Leading-edge baby boomers have now lived through 18 presidential elections. The youngest have been around for 14. But none came even close to the menacing mess of an election coming up in just over a month. As BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs, who spent a career as an international correspondent, writes in this Boomer Opinion piece, the greater good is on the line.
I have covered elections from Venezuela to Egypt to Russia. Each was a nation oppressed by a leader who would unrepentantly use his power to prevent a free and fair vote. A leader whose only intention was to keep on being the leader.
Today in America—with a president who will not assure his nation that if he loses in November he’ll peacefully relinquish the Oval Office, a president who protests without proof that the ballots (on his watch by the way) are “a disaster, a whole big scam,” a president who feeds the fearful frenzy of his followers by saying “I’m not sure” the election can be honest, a president who responds to journalist Chris Wallace’s question about accepting the results if he loses with, “I’m not going to just say yes”— we look just like those other nations in which tidy, tranquil, trustworthy elections were a joke.
If you were to read a story about what Trump’s done without knowing it’s about Trump, you’d think you were reading about some tinhorn dictator from Venezuela or Egypt or Russia… or Belarus, Zimbabwe, North Korea, because Trump does what they do. He installs his closest family in supremely powerful positions, he uses troops to clear his path to a photo op, he perverts everything from his country’s Justice Department to its Postal Service, he circulates conspiratorial conjecture to destabilize his detractors, he debases his own intelligence chiefs’ alarms about foreign influence on an election and devalues his own FBI chief’s assurance that he has seen no evidence of a “coordinated national voter fraud effort.”
We keep wondering, how low can this man go? There is, it seems, no bottom.
And now, after scandalous disclosures about his taxes, and how vulnerable he might be to losing his wealth, maybe even his freedom if he’s ousted from the Oval Office, we know the man’s morals well enough to plausibly presume he would selfishly sacrifice our nation’s stability even more, if that’s what it takes to stay out of jail.
Many have written by now about the deranged and dangerous motives of our deceitfully transparent tax-trickster president, but it can’t be said too often: he isn’t just discrediting our democracy any more, he’s not even just undermining it. He’s attacking it. Let me say that again because we’ve never before seen the likes of it and still can’t quite believe it’s happening now: the president of the United States of America, created on an unprecedented platform of democracy, is literally daring it, undoing it, attacking it.
Our old friend Dan Rather has covered many presidents, and he recently wrote of this one, “He is deeply afraid of losing. Losing an election could mean losing in a court of law. It could mean prison time and ruin. But I suspect Trump’s motives are more instinctual. He needs to hold on to power for the sake of power. He cannot lose, even if he has to cheat to win. Even if he has to blow up American democracy.”
The upshot? A few weeks ago I quoted a Trump-supporting truck mechanic in Old Forge, Pennsylvania, who referred to the Democrats and warned, “If they think there’s unrest now, just wait to see if they try to steal this election. Personally, I think people that are nonviolent, we’re going to get very violent.” That’s what the author of Election Meltdown, law professor Richard Hasen, foresees: “We could well see a protected post election struggle in the courts and the streets if the results are close.” It’s what New York Times columnist Frank Bruni fears, that Trump’s treacherous tactics are “making it more likely that (his) supporters will view the election as invalid and will refuse to accept the result if he doesn’t win.”
And maybe most ominous, it’s what three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barton Gellman just wrote about in The Atlantic: “Something dangerous has hove into view, and the nation is lurching into its path. Conditions are ripe for a constitutional crisis that would leave the nation without an authoritative result. We have no fail-safe against that calamity.”
But Gellman’s prognosis only gets worse: “If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that uncertainty to hold on to power.”
Maybe you thought the comparison to tinhorn despots was overinflated? Think again.
Some of you might not like columnist Bruni’s chronicle of this crisis, but it’s hard to take issue with most of it: “This country, already uncivil, is on the precipice of being ungovernable, because its institutions are being so profoundly degraded, because its partisanship is so all-consuming, and because Trump, who rode those trends to power, is now turbocharging them to drive America into the ground.” He’s also regrettably right when he reinforces Gellman’s prophecy: “The Republican Party won’t apply the brakes.”
Even Dan Rather, who has lived through so many crises, is anxious: “I have seen this country in deep peril, as the hungry begged for sustenance during the Great Depression, as the Nazis marched across Europe and the Japanese across Asia, as missiles were moved into Cuba, as our political leaders were murdered, as a president ran a criminal conspiracy from the Oval Office, as planes were hijacked into skyscrapers. All of these were scary times, but through it all I never worried about a president actively undermining American democracy and inciting violence to do so— even Nixon, for all of his criminal activity.”
Remember Al Gore? In the 2000 election, he conceded defeat. He didn’t have to. He won the popular vote against George W. Bush, and when it came down to electoral votes and hanging chads in Florida, his defeat was hardly a slam dunk. But for the good of the nation, Gore made the agonizing decision to conclude the contest, to ensure an untroubled transfer of power, to prevent a wrenching rip in our democracy.
Sadly, tragically, the president we have now doesn’t have that gene for the greater good in his makeup. The near-certainty of an untidy, untranquil, untrustworthy election is no joke.