Rabat – A centuries-old tradition of a peaceful transfer of power is under threat as the US approaches its contentious 2020 presidential election. With 24 days until the vote, the US’ partisan divide has turned into a breeding ground for potentially disastrous consequences.
A peaceful and orderly transfer of power — or reelection of the incumbent in this case — will likely depend on the behavior of right-wing outlet Fox News. The large share of mail-in ballots will require unprecedented patience. Observers expect Democrats to vote by mail at much higher rates than Republicans, which could present skewed results amid the hectic flurry of election day coverage.
Both presidential campaigns have painted an apocalyptic vision of the country should their opponents win. Republicans imagine a communist dystopia where guns and religion are banned while taxes skyrocket. For the Democrats, another Trump victory is a threat to democracy, a move towards a theocratic ethnostate, and another step closer to the destruction of an inhabitable planet.
The sales of firearms and ammunition are at an all-time high in the run-up to the election. Many fear assault from their political opponents. This mutual fear and distrust is creating an easily combustible situation where multiple factors could trigger violence in the heavily armed nation.
An early Trump lead from in-person polling places
It is highly likely that, independent of the final result, sitting President Donald Trump could have a significant lead as votes come in. CNN and CNBC will likely call for patience as America counts mail-in ballots over the days following November 3. Fox News however could be tempted to call the election early, as it did in 2000.
Twenty years ago Fox called the elections ahead of the final count, which eventually helped George W. Bush beat Al Gore, who had garnered more votes. Just as today, Republicans were wary of election fraud and the party’s political operatives whipped up a frenzy during Florida’s recount.
Voter fraud suspicions
Those votes were never counted as an angry mob of Republicans stormed the office and intimidated vote counters into ceasing their activity. The Supreme Court then chose to side with Bush and grant him the presidency. Fears of election fraud are currently more prevalent than ever within the Republican party, and SCOTUS is unlikely to oppose Trump.
On the Democratic side, reports are likely to come in of “mobs” of Republican poll watchers. The term is a relic of the Jim Crow era when white mobs would gather at polling stations to intimidate and discourage Black voters. Though it is in wide usage now, Trump has crafted it as combative rhetoric, calling on an “army” of poll watchers to monitor the elections and asking supporters to “enlist” in the effort.
Voter purges and floods of poll watchers
Institutional voter suppression and an unnecessarily high number of poll watchers will likely result in neither side feeling confident about the final result. With Trump potentially in the lead on election night, Republicans are likely to see any change in the numbers that diminish his advantage as evidence of fraud.
With millions of mail-in ballots left uncounted, the Republicans could once again demand a stop to the count over suspicions of voter fraud. If so, the right-wing Supreme Court could become the final arbiter, as it was in 2000.
The issue of voter list purging is again a significant issue this election cycle. In an interview with Channel 4 News, renowned philosopher and civil rights icon Dr. Cornel West pointed to the danger of ever more pervasive “deterrence” tactics.
West described Trump campaign efforts as “suppression, containment and trying to cultivate helplessness, cultivate hopelessness.” The Harvard professor did however express confidence that the Movement for Black Lives is changing that impact. “Thank god the movement that we are a part of is shattering that kind of helplessness,” he stated.
Declaring victory early
Smaller right-wing media outlets such as Red State and Breitbart are likely to call the election as early as possible. Trump could go so far as to use fraudulent reporting by them to declare victory. Once one side declares victory the entire election could become a contentious affair likely to divide the country.
Suspicion and outrage could lead to confrontations between the two camps on the streets of the US. Pulitzer-prize winning war reporter Chris Hedges predicts that all it would take is for one or two people to die to create the “martyrs” that would further fuel escalating violence.
With a little more than three weeks left, the US will likely face its biggest test since the start of the American Civil War in 1861. How the days following the poll will unfold will likely depend on whether the media can maintain patience and not fall for the temptation to get the “scoop” and call the election early.