November 17, 2020 might go down as a date when American democracy was put to an extreme test. It was the day a county in Michigan was close to not certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The county is Wayne County in my home state of Michigan. Wayne County is home to the city of Detroit, the state’s largest city and a city that is 83% African American.
Two GOP canvassers decided to not certify the results. Had they not change their minds it would have invalidated over 800,000 votes, a good chunk of those votes were made by African Americans. Without the votes from the state’s largest county, it would have flipped the results with Trump in the leads with over 175,000 votes. He was trying to win Michigan by saying that hundreds of thousands of votes, in a county that is 40% African American and whose county seat is 83% African American.
The Trump campaign has made a targeted campaign to challenge the votes in urban areas in swing states, which in many cases are Democratic and contain high concentrations of people of color. In Las Vegas and Phoenix, Trump is trying as to invalidate the votes in those cities as well.
It is one thing for President Trump to say he got a raw deal. Politicians do this. It’s not good, but people do it. But Trump is trying to force a win through a technicality and invalidate millions of votes in the process. Trump is good at projection, saying someone is stealing the election when that is exactly what he is doing: stealing the election.
This isn’t about supressing the vote. It’s about erasing the vote.
There are some out there that will say Trump won’t win and that the checks within the system held, prevent him from messing with the process. So, why be so concerned?
For the most part, the system is holding. But what is disturbing is what Trump made possible. Most elections in the recent past were affairs where someone would win and someone would lose. End of story. What mattered to politicians was losing gracefully.
But Trump has injected mistrust into the system. Now, if a vote is close or doesn’t go the way you want, you can just say its rigged and that the winner is an illegitimate leader. As humorist Andrew Heaton noted in his podcast on this matter, people start to no longer believe in the importance of voting and begin to long for a strongman that can just rule without any pesky votes.
The Wayne County canvassers were able to stand down, but what happens down the road? What if the state board of canvassers is split on certifying the election? While GOP dominated legislature wasn’t too keen on taking electing separate electors, that may not be the case a few years from now. Until recently, no one was thinking that they would ever do something that would invalidate hundreds of thousands of votes. But now that temptation is there and as our political culture see ourselves less as fellow Americans and more like rival gangs, this makes a potential crisis all the more possible in the coming years.
The other reason that what happened in Michigan and in other states is so dangerous to liberal democracy is that Trump is seeding the future with distrust. Trump will leave office in January. But as he leaves office, his words are having an effect. Recent polls have pointed out that nearly 7 in 10 Republicans believe the election was stolen. Republicans will view President-elect Biden as illegitimate. In elections where the Democrats win, people will believe that the election will be rigged. The loss of trust in our system of government will have consequences.
The 1960 Presidential election was close. Vice President Richard Nixon ended up losing to Senator John Kennedy. Many of Nixon’s supporters urged him to contest the results because some Republican supporters believed there was some evidence of voter fraud. Nixon reportedly refused. He told a journalist who was a closed friend “our country cannot afford the agony of a constitutional crisis.”
Nixon wasn’t an angel here and he wasn’t as magnanimous as people think, but he didn’t publicly sow doubt into our system of government.
In the coming years, we will learn how much damage Trump inflicted on the voting process. Hopefully, his shenanigans won’t make a difference. But as political strategist Rick Wilson says, Everything Trump Touches Dies.