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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 14-11-2020 10:13

Denialist-in-chief

Donald Trump’s contemptuous refusal to concede defeat signs and seals his presidency on a typical note of petulance.

The reality is that Donald Trump lost the 2020 US election, fair and square. Yet, as has been the case throughout his presidency, in his own mind he is still the star of the television reality show that made him famous. In that imaginary world, he never loses, so he can never acknowledge defeat.

His delusion is bolstered by the tens of millions of people who voted for him. Yet at the time of writing, in the real world, the popular vote shows that Joe Biden received over five million more votes than Trump and probably will end up with 306 Electoral College votes, a resounding majority (and close to the same number of state delegates that Trump had in 2016).

Karl Rove, the Republican Party strategist who guided George W. Bush to the presidency in two straight elections and also advised the Trump campaigns in this year’s campaign, has some advice for the defeated incumbent.  

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Rove agreed that the president was within his right to challenge the results, but said that the Republican candidate’s actions "are unlikely to move a single state from Mr Biden's column, and certainly they're not enough to change the final outcome.”

He added: “Closing out this election will be a hard but necessary step toward restoring some unity and political equilibrium. Once his days in court are over, the president should do his part to unite the country by leading a peaceful transition and letting grievances go.”

Some hope! Judging by his errant and erratic behaviour over the past four years, President Trump will reject that advice with all his might. It is even surmised that he will be unable to bring himself to leave the White House. Some he has confided in say how much he enjoys being POTUS. 

It seems likely that President Trump will subject us to more than two months of lunacy until January 20, when his legal occupancy of the White House comes to end. Is it possible that Trump will go on pretending he won re-election? 

I was reassured to see President-elect Biden shrug off that possibility with a broad smile, and then comforted even more by the words of Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director for counter-intelligence at the FBI, as he responded to concerns from MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace that Trump might even barricade himself inside the Oval Office. 

Figliuzzi made the removal of the ex-president, should it come to that, sound so easy. First there would be a legal challenge then, if necessary, “it may be that US marshals have to come take the ex-president out.” He said the choice for the “subject” would be simple: “We can do this the hard way or we can do this the easy way.”

Will he really refuse to leave? With Donald Trump nothing is certain. Only one thing is for sure: his contemptuous refusal to concede defeat signs and seals his presidency on a typical note of petulance. 

When the election was called for Biden, there were six days of silence, apart from the usual stream of sputtering tweets. Trump emerged from what had become his bunker only once. He attended a Veteran’s Day ceremony at Arlington, arriving six minutes late. 

I have to kick myself sometimes to make sure I am awake and not still in the grip of a nightmare. Isn’t this the world’s first and greatest democracy? What has happened here?  

Looking back with hindsight, it is possible to see that Trump was so far outside the democratic traditions of the United States that his presidency was bound to pose a threat to its core values. Long before he won the Republican Party nomination, he was recognisable as a potentially authoritarian leader, but it was generally assumed that he would play by the rules and respect the nation’s institutions. 

We now know that the sacred belief that the “checks and balances” built into the US system of governance is flawed. There is a glaring glitch in the process because there are no despot-proof restraints on presidential power. A rogue president can do anything he likes. Remember, Trump warned us that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Sitting here today, that doesn’t seem so outlandish.

Only people who have had the unfortunate experience of living under a dictatorship could know what the United States might be in for when Trump was elected. One such observer is Trevor Noah; the young South African who took over The Daily Show from Jon Stewart. He noticed immediately that Trump resembled the African dictators he remembered seeing when he was growing up. 

In an interview with Variety, Noah told the magazine that he had warned of the possible harm Trump could do: “I told people five years ago, ‘Wait until he’s telling you that you don’t need to have an election. And people were like, ‘This is America. It can’t happen. We got checks and balances.’”

At present, we can only conclude that there aren’t sufficient checks and balances to restrain Trump. We did have an election, which was the only thing that the outgoing president feared. He was right to do so. He knew what would happen. Despite his bluster about winning overwhelmingly, he was crying “fraud” and working to sabotage polling as November 3 drew closer.

This situation cannot continue. More pressure must be applied to the denialist-in-chief. More Republican voices must be heard recognising Biden’s victory and calling for a peaceful transition of power. Other nations that have not yet recognised the results of the election  need to do so.

The four-year nightmare is almost over for the United States, but we must remain on guard. As the history of nations across the globe has taught us, anti-democratic forces are always waiting for an opportunity to return.

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Robert Cox

Robert Cox

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1968-1979).

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