By Emma Campbell
The week after it was announced that President-elect Joe Biden would be the 46th president of the United States, I was sitting in a café when I overheard a fascinating conversation between a preteen-aged boy and his much older tutor.
At first, I wasn’t paying much attention as the tutor quizzed his student on political terms, both of them removing their face masks periodically to sip the hot beverages they’d bought at the café. But my interest was piqued when I heard the tutor prompt the student to speak on the controversy surrounding the 2020 presidential election. I listened, baffled, as the student calmly rattled off a number of election fraud conspiracy theories, each one less feasible than the last.
To my recollection, the student said it was suspicious that so many of the absentee ballots counted in battleground states like Pennsylvania and Georgia were votes for Biden. The student claimed that Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, had conspired with Ukraine to buy his father’s victory, insisting that evidence of this could be found on Hunter Biden’s laptop. Additionally, he continued, voting software had been hacked into, turning Trump votes into Biden votes with relative ease.
I expected the tutor to jump in at this point, if not to debunk these conspiracies, then at the very least to challenge the student to identify any evidence that supported them. To my disbelief, the tutor praised the student, then piled on to the baseless claims parroted by his pupil.
These two people — one young and impressionable, the other old enough to know better — personify the many retweets, shares, and forwards responsible for the spreading of election fraud conspiracies. These aren’t faceless figures hiding behind phone screens — they’re our peers, our neighbors, the patrons we come across in bookstore cafés.
Their misguided belief that Biden’s win is a scam is wreaking havoc on our democracy.
National media outlets, including right-leaning Fox News, called the election for Biden on Saturday, Nov. 7. Trump lost after Biden gained more than the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, as reported by these same outlets. According to the Poynter Institute, the winning margins are too large for recounts to make a difference on results, and federal and state officials report there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud of any kind.
Trump kept an uncharacteristically low profile in the days following the announcement of Biden’s win, giving his first press conference after the fact on Nov. 26.
“It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede,” he said, “because we know that there was massive fraud.”
At one point during the conference, Trump seemed to acknowledge his defeat and said, “If the media were honest and big tech was fair, it wouldn’t even be a contest. And I would have won by a tremendous amount.”
This admission seemed accidental, and he quickly said, “And I did win by a tremendous amount.”
Trump’s recognition of his loss is extremely telling, but for now, it’s important to understand why it is impossible that the Democratic party orchestrated the electoral fraud that Trump is accusing them of.
“Fraud on a scale to affect a presidential election, or even to tip one state, would require planning, coordination, good luck and a high tolerance for risk. The chances of pulling it off are extremely slim,” political scientist for University of Chicago John Mark Hansen said in a piece for The New York Times. “Such a nefarious plot would require the foresight, many weeks or even months in advance, to know to focus the effort on Pennsylvania. The plotters might hedge their bets by targeting multiple states, but that just makes the effort more expensive, risky and difficult.”
According to Hansen, fraud on this scale would require thousands of co-conspirators to work quietly and privately, perhaps voting more than once, while somehow managing to wrangle convincing fake social security numbers or driver’s licenses — one of which is required to vote in Pennsylvania.
Hansen said that if an election county official were to hypothetically add Biden votes and/or subtract Trump votes, they would be caught, either because one of the other partisan observers reported on them, or because it would be wildly suspicious if a county’s typical vote count was suddenly larger or smaller by a glaring margin. To secure the presidency, the margin would have to be no less than glaring.
Anyone with an inkling of common sense would recognize that an election this big could not be conspired. But not everyone in the U.S. has common sense. In fact, it seems that millions do not.
“I think [the election] was rigged on multiple fronts,” Donald Tarca Jr., who traveled to Washington D.C. from West Palm Beach, Fla. to protest Trump’s loss, said to Reuters. “Also, the media was so biased that they convinced millions of Americans to vote for Biden. They hate Trump.”
If the media did indeed “[convince] millions…to vote for Biden,” this would not make the election “rigged,” as implied by Tarca Jr.’s logic. It’s true that millions of Americans voted for Biden, and many of them likely did so because they “hate Trump.” This isn’t fraud. This is our democratic system.
The fraudulent election conspiracy isn’t another case of our president acting like a petulant child, although that’s certainly part of it. Trump’s incessant lies about a rigged election are more than a last-ditch scramble to be declared winner. They’re a distraction, sparked by Trump’s team and stoked by his followers.
We can be certain of two things. First, Trump knows that he lost. He admitted this in the press conference on Nov. 26, albeit off-handedly. He also referenced Biden’s win on Nov. 15, in a tweet that said, “He won because the Election was RIGGED.”
Second, we can be certain that Trump is petrified of failure, with good reason. Trump has tons of baggage that he needs to distract focus from — his debt, for one, which The New York Times reported is substantial. His criminal misconduct and financial failures will continue to attract attention after he’s vacated the White House, and eventually, he won’t be able to avoid their weighty consequences.
“Trump has famously survived one impeachment, two divorces, six bankruptcies, twenty-six accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated four thousand lawsuits,” Jane Mayer said in The New Yorker. “Few people have evaded consequences more cunningly. That run of good luck may well end…”
According to an analysis by The Washington Post, Trump owes hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign investors. He won’t be able to pay this off within the next four years. Even selling off his key real estate properties won’t do the trick, after the hit they took from the COVID-19 pandemic that Trump has failed to regulate. Missing these payments may do more than shrink his income, especially after he no longer has his presidential title to fall back on.
“It’s the office of the Presidency that’s keeping [Trump] from prison and the poorhouse,” Yale history professor and expert on authoritarianism Timothy Snyder said to The New Yorker.
Now that Trump doesn’t have the presidency to shield him, it’s only a matter of time before reality catches up with him. For now, the president will live in a miserable fantasy world, repeating his mantra of “rigged” and “fraudulent” while avoiding thinking of his inevitable downfall.
Featured Photo caption: President Donald Trump insists that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent, despite there being no evidence to support this claim. Photo by Marah Vain Callahan.