By raising false claims about the election’s legitimacy and prematurely declaring victory, President Donald Trump is playing with fire, putting his own lust for power above the welfare of a bitterly divided nation.
As the votes were counted Tuesday night, and in the days preceding the election, Trump spun a conspiracy narrative that former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, could win only if he and his campaign stole the election.
The logic is flawed and potentially incendiary. A small minority of the President’s hard-core supporters have shown a penchant for violence, as well as an almost pathological zeal to believe anything Trump says.
By not condemning some of the violent right-wing groups who support him, and continuing to chip away at the election’s integrity, Trump is effectively encouraging them to fight an unfavorable electoral outcome, by any means necessary.
This moment is not about Trump’s politics or policies. It’s about his respecting the democratic process, honoring the will of the American people, and preserving what’s left of the nation’s unity. Trump needs to accept the results of this election and, if beaten, concede.
Some of the bizarre behavior Americans already have witnessed legitimizes fears of post-election chaos. Last Friday, for example, a caravan of trucks bearing Trump flags swarmed a Biden campaign bus on a Texas highway. A Biden campaign worker said the trucks tried to run the bus off the road.
Owing to security concerns, the Biden campaign cancelled a scheduled stop in Austin.
The president’s response: He called the drivers “patriots.”
Republicans have answered the denunciation of violence by Trump’s critics by citing violence in some of the protests following the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, who stood on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
That analogy, however, doesn’t hold when comparing Trump’s and Biden’s behavior during and before Tuesday’s election. However the people protesting police conduct act, if Trump wins a second term, Biden is not in any way inciting them. Nor has he called the election a fraud, even when the count on Tuesday night appeared to favor Trump.
A record turnout and razor-thin margin of victory shows, again, just how divided this nation has become.
Whether we can preserve the union in the coming years, and work together for the benefit of all, is a question generations of Americans will face.
The country, however, faces an immediate crisis. For Trump to not accept the results of a legitimate election could split the nation wide open.
It also would make him the most shameful president in U.S. history.
Trump has already declared he would challenge election results in the U.S. Supreme Court.
That’s his right. If the President can show the election failed to meet constitutional or legal standards, he is entitled to a legal remedy that could include the presidency.
Until then, he should patiently let the process play out, urge his followers to remain calm, and take the advice he gave the Proud Boys during a presidential debate:
Stand back and stand by.