U.S. election: What a Trump re-election means for a democratic system already in decline

Whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden wins the impending U.S. election, the process of a fair and free election followed by a peaceful transfer of power has been relatively peaceful the last century.

But for months, Trump has called the fairness of the U.S. election into question, claiming, without proof, that mail-in voting is going to rig the election and arguing “it will be the greatest fraud ever perpetrated.” Trump has threatened to send law enforcement to polling places and has failed to say whether he will concede if he loses to Biden.

So what’s in store for the aftermath of the 2020 U.S. election?

“I know it’s not going to be good for the United States,” said Sarah Kendzior, an anthropologist who studies authoritarian regimes and host of the podcast Gaslit Nation.

“I think he’ll (Trump) contest the election results if Biden is proclaimed the winner. So we’re in a lot of trouble,” she said.

U.S. democracy eroding

Matthew Lebo, political science department chair and professor at Western University, said Trump is preemptively “sowing doubt” about November’s election result, and by doing this, is undermining the U.S. election.

“He’s making it so that millions of his supporters, if he loses, will not believe the result. And that’s incredibly dangerous,” Lebo said.

Although there are structural flaws, the U.S., is still one of the most democratic countries in the world.

According to FreeHouse, a human rights organization based in the U.S., America scores 86 out of 100 in terms of political rights and civil liberties.

The U.S. is a federal republic that has a “vibrant” political system, a strong rule-of-law, robust freedoms of expression and religious belief and freedom of the press, the organization stated.

However, the organization said that in recent years, the U.S.’s democratic institutions have suffered erosion.

Examples include gerrymandering, racial bias in the criminal justice system, flawed new policies on immigration and asylum seekers (such as Trump’s former ban on travellers from predominantly Muslim countries) and growing disparities in wealth and economic opportunity.

Since 2017, the U.S.’s score fell three points, according to the organization.

The organization cited Trump’s “obstruction of justice” in his impeachment inquiry in January and foreign interference in U.S. elections as examples of what hurt the nation’s score.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded that in 2016, Russia hacked into the nation’s computer systems in order to interfere with the presidential election. It was meant to undermine public faith in the democratic process, denigrate Hilary Clinton and aid Trump.

Another factor that impacted the U.S.’s democratic score was Trump’s “misleading” or “untrue” statements, the organization stated.

Trump “typically failed to correct the record when such statements were challenged by the press and others,” it added.

An example of this can be seen with Trump’s repeated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to a rigged election.

Despite this claim, Lebo explained this method of casting a ballot is a safe practice, and have maintained that fraud related to it is rare.

“Voter fraud is extremely, extremely rare. And you can think about why it’s extremely rare. It’s a felony that can get you in a lot of trouble, right? It’s a felony that some people, when they’re caught, serve time in jail,” he explained.

It’s also nothing new. A number of states such as Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington have been voting by mail for several years.

Jason Stanley, a professor of phi­losophy at Yale University, said Trump’s belief that a fair election is rigged is a “deeply problematic and anti-democratic” ideology.

“(Trump) is a man of his word as far as his promises go when he says he will stay in office. Believe it. He’ll try to stay in office. Authoritarians always tell you what they’re going to do,” he said.

Voter suppression was another reason America fell on FreeHouse’s ranking.

In Georgia in 2018, for example, the registrations of some 53,000 voters — most of them Black — were stalled due to applicant information that did not exactly match government records (such as minor discrepancies in the spelling or spacing of their name) and hundreds of thousands of other voters had been purged from the rolls for failing to vote in recent elections, the organization said.

Dexter Voison, the dean of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto, said mail-in voting is not what is causing democratic institutions to fail, it’s voter suppression.

Many of these suppression tactics — removal of poll boxes and limiting polling sites — are purging individuals from the polls … all things that disproportionately impact Black and brown individuals and poor whites in America,” he said. “This is a new territory … and a new threat to American democracy.”

Multiple studies have said, on a national level, Black voters wait on average 45 per cent longer to vote than white voters, and are more likely to wait more than 30 minutes to cast a ballot.

So what if Trump is reelected?

Stanley argued that American democracy has been in decline for a long time — years before Trump.

“That’s how he got into power. He’s accelerated it. But it’s been a long-term phenomenon,” he said.

Voison agreed.

He said before Trump, there have been long-standing structural flaws in the nation’s democracy, such as the electoral college, gerrymandering, campaign spending “gone wild,” voter suppression and lobbying that too often equates to political corruption.

Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow in the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution, told the L.A. Times that although Trump has threatened to undermine democratic instructions (such as suggesting to delay the 2020 U.S. election), checks and balances still remain in place.

“The flip side of all of that is he has not, as far as I can tell, made any substantive legal changes to our system of checks and balances — in spite of his rhetoric,” Kamarck said.

“The press seems to be doing its job. The House of Representatives did go ahead and impeach him. The courts have consistently thwarted him, including his Supreme Court. The separation of powers is intact. So basically, he’s a lot of bluster.”

— With files from Global News’ Hannah Jackson and the Associated Press

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