While about 80% of Americans accept the fact that Biden won the election, about half of Republicans claim to believe the lie that Trump won. Trump seems to have exhausted the ability of Americans to be shocked by his fascist and authoritarian rejection of core American values, so his refusal to accept the results of the most secure election in American history is just another news burp. While the Republicans are split over Trump’s lies about the election, some top Republicans have decided that supporting Trump in corroding American democracy is a smart political play.
Fortunately for American democracy, our institutions and people have proven resilient the efforts to destroy a bedrock of the republic. Election officials across the country and across party lines have made it clear that the election was conducted safely and with integrity. Trump has responded by firing those he can fire and attacking those he cannot. While there were death threats against election officials before the election, these have increased dramatically since Trump lost. These threats are not only directed at top officials who are Democrats but also against Republicans who have chosen democracy over the will of Trump.
There is currently still no evidence of significant voter fraud. While Trump and his legal team have launched a storm of lawsuits, they have failed repeatedly in court. These efforts have been characterized by their sloppiness, which is often taken as evidence that Trump is not actually serious about his claims. While the appearance or sanity of a lawyer is not relevant to the truth of their claims, Giuliani recently presented yet another perfect metaphor for Trump’s lies about the election: his hair dye ran down his face while he rambled about his favorite movie and advanced conspiracy theories.
While Trump’s efforts strike some as more examples of Trump’s incompetency and dishonesty, there does seem to be an underlying game plan. While Trump and top Republicans know there was no widespread voter fraud, they do have a slight chance of creating enough corrosion and confusion to allow a bold anti-democratic move. Trump can try to get the Republican state legislatures to give him the electoral votes he needs, thus stealing the election from the voters. Most experts think this is unlikely—but it is not impossible. Trump and his fellows are also keeping up the fight so they can keep scamming money and to keep the base fired up for upcoming elections. Setting democracy on fire is thus a clever move for Trump in that he gains and other suffer the consequences. While the election results are likely to stand, there is the obvious question about future elections.
Trump has successfully created a devoted base who now have strong (yet utterly unfounded) doubts about the election system in the United States. 80-88% of Trump supporters (depending on the poll) claim they believe that Biden did not legitimately win, despite the utter lack of evidence. This is not surprising: Trump’s base is composed of people who have professed to believe his lies for at least four years—so it would be surprising if they did not claim to believe his current lies. Death threats are being made against election officials and these are presumably not coming primarily from Biden supporters. Trump’s unrelenting lies and hyperbole will probably also have the effect of tainting the views of some people who are not Trump supporters—they will feel that something was wrong, even if they are unsure of the truth of any specific claim. As such, one enduring consequences of Trump’s lies is that there is a group that now doubts the integrity of elections with a burning passion. Another enduring question is that the institution of voting has been corroded with these false allegations.
Trump and his fellows have also laid, by their incompetent efforts, the groundwork for competent attacks on future elections. Trump and his fellows are incompetent grifters but there are competent people who are committed to authoritarianism. Where Trump and Rudy make buffoonish efforts to destroy democracy for their own gain, these competent authoritarians can harness Trumpism and launch a far more effective attack on the institution of voting in the United States. As an illustration, Republicans have steadily suppressed voters through an effective campaign founded on the lie of voter fraud. The gutting of the Voter Rights Act was a major Republican coup and now that they control the Supreme Court, many states, and many lesser courts they are in an excellent position to enable their party to hold onto power even as support for Republicans and their views continue to decline significantly. With the groundwork laid in this election, the Republican candidate in 2024 (which could be Trump) will be in an excellent position to take power—even if they lose the popular vote by a landslide. While some are thrilled that Biden won, keep in mind that eight years of Obama-Biden set the stage for Trump in 2016. Trump has had 4 years to build a base that accepts his lies as reality and the Republicans have been working hard to ensure their minority rule—so 2024 could easily be the year that Trump returns to the White House. Or worse, a competent authoritarian.