Over a month after the Nov. 3 2020 General Election, Donald Trump is still refusing to admit that he lost the election to president-elect Joe Biden. As recently as today, Dec. 10 2020, Trump is still outright claiming that he won the election.The vote may be over giving 306 electoral votes to Biden and 232 electoral votes to Trump, but Trump is still attempting to cling to his office through frivolous legal battles. The Trump campaign has filed lawsuits against many states including Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, and Michigan. While the Trump campaign claims that there is hard evidence of electoral fraud behind these suits, when these suits finally reach the courtroom, they fail due to a lack of evidence. At this point, there is no reason to believe that the 2020 election was not a free and fair election. Trump has every right to explore these legal avenues though, no matter how pointless they are. However, Trump’s lawsuits are not without impact: they are rhetorically damaging to democracy, are further polarizing America, and give Trump a reason to refuse to concede defeat.
While these lawsuits may have no basis and are not making it through the courts, their mere existence is undermining confidence in the electoral system of the United States. Trump’s lawsuits are claiming that this election was fraudulent, leading citizens to question if their vote even mattered. Citizens are not sure if their preference was taken into account or if their vote was simply for show. According to Dahl’s prerequisites for a democracy, citizens must be able to formulate and signify their preferences as well as have their preferences responded to equally by the government. This is the electoral process, the foundation of democracy. Citizens must have confidence that their preferences will be taken into account equally in order to participate, and citizen participation is required in order to hold government officials accountable. Due to Trump’s lawsuits though, some citizens are being led to believe that this process is no longer functioning as it should. Whether this is true or not, citizens’ trust in the electoral process is being eroded.
The lawsuits of the Trump campaign are also contributing to the current polarization in the United States. While post-election season should be a time of healing and acceptance for Americans, many Americans believe that the election is not over. This disagreement over election results is creating further division between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans are inclined to believe Trumps claims that he has won the election since these legal proceedings are ongoing. Without his lawsuits and the polarization that they are creating, Trump’s claims would be unacceptable. It would be clear to everyone that Trump’s claims have no grounds, and Trump’s supporters would be forced to confront the fact that Trump did in fact lose the election. According to Svolik, citizens already excuse higher levels of corruption and unethical behavior from members of their own party, and according to Iyengar and Krupenkin these levels of acceptance will only increase in the face of polarization. This combined with the fact that the lawsuits put theoretical proof behind Trump’s claims has lead his supporters to continue to excuse his behavior and allow him to continue to erode trust in the electoral process.
Furthermore, these lawsuits have allowed not only citizens but also government officials to continue to excuse Trump’s refusal to concede even when they recognize Trump’s loss. In a debate between Kelly Loeffler and Raphael Warnock on Dec 6., even when directly asked, Loeffler refused to acknowledge that Trump had lost the 2020 election. Instead, she responded that Trump has every right to pursue all of his legal options. Trump’s lawsuits give Loeffler an out and allow her to depict him as acting in the interest of the American people by ensuring that the election was free and fair. However, this is not what Trump is doing. In reality, Trump is attempting to cast doubt upon the results of the election and the American electoral system as a whole. Loeffler likely recognizes Trump’s loss as she continuously emphasized in the debate that the future of America depends on the Georgia run-off election in January. Why would America’s future be at stake if Trump had won the presidency? Yet, Loeffler, or any Republican, will not be forced into admitting Trump’s defeat in the public forum because they can simply cite Trump’s right to legal proceedings instead.It remains to be seen if Trump will ever admit his defeat in the 2020 election or if he will ever formally concede to Joe Biden. After all of these legal battles and claims that he actually won the election, it is hard to imagine Trump reversing his position and acknowledging that he was wrong. The bad news is that if Trump never peacefully concedes, then there will be a huge shadow of illegitimacy over Biden’s presidency and continued doubt casted upon America’s electoral process in the future. The good news is that in reality the 2020 election was free and fair, and there was no widespread fraud like Trump claimed there would be. When the time for Biden’s inauguration comes, Trump will cease to be president and will be removed from the White House, whether he likes it or not.