Trump’s Dangerous Game

President Donald Trump and his cohort of Republican enablers have hit a new low: They are undermining democratic norms with their frequent and virulent accusations of electoral fraud in Florida — and elsewhere.

Democracy is a fragile political system: Its stability depends on a shared sense of the system’s inherent fairness and a confidence that the candidate with the most votes wins. Claims of electoral fraud — no matter from whom and regardless of the eventual outcome — fray public trust in democratic institutions. Shouted long enough and loud enough, allegations of cheating inevitably result in large numbers of people no longer accepting the results, a recipe for anarchy, civil unrest, or, in the worst case, violence.

Trump has led the way with baseless accusations. “The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!” reads one of his ill-informed and deliberately provocative tweets. (What, by the way, is an infected ballot?) Then, there was this tweet: ”Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!” Finally, in an interview with the right-wing Daily Caller, Trump claimed, “When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It’s really a disgrace what’s going on.” This assertion echoed Trump’s absurd claim that he lost the popular vote in 2016 because undocumented immigrants voted by the millions. In The Daily Caller interview, the president reiterated the Republican refrain that voter ID laws are needed to prevent fraudulent voting. “If you buy a box of cereal — you have a voter ID,” he asserted. “They try to shame everybody by calling them racist, or calling them something, anything they can think of, when you say you want voter ID. But voter ID is a very important thing.”

Wow! There is a lot to parse in the above idiocy. For starters, I suspect the president has not shopped for cereal lately. I have, and I do not ever recall being asked to show identification at checkout when buying cereal. But, in Virginia, where I live, voters do need identification to vote. The problem with Republican-sponsored voter ID laws is that they frequently require forms of identification — such as, a government-issued driver’s license or a passport — not possessed by significant numbers of Americans, especially the poor and minorities. Also, the idea that numbers of people vote multiple times is preposterous and an insult to the many dedicated poll workers out there. Also preposterous are Trump’s claims that undocumented immigrants — aliens, in his lexicon — vote illegally. People not legally in the United States live in the shadows, desperately trying not to attract attention. The last thing such a person wants to do is to cast an illegal vote and be caught. Why risk deportation for a vote? It defies logic.

There is absolutely no evidence of widespread in-person voter fraud, except in the minds of Republican politicians who desire to whip up hysteria around voting for two reasons: First, it fans anti-immigrant bias and, second, it provides a rationale for restricting the ballot to groups

who are whiter, older, and wealthier and more likely to vote Republican. Such agitation is, of course, a form of voter fraud, and it has become common within the GOP. Republican politicians have been trying to limit the franchise for decades because they know key demographic groups — the young, African Americans, Hispanics — trend Democratic, and their numbers are growing. 

Florida Governor Rick Scott

So, it is not surprising that Trump and Republican allies are calling for an end to counting votes in Florida. Governor Rick Scott accused his Democratic Senate opponent, Senator Bill Nelson, of “clearly trying to commit voter fraud to win this election.” Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said, “Democratic lawyers… are here to change the results of the election.” Neither Scott nor Rubio offer any evidence to back up their accusations. But, that does not stop them from asking for valid ballots to be discarded, even though Florida law grants a 10-day extension past election day for military ballots mailed from overseas. By the way, Florida law also mandates recounts if election results fall within prescribed margins. No chicanery there, just a legal recounting of votes. The Republican gambit is mysterious. Scott most likely will be the next junior senator from Florida, given his more than 12,000 vote lead. Why taint the results of an election he almost certainly will win? 

Representative Martha McSally conceding Arizona Senate race.

Trump also called for “a new Election” in Arizona. Fortunately, the Republican in Arizona, Representative Martha McSally, has more devotion to democracy than either Trump or top Florida Republicans. With her golden retriever Boomer at her side, McSally graciously conceded to her opponent, Representative Krysten Sinema. Arizona might not have a Democratic senator in January if Trump’s nativism and boorish behavior had not led incumbent Senator Jeff Flake to retire. Of course, Trump is not capable of introspection, so he likely does not appreciate his role in Sinema’s victory.

He does not seem to understand how the election results were a rebuke of him and all his ugliness. And, it is ugly and likely to get uglier. Demands by Trump and other Republicans that votes be ignored or that unfavorable election results be set aside is the surest path to autocracy. I shudder over the prospect of a close 2020 presidential election. Will Trump refuse to vacate the White House if he loses narrowly? Will he demand recounts until he gets the results he wants? Will his supporters not accept the results if he loses? Are you ready for a civil war? There are a lot of guns across the country, but that is another blog.

Posted November 16, 2018

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