By Brian Crespo – News Editor
On Tuesday, November 3, Americans will decide their leader for the next four years. The Republican incumbent, Donald Trump, has centered his campaign around law and order. His new slogan, Keep America Great, signals that the promise of his first campaign, Make America Great Again, has been largely fulfilled. The Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has centered his campaign on continuing Obama’s legacy and, more generally, being everything that Trump is not. His alliterative – heavy slogan is Build Back Better. It would not be out of place as a rallying cry for a city that has suffered an earthquake.
The peaceful transition of power has been the standard for the last two centuries of American history. Though there have been occasional hiccups – Bush vs. Gore being the most recent – the system has worked comparatively well in avoiding chaos and banishing the specter of illegitimacy. But even peaceful transitions, if initially contested, leave a faint scar on the American psyche. Al Gore’s would-be victory over Bush has spawned its own brand of off-beat alternative history, mostly lampooning the failed nominee and his purported eccentricities.
Gore eventually conceded defeat on December 13, on national television, for “the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy”. George W. Bush was sworn in next month. A devastating terrorist attack, a debilitating recession, and two costly foreign wars replaced the contentious election in the American consciousness.
This year’s election is not likely to be as smooth. Trump has repeatedly declared that mail-in voting, which has seen an uptick due to COVID, will result in widespread electoral chaos. He has called it a ‘scam’ vulnerable to foreign interference. Meanwhile, Democrats tout it as an effective way for vulnerable Americans to make themselves heard at the ballot box during a pandemic. The Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has strongly voiced her support for the measure.
“People should not have to choose between their health and their vote” she said on ABC’s The Week.
The Trump campaign questions if COVID is the true reason for the expansion of mail-in voting. They point to the massive protests over police brutality, which have repeatedly drawn dense crowds and are tacitly supported by the Democrats, as proof that mail-in voting is being used for a sinister end.
“If you can protest in person, you can vote in person” Trump tweeted on August 19th.
Two days earlier, on August 17, he told supporters in Wisconsin that he would lose the election only if it were rigged against him.
“We have to be very careful,” he said to the crowd “We can’t let that happen”
Biden has responded in kind. Speaking on The Daily Show, an American news satire program, he said his greatest fear is that Trump will cheat to keep himself in power. At one point, the host asks the Democratic nominee what will happen if Trump refuses to leave the White House. Biden said he was absolutely convinced that the military, if required, will escort him from the Oval Office.
Kayleigh McEnaney, The White House Press Secretary, has called Biden’s assertion a “ridiculous proposition.”
Former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has also jumped in the fray, urging Biden not to concede if the race is close. She has echoed claims that Trump will try to cheat. Her antidote? Only an overwhelming turnout can deflate claims of illegitimacy.
This is a situation unique in modern American history. Both candidates have accused the other of trying to steal an election, a disaster for the world’s model democracy. Americans are reporting record-low faith in government intuitions. Polarization and extreme partisanship are on the rise. Protesters, militia members, rioters, and law enforcement are clashing in the streets. Surrounding it like wrapping paper is a global pandemic. There is nothing else to do but wait, pray, and vote.