President Trump is a major source of democratic backsliding in the U.S.; it is time that he accepts defeat in the 2020 election.
“What they’re doing is using COVID to steal an election. They’re using COVID to defraud the American people – all of our people – of a fair and free election.” This statement is from President Donald Trump, who believes that he is projected to lose the 2020 U.S. presidential election because it was “stolen” from him. In recent weeks, Joe Biden has been declared by numerous news sources as the projected winner of the election. However, Trump continues to refute the results of the election, claiming that Biden and the Democrats stole it from him. He has challenged the ballot counts in a number of states and has still not conceded. I argue that this is a clear representation of (1) how democracy in the U.S. is backsliding and (2) how polarization within a democracy can increase when political actors do not respect democratic norms.
As of November 2020, the Trump campaign has gone to court in five states in order to challenge the legitimacy of the election results. Trump has made claims saying that the votes were stolen from him in states where voting software was used. He tweeted several times that Dominion Voting Systems, a company that sells electronic voting equipment, is inaccurate and insecure. Trump also tweeted that the company was responsible for deleting 2.7 million Trump votes nationwide, a baseless claim that Twitter flagged for misinformation.
According to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), there was no evidence of any voting systems being compromised. To ensure the accuracy of election results, there were safeguards in place, such as checking whether tabulation systems were functioning properly, preventing the installation of malware, and correcting any irregularities in the data. A joint statement put out by officials to counter election disinformation stated that “there [was] no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” A similar response was also given by Christopher Krebs, the director of the CISA, when he refuted Trump’s baseless claims of electoral fraud and vouched for the integrity of the vote count. Trump’s response to his statement was to simply fire him. This tells us how Trump will only accept the results of the election if he comes out on top. Otherwise, in the eyes of Trump and his supporters, this election was fraudulent and recounts must be called for in battleground states. It really makes one think about how a “peaceful” transition of power is supposed to take place.
The orderly transfer of power from an incumbent to the president-elect serves as one of the most fundamental aspects of American democracy. Trump’s refusal to accept the election results and his inability to concede goes to show how much American democracy has backslidden. Trump has continued to disrespect the democratic “rules of the game,” a concept coined in Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die. The authors created a four-part litmus test that measures whether political leaders have authoritarian tendencies. One of those measures is whether they respect the democratic rules of the game, which interestingly enough Trump did not do when he denied the results of the 2016 election until he was declared the winner. Trump continues to follow the exact same pattern in this election by challenging the legitimacy of votes cast in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, and Michigan. The fact that he does not accept an election that does not predict him as the winner shows how he does not believe the workings of American democracy to be legitimate or functional. If such a political leader was fairly elected in 2016 and still received over 70 million votes in 2020, that is a strong indicator of how democracy in the U.S. is backsliding.
Democratic backsliding in the U.S. can also be attributed to Trump’s disrespect for democratic norms. “We have relied on democratic norms and expectations for years that now turn out to be very weak in the face of somebody with an authoritarian bent.” This was Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, a bipartisan law and public policy institute. Trump has completely ignored the democratic norms that the nation has relied on for so long in his attempt to remain in power.. Examples of democratic norms that Trump has ignored these past four years and during the election include respecting political rivals, forbearance, support for a free and independent press, a commitment to the peaceful resolution of political disputes rather than encouraging violence, and many more.
In the context of this election, Trump has shown outright disrespect for the norms that have governed this nation by not conceding and agreeing to a peaceful transfer of power. He has refused to accept the results of the election because it did not declare him the winner, and has continued to delegitimize his political rival by calling the votes that made him president-elect “fraudulent.” In my opinion, Trump’s actions after the news networks called Biden the winner have only served to increase political polarization in the nation. With Trump calling the election fraudulent, some of his supporters have taken to the streets to violently protest an electoral contest that was anything but illegitimate. Trump has continued to fuel the disputes between Republicans and Democrats by promoting the use of violence, another democratic norm that he has chosen to ignore. In a protest in Washington D.C., two police officers were injured and at least twenty people were arrested. Trump’s decision to draw this election out as long as possible has polarized America even more.
Many of those who voted for Trump may believe that it is his responsibility to contest the election results if he believes them to be fraudulent. After all, the U.S. was founded on the principle of revolution and not respecting Britain’s “rules of the game.” However, Trump attempting to refute the election by calling it fraudulent actually weakens democracy because he has no evidence to support these claims. The Trump campaign has brought dozens of lawsuits to state and federal courts in battleground states, such as Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, and Michigan. However, many of the Trump campaign’s lawsuits have been dismissed, and the ones that are being tried are unlikely to change the outcome of the election. By drawing the election out, Trump is simply making a peaceful transfer of power much more difficult, which serves to weaken democracy. Additionally, with these lawsuits, Trump is simply reaching for anything that will help declare him as the winner. Hillary Clinton conceded in 2016 when she lost in the electoral college, where the vote count in battleground states was much closer than it is now between Trump and Biden.
Trump’s refusal to concede the election results and agree to a peaceful and orderly transfer of power is representative of how democracy is backsliding in the U.S. His outright disrespect for democratic norms has been showcased numerous times throughout his term and continued to show during the election. It is time that he concedes and accepts defeat. It is time that understands that by the will of the people, the most foundational principle in democracy, he has been legitimately voted out of office.