On Wednesday, President Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses in November.
When a reporter asked whether he would accept the “peaceful transferral of power after the election,” Trump gave no lip service to American democracy. He instead responded, “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” and added, “You know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”
Pressed again, Trump said, “Get rid of the ballots and … we’ll have a very peaceful—there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.”
This is not the first time Trump has implied he would not step down, although it was perhaps the most blatant.
Throughout the campaign process, Trump has been saying the quiet part out loud. In response to Justice Ginsburg’s recent death, Trump explicitly stated that he wants to fill the Supreme Court seat so a contested election will be decided in his favor by his judges. On Tuesday, he said, “With the unsolicited millions of ballots that they are sending, you are going to need nine justices.” On Wednesday, he said, “I think [the election] will end up in the Supreme Court … And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”
The Atlantic is reporting that Trump plans to contest as “fraudulent” mail-in ballots counted after Election Day. And at least in Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign is discussing a plan to ignore the election results and get Republican-led legislatures in states to invalidate results and vote to send their own electors regardless of outcomes in the popular vote.
In other words, Trump is setting the stage to contest the results of the election. This is certainly not the first time he has sought to cast doubt on the validity of election results. He’s been doing it since his 2016 run. Back then, for example, he said he would only lose Pennsylvania “if cheating goes on.” After the election he argued that there had been widespread voting fraud and established a commission to study it, though voter fraud is exceedingly rare.
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Trump’s statements are part and parcel of his ongoing attempts to suppress voting access and delegitimize the election results. With the help of Postmaster General DeJoy, Trump has gutted the U.S. Postal Service, undermining its ability to process mail-in ballots efficiently. He has threatened to deploy federal agents to polling places on Election Day. Simultaneously, he has cast doubt on the overall process, characterizing it as riddled with fraud, and called on his base to vote twice. Further, Trump is calling for his radical right-wing base to show up at polling places to intimidate voters, a tactic eerily similar to those used to intimidate Black voters in the Jim Crow South. But this isn’t just Trump’s doing. The decades-old consent decree that prevented Republicans from engaging in certain “ballot security” actions lapsed in 2018, allowing the radical right to take action without any advanced approval. In short, Trump is doing all in his power to limit access to voting, undermine mail-in voting, and ensure that his base rejects the outcome should Biden win. He aims to steal the election — using the very courts Republicans have been packing for the past three years.
And further, over the past months, we’ve seen attacks on our basic democratic right to protest. Protesters have been criminalized, arrested and slammed with ludicrous charges; New York City, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle have been named “anarchist jurisdictions;” the right has expressed support for the execution of Michael Reinoehl as “retribution” — a word Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr used — as well as support for the right-wing Kenosha terrorist who killed two protesters. Democrats who called in the National Guard, set curfews, and arrested people en masse during the Black Lives Matter movement are also part of these attacks on our basic democratic rights. The criminalization of the movement is passing through bipartisan legal mechanisms with bipartisan support. The current repression of protests strengthens future attempts to repress a movement to defend the vote.
We need to be more than “concerned” about this. These attacks call for mobilization and action by people all across the United States.
But we must also be clear: if Trump attempts to hold on to the Presidency, he is going to use the undemocratic mechanisms that preceded him to do so. Trump seems to be announcing that he will pull the levers that already exist to remain in power. “Democracy” in the United States — which is already highly undemocratic, even by bourgeois standards — gives him these powers. The electoral college was designed as a check on democracy, and denies voters a most basic right: one person, one vote. The unelected Supreme Court — occupied by nine judges serving lifelong terms — holds wildly disproportionate sway over the lives of millions of people. As we speak, the Republican majority in the Senate is about to decide who gets on the court, which could decide the 2020 election. The Senate itself is undemocratic; it gives disproportionate sway to smaller, more rural, and predominantly white states.
The undemocratic nature of these structures is made worse by all manner of undemocratic applications of rules and laws. Gerrymandering, for instance, effectively disenfranchises huge swaths of the population. Incarcerated people — and, in most states, even formerly incarcerated people — are kept from voting. Voting rights in general — especially those of immigrants and people of color — are consistently undermined and attacked. There are a million and one checks on the so-called “democracy” in this country to ensure that it does not genuinely express the will of the working class and oppressed.
It is clear that the problem is not just Donald Trump. It is the entire system. Voting for Joe Biden is not going to resolve this. The Democrats, for their part, have strengthened these same undemocratic institutions, attacked democratic rights, and similarly prevented the expansion of democracy since the party’s inception. They have no interest in exposing or addressing this country’s undemocratic foundations. Instead, they will work to solidify, maintain, and gain legitimacy for its undemocratic institutions so they can continue to be used against the working class and oppressed.
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Biden and the Democrats have already signaled that they aren’t going to fight Trump’s attempts to rig the elections. Just last night, Biden refused to put forth a coherent plan to fight Trump on the issue. “What country are we in?” he asked, adding, “I’m being facetious. Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say.”
So how should we fight against Trump’s attempt to rig the elections?
To begin with, we need a concerted and consistent national movement against Trump’s attempt to steal the election. It must be a movement for democratic rights that defends one person, one vote — that means a movement against the Electoral College, against racist gerrymandering and voter ID laws, and against the undemocratic Supreme Court. Voting for Biden won’t address these problems, and no socialists should be fostering illusions that it will. Both parties are our enemy; the attacks on democratic rights are institutional and bipartisan. We must begin the fight against Democrats, Republicans, and undemocratic measures now. Left organizations such as the DSA have a role to play in helping spur this kind of national movement, along with unions and non profits that organize working class and oppressed people. We need mass marches, now, demanding the right to vote and to have all votes counted. The fight for democratic rights should include the right to protest and the fight against racist police violence, helping to unite the movement against stealing the election with the movement for Black Lives.
However, as we have seen with the Black Lives Matter movement, mobilizations are not enough. The working class makes everything run, and here, too, we must play a role. Unions should mobilize members to be poll watchers, defend the right to vote, and go on strike to make sure that every single vote is counted. Unions and others should organize around the demands to end the Electoral College, racist gerrymandering, and the undemocratic Supreme Court.
This fight needs to be taken up by the working class, with its own methods and self-organization. Only this can protect democratic rights from the threat posed by Trump. No capitalist party is going to mobilize the masses in defense of democratic rights. Democratic Party politicians may wring their hands, but they care far more about the threat of an organized working class than the erosion of democratic rights. This was made evident by the response in Bush v. Gore in 2000; Gore was more worried about questioning American bourgeois democracy than with winning the election. In a memoir about Bush v. Gore, labor organizer Jane McAlevey writes, “People were willing to leave their daily grind and step into history to defend their democracy, on a scale that could be called massive without exaggeration.” In other words, masses of people would have defended the right to count all of the votes. However, the Democrats and the unions “smothered the movement moment in Florida, snuffed it right out.”
The Democrats will not be our allies in the fight to count the votes or even in the fight against the electoral college. As Biden has shown, they want us to ignore the words coming out of Trump’s mouth — “he says the most irrational things” — and instead just hold our noses and vote. Again, voting for Biden won’t fix these problems, because it is the undemocratic institutions which already exist that have created the problem.
In the end, defending the right to vote is not enough. Democracy at the ballot box every four years is not enough. Socialists propose a different kind of democracy, one in which representatives are revocable by popular vote and make the same salary as a teacher. One that allows us, the great majority, to decide on every aspect of society. One in which we have democratic control over our own workplaces; in which nurses, doctors, and patients have democratic control over the decisions made about healthcare; and in which teachers and community members make the decisions about schools. A socialist society is real democracy — and the fight for it must begin today, with the working class resisting Trump’s attacks on what little democracy capitalism allows us.