Trump's democracy isn't for losers - Keith Roulston editorial
As Americans prepare to go to the polls in just over a month’s time, candidates for offices ranging from the local dog catcher to the President of the United States will proudly talk about how wonderful democracy is. Then many of them will go out and try to undermine democracy, especially if they suspect the majority of voters might vote against them.
Ever since its Declaration of Independence 244 years ago, the U.S. has been a shining beacon for other democracies and for people in dictatorships who dream of being able to shape their own lives and countries. Lately, however, friends of the U.S. look askance as they view the corruption of its democratic systems.
Voter suppression is the key weapon in undermining the democratic will of the people. If you can devise incentives for your own supporters to vote while making it difficult for your opponent’s supporters, you might win despite having less support among the population.
There’s a long history of voter suppression in the U.S. Southern Democrats, for nearly a century following the Civil War, managed to prevent Black residents from voting, largely by using voter registration legislation. You can’t vote if you are not registered and white officials intimidated Blacks from registering, often using police threats of violence. If people were actually able to get as far as the desk to register to vote, they’d have to pass a “literacy” test that for Blacks might include correctly estimating the number of jellybeans in a jar while, for whites, there’d be a simple question.
The importance of these measures in maintaining white control was demonstrated after the federal government insisted on a fair system. Given the power of the ballot at last, Black voters turned most of their white suppressors out of office.
For Canadians, the entire concept of voter registration seems archaic. For generations, now, Elections Canada, a non-partisan agency, has kept a permanent voters list. If you’re a citizen, you are sent a card saying where and when you can vote. In the U.S., voting rules are set up by state legislatures and are subject to partisan manipulation to give the party in power an advantage in getting re-elected. Voter registration is still subject to abuse. Recently Republicans have sued in the courts in some states to have large numbers of names, already on the voting list, removed for obscure technicalities. Not surprisingly, many were Blacks or other groups more likely to vote for the Democrats.
But surely the greatest undercutting of democracy has come from President Donald Trump himself. It’s hard to even envision any other President in history calling into question the very integrity of the election, as Trump has. His buddy Vladimir Putin must be thrilled to have a President disparage democracy.
Trump’s ego is involved, of course – it always is. Even though he won the presidency in 2016 through the Electoral College vote, he actually had fewer Americans vote for him than Hillary Clinton did. It stung. He had an investigation done to see if he’d been cheated and should have had more votes than Clinton. He wasn’t and he didn’t.
So the thought he might actually lose the election drives him crazy. He’s been suggesting for months that the only way he can lose is if the Democrats cheat. In this, the handy scapegoat is the mail-in ballot. Trump votes by mail-in ballot himself, of course, but that’s alright because his is an absentee ballot which you have to request.
The targets of his wrath are those states that mail a ballot to every registered voter which they can mail back or deliver by hand. Trump claims, with no evidence to back him up from states that have used mail-in ballots for years, that there will be wide-spread voter fraud.
Mail-in ballots are a convenient target because polls show that 69 per cent of Democratic voters will vote by mail during this time of pandemic, compared to only 19 per cent of Republicans. So Democrats’ votes can be dismissed as illegitimate.
The nightmare for Democrats is that, because mail-in ballots take longer to count, Trump may have a lead on election night
and declare himself the winner. As mail-in ballots are counted, if the Democrats pull ahead, Trump may cry fraud. He might even seize uncounted ballots, declaring them fraudulent.
Lost in the drive for re-election is the theory that having a country’s entire population take part in decision-making leads to better decisions.
More than 70 years ago, Winston Churchill noted: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…” For Donald Trump and his Republican lackeys, however, a managed democracy that keeps them in power seems to be the real goal.