Terry H. Schwadron
July 31, 2020
Donald Trump has put it out there, proposing to cancel the November election.
In a tweet, Trump said Americans should postpone any election until in-person voting can be assured, and thus formally introduced the idea that any mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 election will be hugely fraudulent.
As usual, Trump may hold his opinion, but the law says any such move would require specific approval from Congress, which is not going to happen. Nevertheless, here is the first shot in the formal challenges we all can expect to election results that now look increasingly to be leaning towards removing Trump.
More to the point, it was an idea immediately dismissed by Republicans and Democrats alike, but it‘s very utterance was important beyond its impracticality and illegality — as it happens mirroring a delay of elections for a year in Hong Kong, a move to lock democracy. It was a simple statement — overly simple, of course, since he himself votes by mail from the White House — that at once enshrines Trump in the annals of the most authoritarian leaders in the world and dismisses the will of the American people and the Constitution. It is the stuff of impeachment — again.
For me, that Trump should do so as John Lewis, who gave his body and soul for Americans to vote, was an added insult.
Since his televised interviews in which Trump said he would not commit to accepting the results of an election, the public media space has been filled with open speculation about the various ways that Trump might try to delay, challenge or defy adverse election results.
But this tweet is an open challenge to American democracy at a time when it is overwhelmed with coronavirus contagion, a deepening economic crisis, spreading protest sparked by calls for response to racial injustice and a general fatigue with Trump the Showman.
This tweet is an immediate embrace of the successes of Xi Jinping in China, Vladimir Putin in Russia and Kim Jong-Un in North Korea in basically declaring themselves leaders for life, for fears for which there is no evidence that mail-in ballots will lead to massive fraud. In is an encapsulation of self-promotion at the sake of Americans.
There will be all kinds of political twists and turns based on this naked grab for continuance in office, and, in the end, Trump somehow will wriggle his way into some faux-caring about the health of voters in a time of virus. Trump doesn’t say so explicitly, but floats the idea that he could do all this by fiat, by executive order.
As always, he deals only with the end goal, not the processes or practicalities involved, to say nothing of what he would expect the military, the courts, the electorate and the Congress to do as a result.
The other versions of this statement — trying to squash mail ballots altogether, trying to create a difference between “absentee” votes by mail, which he supports, and “mail-in ballots,” which he does not and yet more assertive obstacles — all should be seen as voter suppression efforts.
These efforts are acknowledgment that Trump is losing not only the election, but any efforts towards containment of coronavirus or dealing head on with other domestic or foreign problems facing the country. The economy is falling at a record pace now, and the virus spreading at a world-setting pace.
Trump owns it all. And then presents himself as an outsider to his own government. It won’t wash.
In other words, we’re not talking about a single tweet here, but a series of seemingly unending attempts by Trump to crown himself with unlimited power to impose his will over law, over science, over economics, over international relations, over critics and questioners of all stripes. Trump apparently feels at ease in calling out the Constitution as well as protocol, traditions, cultural no-no’s, and legal precedents in his maniacal reach for public affirmation.
What About Voting?
It doesn’t really matter how Trump walks away from this tweet, as he will. The damage is done: We have new fuel for believing that Trump cares only about himself, not about the fate of the country.
Apart from all else, if Trump believes it unsafe for November voting, why does he believe things are fine for schools to open and people to gather without precaution?
Just as a check, there is no nationwide turn to universal mail-in voting and as much as half of the electorate is still expected to cast ballots in person. And while Trump draws a distinction between mail-in and absentee voting, there is essentially no difference.
If anything, states are moving up the start of early voting — in some cases within four or five weeks — to accommodate mailed ballots, as mostly senior voter booth personnel are saying they do not want to remain in possibly contagious voting sites all day long and disease social distancing complicates in-person voting.
In late April, challenger Joe Biden told donors in a fundraiser: “Mark my words, I think [Trump] is going to try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held.” At the time, Trump rejected that out of hand, saying a few days later: “I never even thought of changing the date of the election. Why would I do that? November 3rd. It’s a good number. No, I look forward to that election.”
Of course, the difference since then has been continuing bad news for a president seeking reelection. And Trump has also argued that mail-in voting tends to hurt Republicans.
Actually, on reflection, maybe we could change the election to today.