All this agonizing over what may happen if President Donald Trump tries to steal the election is highly annoying. It normalizes the idea that pure aggression can so easily steamroll the democratic process.
Here are healthier assumptions for those who value a fair election:
If Trump loses, he leaves the White House on Jan. 20, 2021. If, heaven forfend, he wins, then he stays.
If, by evening on Election Day, there is no obvious winner – mail-in ballots still need to be counted – then we wait until the mail ballots are counted. If, by bedtime in the Central time zone, Trump leads in-person voting in key swing states and declares victory, then we still wait for the mail-in ballots to be counted. And if that takes days or even weeks, then it takes days or weeks.
It’s thus too bad that The Washington Post has nervously called this last outcome a possible “election-night disaster.” Anti-Trump conservative David Brooks marched anxiety forward by imagining a “nightmare scenario” whereby Trump supporters prematurely hit the streets only to be met with angry Joe Biden voters, and mayhem ensues.
The problem with all this handwringing of what Trump may do is that it helps set a stage for him to do it. And it could spur Biden voters to participate in chaos when they should be keeping their cool.
If Trump declares victory when victory is not yet his, then the proper response is to ignore him and calmly proceed with the counting. The same brush-off would apply to Trump supporters who erupt into a premature happy dance. Paying them no mind would take the joy out of such provocations.
Chastised for their faulty projections in the 2000 cliffhanger between George W. Bush and Al Gore, responsible national media say they will be far more careful this time. And they’re the sources we take seriously.
Sure, Trump did say that “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if this election is rigged.” Jeff Flake, a former Republican senator from Arizona and Trump critic, responded: “What kind of president talks like that? What kind of American leader undermines confidence in the elections in his own country?” One imagines that even many who plan to vote for Trump would agree.
Biden said in June that if Trump loses and refuses to leave, the military will escort him out of the Oval Office. It seems unlikely that the armed forces would rush in to keep Trump illegally in office – even if he hadn’t called them “suckers” and “losers” for serving their country.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley says that any dispute over election results would be resolved by law, the courts and Congress, not the armed forces. To which he added, “We will not turn our backs on the Constitution of the United States.”
Extortion and threats of violence are things we have gotten used to. That doesn’t mean we have to heed them. So let’s drop this talk of “nightmare scenarios.” If Trump doesn’t win more Electoral College votes than Biden, then the only thing that is doomed is his administration.
Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen has predicted that there “will never be a peaceful transition of power” if Trump loses. Peaceful or not, there will be a transition. And the best way to keep it peaceful is for the Biden camp to not reward Trump’s efforts to intimidate by showing fear.
The 2018 midterms showed that power – in this case, control of the House – could be smoothly passed on to another party. Be prepared for more stress this time, but don’t assume that the democracy can’t withstand it.