Americans should be upset, but not surprised.
Recently President Trump tweeted his desire to postpone the 2020 United States Presidential election. That’s right – postpone entirely. According to his tweet, a universal mail-in election would lead to the most “INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT election in history” (his words, not mine), with high rates of voter fraud. Apparently, according to Trump, the best option would be to postpone the election, therefore also securing his place in office for an extended term.
Just for some perspective, in Oregon over the past two decades, there have only been about a dozen of cases of voter fraud out of over 100 million mail in ballots. Some states have encountered delays in counting ballots, yes, but fraud has rarely, if ever been an issue. It is possible that there will be trouble processing requests for mail-in ballots, as well as the ballots themselves. Still, like all forms of voting, voter fraud is incredibly rare. It’s essentially a non-issue. Besides, Trump said in his Tweet that absentee voting was “good,” therefore, not fraudulent. Absentee ballots are essentially the same thing as mail-in ballots, the only difference is who can register for an absentee ballot. Where does he draw the line?
Trump has also suggested that non-American citizens might also meddle in the election if we use mail-in ballots. It’s a rather bold statement from someone whose own election has been haunted by claims of foreign interference. Earlier this year, a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee concluded that there was deep and significant Russian interference in the 2016 election, for the purpose of installing Donald Trump as President. Trump denied the allegations of course. Still, Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as national security efforts, are fairly certain that Russia did interfere. So, Trump cannot complain about foreign interference when it is the very force that launched him into office.
Let’s also consider the extreme circumstances around why an in-person election isn’t possible. The COVID-19 pandemic, which is currently ravaging the United States, has not come even close to ending and voting in person would be unsafe for many people across the country. Obviously, the extent of the pandemic here is partially the fault of the Trump administration, and the mentality it encourages, which has put remarkably few guidelines in place for a satisfactory pandemic response and has managed to defund a number of necessary medical programs.
It’s also important to note that while Trump has suggested postponing the election, he has been fighting to reopen schools and the economy. His erratic behavior makes it all the more clear that he doesn’t want to postpone the election out of safety. If this was the case, he’d want to postpone the school year or the economic reopening plan. So what’s his real motivation?
This is a power grab. Plain and simple.
Trump is setting up this narrative so that he can lean on it in case he doesn’t win the election. If Biden wins, Trump can claim that it’s fraudulent or invalid and push to continue his tenure in office. This is especially clear when you consider that Trump has consistently claimed that his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, only won the popular vote with the help of 3 to 5 million illegal voters. Sure, it sounds far fetched to us, but his supporters eat it up and follow his every word without any consideration, citing ‘patriotism’.
How can we respond to other countries having unfair elections with violence, and yet ignore attempts to do the same thing in our own country?
On another token, it’s also downright hypocritical to postpone the election. The Trump White House has recently criticized the year-long postponement of an election in Hong Kong. Not to mention that the United States has historically launched coups and regime change wars overseas against nations for having undemocratic elections. How can we respond to other countries having unfair elections with violence and ignore attempts to do the same thing in our own country?
We call ourselves the defender of democracy and use it as a guise to invade countries in Latin American and West Asia. In the same breath, we’ve also proven ourselves unable to protect our own people from a global pandemic. We even use violence against peaceful protestors calling for equal civil rights. And yet, we pride ourselves on maintaining an exemplary form of democracy. What, then, are we driven by? A desire for democracy, or a desire to protect our country’s monetary, capitalist interests? We are so swept up in the notion that we are the greatest country in the world that we never seek to examine how to make it better.
So yes, we should acknowledge our fear and anger in this scary time. But we shouldn’t be surprised. This administration has consistently violated basic human rights which are guaranteed to all citizens. Not only have war crimes been committed against peaceful protestors without remorse, but immigrant families have been cruelly detained for years, and currently people are “disappearing” (being abducted) from the streets of Portland and New York City in unmarked vans. The fact that Trump has authoritarian, maybe even bordering on fascist, tendencies should surprise no one.
Therefore, the move to postpone the election shouldn’t surprise us either. In fact, the United States has a shaky, even dangerous, history with voting rights to begin with. We can’t forget that women and Black communities were systematically disenfranchised for centuries. For a chunk of time, only wealthy, landowning, white men had the right.
Voting has always been deeply connected to power in America.
Here’s a helpful timeline. White women gained the right to vote nationwide in 1920. Black men technically gained the right to vote in 1870, but most black people were unable to vote for decades afterwards. Rigged literacy tests, poll taxes, and Grandfather clauses prevented the majority of Black American from voting. Most Black Americans were only able to vote after the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Native Americans could not vote at all until 1924, and only in 1947 did all Native Americans gain this valuable right. Asian Americans couldn’t vote until 1943.
Voter suppression still exists to this day, in the form of gerrymandering, difficulty to access polling stations, and the mass exclusion of felons and the incarcerated. Such severe marginalization disproportionately affects people of color and low income people. The idea that the United States government would make it even more difficult for people to vote in 2020 is surely disappointing, but it would not be the first time.
Still, we need to acknowledge the magnitude of Trump’s statements. Even if the United States has a history of this kind of suppression, his Tweet remains troubling. It is also worth mentioing that Trump can’t postpone the election, not without Congress’ approval, but his blatant disregard for our Checks and Balances is stunning. Although he can’t outright change the election, the fact that he even wants to is a red flag.
What Trump is doing is insidiously delegitimizing the entire institution of democracy, and suggesting that limitations on presidential power are not necessary. If he allows his narrative of fraudulent elections to continue, he could try to stay in office indefinitely. It’s not a stretch to call his attempts fascist, because even Republicans are doing so. This isn’t just a partisan political debate; Trump is showing disregard for the entire system of democracy. The election is only 3 months away, and yet Trump is trying to turn it on its head.
We also need to acknowledge that if he succeeds, there will be disastrous consequences. Let’s not forget what this election result means for our country. It’s a matter of life or death for immigrant families in detention centers. It will determine whether or not we can protect our environment for the future. The lives of Black Americans are at stake, the land of Native Americans is at stake, the wellbeing of protestors is at stake, and the dignity and safety of Muslim and Jewish Americans is at stake. There have always been terrible presidents in American history, but Trump is a blatant racist, an alleged sexual assaulter, a wannabe fascist, and an incompetent bully. This is not just another election year. This election means everything, and Trump knows it.
Do you want to take action? Here are some organizations to donate to:
The ACLU is one of the foremost organizations making legal challenges to voter suppression laws.
The Brennan Center is also a great organization fighting for voting reform, specifically focusing on new, progressive voting legislation.
Let America Vote is a Democratic-leaning PAC currently fighting against Trump’s attempts to postpone the election.
If you’re interested in learning about more groups opposing this measure, here is a letter from 50 political action groups and nonprofits opposing Trump’s comments.