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Donald Trump has attacked our democracy and government operations, widened our divisions, maligned reporters, promoted baseless conspiracy theories, harmed the economy and undermined our health care system and public health.
For the majority of Mainers and Americans who disapprove of Trump, the hypocrisy and malfeasance can sometimes seem a bit overwhelming. For example, although he regularly votes by mail and his campaign urges his supporters to do so, Trump continues to falsely claim there is widespread fraud.
Like he did in 2016, Trump questioned whether he would accept the results of the election. Last week, Trump also wouldn’t say if he would participate in a peaceful transfer of power and suggested that his nominee to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat would help decide the winner. The next Supreme Court justice will also decide much more, including whether the Affordable Care Act survives.
As for Trump’s autocratic ability to declare himself the winner, no officeholder, including the president, decides who holds a government position. Even if Trump was defeated and refused to vacate the White House, under the Constitution, the new president’s term begins on Jan. 20, 2021.
State and local election officials count ballots and certify elections. Given the large number of mail-in ballots this year, they should hold off on releasing partial results. And, if candidates win with large enough margins, little litigation will take place and judges won’t get involved.
Thus Trump’s wide and deep damage can be countered by a mass of Americans from many backgrounds and political persuasions united against him and his enablers. The coalition being assembled for Joe Biden and against Trump is remarkable in a time of political polarization and it shows no sign of being dissuaded by Trump’s threats not to accept an electoral loss.
Within the past few weeks, political precedent was broken when Biden was endorsed by nearly 500 retired national security and military leaders, 13 Nobel Prize winners in economics and the publication Scientific American.They joined former Republican staffers, voters and officeholders, along with Democrats from all stripes and numerous independents.
However, this coalition doesn’t include some past Republican critics.
Four years ago, numerous Republicans recognized that Trump was a threat. Back then Sen. Susan Collins proclaimed she wouldn’t vote for him. In May 2016, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted, “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.”
Trump’s business failures and wrongdoing predicted his presidency. Besides the multiple bankruptcies and loans written off by banks that couldn’t collect what Trump owed, his operations ripped off workers and small businesses that never got paid what they were owed. People who wanted to make money selling real estate who paid thousands for the fraudulent Trump University recovered some of what they spent only after a court settlement, but many other Trump victims were left high and dry.
What will happen this November is still uncertain, as polls may shift.
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign is organizing supporters to challenge voters at the polls, and that may prove disruptive, even violent. Pennsylvania Republicans prepared a memo saying state legislators could determine who wins the state’s electoral votes.
Perhaps it seems naive, but there is no alternative right now to seeing ourselves as the authors of the next chapter of the American story. Taking that position means believing in democracy and being politically engaged.
As Jimmy Carter said in his last speech in office, he was “to take up once more the only title in our democracy superior to that of President, the title of citizen.” Carter noted, “We know that democracy is always an unfinished creation. Each generation must renew its foundations. Each generation must rediscover the meaning of this hallowed vision in the light of its own modern challenges.”
How we face today’s challenges depends on what we do between now and Tuesday, Nov. 3, and perhaps afterward, should citizens need to defend our democracy.
Amy Fried is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views are her own and do not represent those of any group with which she is affiliated.