We are in a dangerous moment, facing the possibility of a stolen election orchestrated by Donald Trump.
Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election clearly and convincingly. As of today, Biden has 279 electoral votes to Trump’s 217, with only 270 required to win.* Biden is on track to win 306 electoral votes, with leads of 14,000 in Georgia and 13,000 in Arizona, where more than 98% of the votes have been counted. 306 would be the same number Trump won in 2016, which he called a “massive landlslide”.
Biden won Wisconsin by 20,000 votes, the same margin Trump won by in 2016. Despite this the Trump campaign is demanding a recount. In Pennsylvania, Biden is winning by 54,000 votes, more than Trump’s 2016 totals. In Michigan, Biden won by 150,000 votes, 40,000 more than Trump in 2016.
Biden is also ahead in the popular vote, leading by 5 million votes. Trump famously lost the popular vote in 2016 by almost 3 million.
Despite these facts on the ground, Trump has refused to concede. Instead he is leading the GOP in a naked attempt to undermine and delegitimize the election. It has to be said, though couched in terms of “challenging the election” and investigating election fraud”, that’s not what is taking place. What is taking place is an attempt to create and spread disinformation alleging election fraud in order to lay the groundwork for Trump to steal the election. At the very least, this campaign is spreading distrust and building resentment among millions of Trump’s supporters, thus fueling fascist interests going forward.
How far this will go and get is hard to predict. What the ultimate goals behind it are only partly revealed. But it must be said that this attempted steal has gained momentum since the declaration of Biden’s win and is further building. Whether it succeeds or not, and it could, it’s is an extremely dangerous move to undermine democracy and boost the position and strength of fascism/authoritarianism.
Donald Trump has been saying since 2016 that the only legitimate election is one where he’s elected. Remember when he alleged without a shred of evidence, that Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win in 2016 was the result of votes by millions of “illegal immigrants”? He even launched an investigation that turned up nothing, of course, and was disbanded.
For months before the 2020 election Trump repeatedly declared he would refuse to accept the results of the vote if he wasn’t the winner, and that the only way he could lose an election would be if it was rigged. He waged a relentless campaign to de-legitimize mail-in ballots as fraudulent, despite election officials debunking this. Trump knew that especially in a time of the global coronavirus pandemic, those who vote Democratic would vote disproportionately by mail. It was also basically guaranteed that Republican voters wouldn’t, believing Trump’s lies.
Thus Trump created a pretext for claiming a fraud if he lost by attacking mail-in voting, even though it is completely legal and has been widely used since the Civil War, though expanded in recent years. Then Trump’s toady postmaster General Louis DeJoy orchestrated a slow down of the mail, which disproportionately impacted ballot delivery especially in large urban centers like Philadelphia and Detroit that would be key to turning out Democratic vote in “battleground states”. These GOP obstructions added to other tried and true methods of voter suppression-removing polling places particularly in Black and brown population centers, removing voting drop boxes such as was done in Texas, etc.
As the votes were still coming in but counts far from finished, Trump agitated via Twitter that he had “won” and “claimed” states into his column, etc. Then as the mail-in votes continued to come in and turn the tide against him he tweeted “Stop the count”. We were then treated to the charade of Trump supporters trying to burst into a Detroit polling center chanting “Stop the count” where mail-in votes were pushing Biden past Trump. But on the other hand in Maricopa County Arizona where mail-in ballots were helping Trump catch up to Biden, his supporters chanted “Count the votes”. Trump’s base had the message clear-“only votes for me or the Republicans are legitimate and should be counted”.
As Biden’s victory became almost inevitable, Trump held a press conference that was such a string of lies about Democratic voter fraud and false claims about his wonderful victory, that MSNBC chose to stop the broadcast because of the dangerous falsehoods it spread. More clever heads in the GOP got to Trump apparently to advise him his strategy of “stopping the count” and alleging a Democratic conspiracy were too obviously anti-democracy and should be situated within the context of “protecting election integrity”. So GOP strategy switched to claims of some amorphous “election fraud” and saying only “legal votes should be counted not illegal ones”, which of course is what the election process already does. This has all been presented without a shred of evidence of illegal votes, either by Trump or any of his mouthpieces. Instead, what exists is actually overwhelming evidence of an election carried out within the regulations outlined by states with transparency and overseen by representatives from both parties. And in fact the lawsuits brought by Trump’s campaign, up to this point at least, have been almost entirely dismissed as without merit or have achieved nothing to change the election outcome.
Trump’s steal has been joined by top GOP leaders. Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell have backed Trump casting doubt on the election results, McConnell saying Trump is “within his rights” to legally contest the vote. Graham let the mask slip however when he admitted, ““If Republicans don’t challenge and change the U.S. election system, there will never be another Republican president elected again. President Trump should not concede.” What Graham is arguing for is even a much more thorough disenfranchisement and suppression of Democratic voters-especially of Black people, Latinos, and young people. The attack on Biden’s victory in general drips with racism. Trump in his rant on national TV after the election said, “Philadelphia and Detroit” couldn’t be allowed to decide the election.
The administrator of the General Services Administration, a Trump appointee Emily Murphy , has refused to ascertain the Biden victory, preventing funds, services and government building access to Biden’s transition team. The GSA decision also means Biden’s team cannot interface with other government institutions to begin setting in place a new administration or be apprised of crucial information. After meeting with McConnell, Attorney General Bill Barr has also given new power to a steal attempt. A memo from Barr told federal prosecutors they can investigate “substantial” claims of voter fraud. This violates previous DOJ policy that the department should not enter into investigations which could taint an active election. The Barr announcement caused the head of the election crimes division at DOJ to resign in protest.
It’s not clear if such “investigations” would lead to much, if anything. But some legal experts have pointed out Barr’s memo can be used by prosecutors supportive of Trump to search for “irregularities”. The Barr memo fits with the fanning of disinformation created by Trump and his GOP abettors, where now phony and often already discredited “revelations of fraud” are setting fire to right wing news and social media.
Trump also has fired Mark Esper, Defense Secretary by tweet, furthering fears of either attempts to involve the military in a coup attempt or some dangerous military attacks in the world. Other DOD officials have also quit and are being rapidly replaced by Trump acolytes. There are rumors that Trump may also fire the heads of the FBI and CIA. Now, none of these figures are on the side of justice or the people. CIA head Haspel for example, was a prime figure in the CIA’s torture and rendition program. But nonetheless Trump’s moves could be part of an escalating attempt to hold onto power by removing those he considers not pliant enough to his demands. To explain these firings as preparation for a coup can’t be rejected out of hand, and in fact might provide the most reasonable explanation .
On Tuesday 11/10, Secretary of State Pompeo then said at a CSPAN news conference when asked about acceding to a smooth transition to a Biden administration that, “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration”. It was also reported that the White House has told federal agencies to go ahead with plans for Trump’s February budget, signaling they may be planning to succeed in staying in power. Election officials, even Republican ones, have come under attack from Republican senators and right wing nuts, basically for not delivering the election to Trump. Dangerously, there is increasing pressure on state and local election officials by the most powerful GOP officials to come up with something to invalidate the election.
All kinds of arguments are being made from various perspectives to explain what is going on with this whole situation. Debates continue over whether this represents a serious attempt at a coup or not. Some are arguing these moves, even if real, are bound to fail because the election was so clearly won by Biden and/ or that the law won’t allow this. Some commentators are saying that GOP backing from Trump is simply to assuage his bottomless ego and give him time to come to an acceptance of his loss. Some are saying Republicans in Congress are quietly congratulating them on the Biden win but can’t speak out. There are reports that White House officials recognize the foolhardiness of Trump’s legal case and are trying to influence him to realize Biden’s win. Some are saying Trump’s refusal to accept the results is dangerous to democracy, but Trump is merely using the election fraud ruse to keep his rabid social base or fundraise. Others who know him personally are saying he is desperate like a caged animal, that he is attempting to burn down the house with him because he’s incapable of accepting being a loser.
There may be some truth in several of these arguments. But some of the arguments seem to dispute out of hand the possibility that Trump, who has spent four years tearing up norms and the rule of law and clearly considers himself the only legitimate president, would try to launch a coup to steal the election to maintain power. Given the evidence and the momentum being generated by all of Trump’s machinations, it would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility of an actual coup or serious election steal, despite having an uphill battle. Such efforts include trying to fabricate legal justifications to try to make something stick, to generate public opinion including developing more massive protest and assault by the fascist right on “enemies”, pressuring officials, etc. It’s also not beyond the realm of belief that recounts could be used to fabricate or change vote totals.
At the very least, Trump and the GOP are creating and spreading an entirely false narrative of Trump as the “victim” of a stolen election. This is likely to fuel rabid opposition to Biden and democracy itself among millions of Trumps “true believers”, and give more power to a violent fascist movement for years to come.
The moment is dangerous and it’s crucial that right now we are extremely vigilant. It’s also very important that election officials, officeholders, the media, opinion makers and masses of ordinary people, speak up and resist these dangers, including with mass nonviolent protest in public spaces. We poured out in celebration after the announcement of Trump’s loss. That energy is greatly needed to continue.
* It’s important to make the point that the electoral college is a completely undemocratic way to elect a president, as opposed to direct popular vote. It preserves the shameful white supremacist legacy where slave states were apportioned a greater share of the electors based on counting Black slaves as 3/5 of a person. Though obviously the form through which the Presidential election is carried out, it’s important to say that this shameful legacy remains at the heart of the Presidential election.