The Precedent of Illegitimacy and a Future of Political Violence
In my previous contribution to this blog I discussed my thoughts on the then upcoming 2020 presidential election and what it could mean for the future of crime control policy and in the United States. In this post I discussed the issue of voter suppression and made a broad prediction of the potential outcomes of the election. Nearly a month later, and with the election results available, I’ve realized that there was a possibility that had not considered.
In my previous post I speculated on the possibility that Donald Trump would not accept defeat and would refuse to step down from his position as President of the United States, a possibility that is very much still at play. In my previous piece I stated that “I do not believe this… outcome is worth serious consideration” and I retain this position even after the election, despite the fact that many the President has, as of the writing of this post, refused to concede the election. I’m not prone to optimism, but I do not believe that the American people will stand by and allow the losing side of an election to cling to power even a moment longer than is legally allowed: this is not where American democracy will die.
What I do believe, however, is that American democracy has been dealt a serious blow by the Trump administration’s refusal to accept the results of the election and incessant yet baseless legal challenges to what is, according to all available evidence, a fair election. As is asserted by Perry Bacon Jr. of FiveThirtyEight, President Trump’s refusal to concede the election and the widespread public silence by many prominent members of the Republican Party “raises the prospect that [they] will not uphold a core tenet of democracy: Elections determine who is in power, and those who lose surrender power peacefully.”
The acquiescence of the Republican Party to the Trump Administration’s refusal to accept the results of the election and the potential ramifications concern Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik as well, who asserts that be refusing to condemn let alone playing along with this desperate bid to stay in power Republic Party members “have already made an autocratic choice, where their authority flows downwards from Trump, rather than upwards from a democratic decision of the majority”. While the behaviors of these Republican “autocrats” and what they mean for the future of our county’s democracy have clung to the back of my mind for the past several weeks as well, I cannot help but consider the current state of affairs and the drastic divergence from tradition. There are millions of Americans, 70% of the Republican Party, according to Politico, who do not fully believe the outcome of the election.
Not only do many of these Americans not believe the outcome, but many have chosen to fight it, with numerous outbreaks of violence within the Washington DC area alone over the past several days. This echoes instances of threatened violence by Trump supporters that have occurred since the election began , and is not inconsistent with behavior exhibited since the announcement of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2015. As a resident of the DC area, the recent violence in the District of Columbia has left me concerned regarding why we are experiencing this sudden proclivity towards political violence: while protests following the 2016 election did have instances of violence, the current atmosphere in the DC area feels different and I suspect that the refusal of the current administration to concede defeat is the differentiating factor inspiring this surge in political violence.
As I speculated back in October, the President’s sowing of dissent regarding the possibility of a fair election prior to November 3, now combined with his refusal to accept the results of the election after it was called, has led many of his supporters to refuse the results of the election. Consistent with the weakening of the fourth element of Travis Hirschi’s conceptualization of social bonds in his Social Bond Theory, the weakening of Americans’ belief in the democratic system as the result of Donald Trump’s chicanery would explain why there have been widespread calls for political violence amongst Trump supporters since the beginning of the election.
While I ultimately do not believe that Donald Trump will refuse to step down come January, I believe that American society has been dealt a serious blow that will have repercussions for years to come. Even should if the President concedes the election during the time that it takes to write this opinion piece, this election has set a precedent of political dissent that now allows the losing side of an election far more leeway in refusing to accept the outcome than has ever been allowed in at the very least my lifetime. Notable international groups, such as the International Crisis Group have issued warnings regarding the new threat of election-related political violence in the United States and the lame duck President has done nothing to avoid solidifying this development as part of his legacy.