 inauguration.