No election anywhere in the world is perfect. But America wins the world prize for election insecurity. So many questions have been raised about freedom of voting and diminishing voter confidence about fairness, that for any Americans who have lived through elections in non-democratic countries the November 3 elections in the U.S. are pocked with worry: about voter suppression and intimidation, election-day violence and a potentially contested outcome.
A long shadow of doubt
As the secretary general of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Roberto Montella, has noted (The Washington Post, “Fewer foreign observers will monitor U.S. election this year”, 10/23/20) “it is the first time in my recollection that the incumbent cries foul before the competition actually takes place and before the outcome is known”. It’s no wonder so many Africans and Europeans and Asians and Latin Americans are worried about the U.S. falling into a state of authoritarianism and deepening anti-democratic leadership!
Meanwhile, the mood in America is apprehensive and befuddled, to say the least. But what dominates the election sky three days before election-day is what Henry Giroud (America at War with Itself, 2017) refers to as a shadow of debased and corrupt politics and a dark cloud of fear. The nation’s sitting president has, after all, declared war against Americans who don’t support his reelection, a war through fight culture, militarization of the social sphere, egging on of intimidation and violence, manufactured ignorance and falsehoods.
Worrying about election security is not normal
It’s natural to be worried about election security in America (The Washington Post, 10/31/20):
Worried that the National Guard has prepared “regional response units” to act as a rapid reaction force to perform election and post-election crowd control and support law enforcement if there’s civil unrest and turmoil. We all know about, and many saw, how this kind of response turned into repression of protesters and their rights through forced clearing and use of pepper spray, shields and clubs. We all know about, and many actually suffered, the unauthorized low-hanging helicopters to disperse protestors in the nation’s very capital.
Worried that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has deemed it necessary to mount a huge “war room” operation to secure the November 3 election and its legitimate results. DHS must battle not only the threats of cyber interference from Russia, China and Iran, but also president Trump’s interference at home, with the support of his firebrand GOPers, through threats to not abide by election results if he doesn’t win.
Worried that the ballots of people of color and younger people are being rejected at a higher rate than those of non-colored voters, especially in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania.
Worried that Trump’s Republican acolytes are targeting individual voters and their ballots after failing to curb the avalanche of mail-in voting. They are doing so under the guise of “transparency” in support of Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in mail-in voting and, even worse, to create his own “team” and law enforcement to “watch” (i.e. intimidate) voters in polling places. This amounts to a step toward what Michael Gerson (The Washington Post, 09/25/20) has called “a coup against democracy”, by sabotaging an election that seems to be going against him.
Worried that high-ranking officials, like Jeremy Carl, deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Interior, openly and publicly defend eugenics and other white supremacist views and defends someone accused of fatally shooting two people and injury a third during a BLM protest.
Worried because the sitting president not only ignores the professional and economic consequences of COVID19 on women, but also demeans them through stereotyping, belittling remarks and outright insults.
Worried that Trump has put freedom of speech in America’s main squares by continuously inciting clashes between his backers, some carrying firearms, and BLM protestors.
Worried that U.S. Attorney General William Barr, as head of the U.S. Department of Justice and chief lawyer for the federal government, is outrageously expressing incorrect and insulting comments on the pandemic safety measures to slow down virus spread and questioning without evidence the fairness of the election.
Worried about the blatant disregard of our present leadership and its callous dismissal of the lives of ordinary Americans in the face of COVID19 as the virus emergency worsens and fatalities increase with the surge of cases.
Worried that unseen social media, like Twitter, helps coordinate the flow of misinformation while serving as Trump’s megaphone for his messages of disinformation and the conspiracy theories of his right-wing supporters.
Worried that our sitting president is so heartless to call those who fight for America “losers”.
Worried that so many thousands of Americans, some of them your neighbors, are seeing their lives fall apart and their dreams fall into darkness.
Using illusion and fantasy to divert attention
There is so much more to worry about as the Trump Whitehouse weaves illusion and fantasy into its discourse and policies as it ministers to Trump’s image-worshipping. The aim is to divert the American people from the economic, environmental, political and moral collapse that defines the nature of Trump’s political leadership as he seeks to cling to power, just like so many authoritarian leaders have done and continue doing around the world.
The difference with China, for example, is that while the U.S. has fallen into a rabbit hole of world influence demise and economic woes, with economic activity still at 3.5% below where it was at the end of 2019, China has grown at 4.9% and has already returned to a pre-virus level of output and pulled ahead among major economies (The Washington Post, “China pulls ahead among major economies in recovery”, 10/20/20). However, the difference with African presidents like Ivory Coast’s Alassane Outtara and Guinea’s Alpha Condé, both of whom are now seeking reelection with an anti-constitutional third term, is negligible.
Trump also eyes extending his term for a third term. At an August rally in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Trump said: “We are going to win four more years. And then after that we’ll go for another four years”. He, too, believe it or not, is infected by the third-termism political virus that affects leaders in Africa, and elsewhere. Trump too is ready to try to retain power in his old age by exploiting the pandemic, promoting dangerous hate speech, encouraging violent response to protests, and forcing unfettered loyalty and submission from those who work in the administration or risk being fired or arrested.
This, of course, generates worry that if Trump contests the vote and if he wins the contest, American institutions, which have made the success of American democracy, will fail and Trump will snuff out the shining light upon a hill by seeking to rule as king of a mountain. We are, after all, bearing witness to democracy under assault, in America and elsewhere, as theatrical bullying enriches the few at the expense of the many.
Why the 2020 U.S. presidential election is so important
This U.S. election is so monumentally important because it’s, in essence, about winning by preserving alive our memories of freedom and democratic agency. It’s about renewing the power of civic imagination and nonviolent political will versus losing to narcissistic infantilism, economic predation and intellectual ignorance and intolerance .
This election is, to borrow from the title of John Meacham’s book, a battle for the very soul of America, for what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” It’s a contest between regression and progression, to assert hope over fear. That’s why Americans are voting, by mail or in person, in record numbers.
The real issue at heart for Americans is what kind of society we want: One dominated by the swagger of a vigilante strongman or collective sovereignty? Guns over diplomacy? A wall instead of a bridge? (Giroud, 2017). Do we want to vote for Democracy as a protected home for diversity, equality and social justice, or as a home assailed by intellectual, moral and political bankruptcy expressed through racism and bigotry, sexism and inequality, and theatrics and buffoonery over substance?
The vote will tell. But the world expects nothing less than democracy in America.
What happens in America will say whether we will continue to live in dangerous, pathologically irresponsible times…or if the future is still open and ripe with possibilities for renewed democratic discourse and imagination.