By Emma Campbell
The first time President Donald Trump went on record to say that he wouldn’t commit to a peaceful transition of presidential power was at a Sept. 23 news conference.
“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens. You know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster…there won’t be a transfer, frankly; there’ll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control. You know it,” Trump said.
This unprecedented comment set the ball rolling for a string of remarks in the same vein — so many, in fact, that on Sept. 24 CNN published an article entitled “A list of the times Trump has said he won’t accept the election results or leave office if he loses.”
As of Oct. 31, CNN reports that the 2020 presidential polls show former Vice President Joe Biden holding a nationwide advantage over Trump, suggesting that the race to the White House may not be as much of a toss-up as voters initially thought. In the wake of these new developments in polling, Trump is getting increasingly agitated — and if he loses, he might throw a tantrum that proves to have very real consequences for the American people.
Trump’s main defense against any comment, policy, or procedure that he deems unfair is to call the system rigged. It’s the explanation behind his war on any news organization that dares to tell the truth about his incompetency. If Trump gets what he wants, he calls the world a fair place. If he doesn’t, he retaliates by spreading the narrative that the world is against him — and thus, also against the throngs of those who support him.
Trump’s followers seem to operate under the assumption that anyone who doesn’t fly the Make America Great Again flag is a liar and a cheat. Trump’s perpetuation of this hostility has already caused division — arguably the worst the United States has seen since the American Civil War. If Trump loses the election and flat-out refuses to vacate the White House, the U.S. could be facing something greater than its usual partisan divide.
“Trump has broken so many norms and made such incendiary statements, including about not agreeing to a peaceful transition of power, that my alarm bells are going off,” Richard Hasen, author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy,” told Los Angeles Times.“It doesn’t mean this will happen. But it does mean we are right to worry about it happening.”
The American people know Trump too well to hope that he will gracefully accept the results of the election if he loses. Could his anger provoke nationwide violence — even war?
“[The American Civil War] happened in the 1860s, in part because people had come to see their political opponents in extreme, even demonic, ways and found it impossible to find any middle ground,” said Nina Silber, Professor of History and American Studies at Boston University. “Maybe our politics and culture are moving in that direction, but I don’t see it yet.”
If war is the opposite of peace, it is not unrealistic to worry that Trump may stage the former by refusing to adhere to the latter. The peaceful transferal of power at the beginning of each new presidential term is an important, even sacred, practice in our country’s democracy. With his comments, Trump has done more than simply disregard this tradition — he’s mocked it.
“Let us nothedge about one thing,” The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman said. “Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance…If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.”
Trump may have no control over whether he wins or loses the election. However, the choice of whether or not he will gracefully concede is solely up to him — and based on his unpresidential track record, none of us are holding our breath.
Featured Photo caption: President Donald Trump has said multiple times that he will not commit to a peaceful transfer of power or leave the White House if he loses the 2020 presidential election. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.