President Donald Trump’s disbelief at losing the election to Joe Biden is playing out in unsurprising fashion. Since Trump can’t fathom defeat, he has declared himself — without providing evidence — the victim of a massive fraud perpetrated by Democrats, election authorities and the media.
Two weeks past Election Day, Trump appears trapped between the first two stages of grief: denial and anger. Instead of conceding and making preparations to transition the Oval Office to Biden, he spent a busy, pernicious weekend on Twitter calling the election “stolen,” “rigged” and tainted by corruption. In consoling himself, he emboldened supporters, including those demonstrating in Washington, D.C., to believe the worst of American democracy.
From the president’s Twitter account on Saturday, beginning at 2:07 p.m.: “People are not going to stand for having this Election stolen from them by a privately owned Radical Left company, Dominion, and many other reasons!”
At 2:17 p.m. “We will WIN!”
At 2:24 p.m. “Hundreds of thousands of people showing their support in D.C. They will not stand for a Rigged and corrupt Election!”
At 5:07 p.m. “There is tremendous evidence of wide spread voter fraud in that there is irrefutable proof that our Republican poll watchers and observers were not allowed to be present in the poll counting rooms. Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and others. Unconstitutional!”
Elections play out according to a script that includes legal requirements, customs and often defiance, outbursts and exaggerations from the losing side. Counting and certifying the votes is a requirement; offering an honorable concession is custom. Lengthy Twitter outbursts are a new phenomenon under Trump. He isn’t much for respecting political traditions; he’s an anti-establishment politician. That’s one reason he won the presidency in 2016 and got 72.6 million votes this time (Biden received 77.9 million), according to unofficial totals.
There is a point, though, when the messy spirit of American politics risks doing real damage to the country. Leaders can inspire the public to do good. They also can corrode trust in a system of governance that relies more on faith than force to operate properly. While Trump is free to use the legal system to challenge the election results, his reckless, petulant insistence (without showing proof) that he was robbed of reelection feeds suspicions that will outlast this drama. He is also holding up, however temporarily, presumptive President-elect Biden’s attempts to ease into the transition. Trump is wrong to hold up that process.
The cost of corruption, self-dealing and lies is a wearing down of democracy, a feeling of public helplessness, a disconnection and cynicism, and eventually, a giving up.
Trump perpetuates mistrust in the election, in democracy, when there is no substantial evidence of election malfeasance that 1) constitutes widespread intentional fraud 2) would overturn or change the election results. Elections always include irregularities. Most of the cases raised in lawsuits brought by Trump’s lawyers indicate mistakes at most, not intentional fraud. We have waited for the courts to vet them. It was OK to wait.
But now, the facts are emerging in a way that does not substantiate any of Trump’s claims of fraud. In one of the more comprehensive and updated timelines by the news media, USA Today’s editor-in-chief, Nicole Carroll, on Friday wrote a column explaining several high-profile claims of ballot cheating, and then walked readers through each case.
One example: Thousands of people who were reportedly deceased cast ballots in Michigan.
“The claim that 14,000 dead people in Wayne County, Michigan, voted in the 2020 election is false. The list has been investigated and it was found that some individuals on the list were either still alive, or not living in Michigan. Other examples cited were the result of date of birth errors,” USA Today reported.
While no election is 100% clean, most of the mistakes cited in the lawsuits Trump’s team have filed have been explained by natural error, not intentional malfeasance, and none so substantial that they would overturn an election.
Some Republicans and conservative media figures are backing up Trump’s claims of being swindled. They’re being disingenuous, seeking to placate Trump or keep on the good side of Trump voters. Some — but too few Republicans — are saying the right things. U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted “If you have legit concerns about fraud present EVIDENCE and take it to court. STOP spreading debunked misinformation.”
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, a former Reagan speechwriter, wrote: “In a week of talking to Republican political leaders, all by nature competitive, most veterans of tough races, I haven’t found one who believes Donald Trump won. All believe that there was fraud in the vote, and that this year’s semicrazy pandemic rules made clear the need for some baseline national voting standards. But none believe, though some seemed hoping, there was enough fraud to change the result. They expect this will become clear through failed lawsuits and the production by the states of final certified votes.”
When the election is certified, Biden will be the winner with as many as 306 electoral votes, which was Trump’s total in 2016. The current president doesn’t have to like the result. He can spend the next four years railing against it. But that won’t change the reality.
The editorial was composed by the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune.
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