2020 Election: Both Sides Should Accept Results


An election worker tests voting tabulators for accuracy at the Wake County Board of Elections on the first day that the state started mailing out absentee ballots in Raleigh, N.C., September 4, 2020. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

The only thing that seems almost certain about the 2020 election is that the losing side will refuse to accept the results. This is selfish and irresponsible. It is also the short route to chaos.




NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE

O
ne of the many wondrous ironies of the 2016 presidential campaign is that the very same Democrats who spent the months leading up to the election demanding that Donald Trump make a solemn vow to “accept the results,” prelusive to the concession speech he was expected to make, refused to accept the results.

The demand was repeated everywhere from the New York Times to “Epic Rap Battles of History” to late-show monologues. It was never exactly clear what exactly the Democrats expected Trump to do in refusing to “accept the results” — tweet about it? — but the demand was repeated and repeated and repeated with increasing histrionics right up until it became clear that Donald Trump had won the election, at which point Democrats refused to accept the results, and they steadfastly continue to refuse.

The Democratic case against the 2016 election results is part conspiracy theory and part constitutional criticism.

There is no doubt that Vladimir Putin’s online goon squad and his intelligence services did their best to muck about with the 2016 election, as they are doing in 2020.

The point of such Russian shenanigans is less to encourage the election of this or that candidate (not that the Kremlin does not have preferences) than to sow discord and distrust, undermining our democratic institutions and public faith in the electoral processes. In this, the Russians are succeeding spectacularly. The American Right has spent years denouncing a “silent coup d’état” against the Trump administration, and the American Left is working itself up into a pre-election hysteria, envisioning tanks on the White House lawn and a president who refuses to leave office. President Trump, in his usual trollish fashion, encourages both of these tendencies.

The current Russian strategy is, in the analysis of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, focused on the Democrats and on race, hoping to drive a wedge between the institutional partisan Democrats and left-wing activist groups such as Black Lives Matter. The most popular keyword on Ivan’s social-media accounts is “Kenosha.” Americans do not require an invitation from Moscow to fight about race or to have the activist wing of either political party savage its detested centrist establishment, but, of course, Moscow can help to make things worse. It is happy to do so.

We are going to have to figure out a way to live with that if we are going to live with each other.

Foreign powers have been trying to influence U.S. elections from the beginning, an effort that has only grown in energy and sophistication as the United States has evolved from fledging commercial republic to world-bestriding superpower. From the point of view of any foreign capital, the American elections are too important to be left to Americans. And while we should avoid cheap moral equivalency, the United States has an interest in the elections of other countries as well, and it acts on that interest.

Moscow has preferences. So does Beijing. (Remember the Clintons and their Chinese-money troubles.) So do many others, and they all have Internet access. There is no way to maintain a legal and social environment of free speech without opening our discourse up to such influence.

Everybody knows that, of course.

The Democrats would not have given a fig about the Russian efforts in 2016 if their candidate had won the race, any more than the Republicans would have been interested in Charlie Trie back in the 1990s if he hadn’t been tied to the Clintons; the Republicans of the time were quite comfortable with foreign influence in American politics when it was coming from the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Opportunism has a friend in cheap nationalism: If Hillary Rodham Clinton were president of these United States, poor Mark Zuckerberg would have been spared these four years in the stocks.

Senator Kamala Harris already is out giving speeches about Russian interference that preemptively discredit the election results, in case they go the wrong way for her. Expect this to build to a fever pitch by November, and then — go “Poof!”, if the Democrats win, and turn into riots (more riots) if they lose.

Much more consequential than the blame-the-Russkies rhetoric is the very real effort to effect a revolution in American government by abolishing the Electoral College.

The United States has a federal system of government in which the states are distinct entities with their own powers and interests, not buckets full of the undifferentiated commodity “Americans.” Critics charge that the Electoral College is undemocratic, and it is — so is the Bill of Rights, judicial review, and many other cherished aspects of American government. It is true that this has on several occasions produced an outcome in which the presidential election was won by a candidate who received fewer total votes in the country as a whole than his opponent: The presidents elected under those circumstances were John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump. To insist that this is unjust is to beg the question. It would be unjust if we elected presidents by means of a national poll, but that is not how we elect presidents. We have the system we have for a reason.

(I can hear the cry from a thousand miles away: “Racism!”)

The federal system is intended to accommodate the genuine diversity of these United States, ensuring among other things that those living in less densely populated agricultural states are not politically dominated by those living in the more urban states. We have a Wyoming for people who do not want to live under Californian government. Crass majoritarianism gives them a choice of living under Californian government in California or living under Californian government in Wyoming.

There is more to intelligent and decent government than sheer numeric might and majoritarianism — see again the Bill of Rights. To abolish the Electoral College would mean a substantial change in the American constitutional order, and such a thing requires broad consent — broad consent that does not exist and is unlikely to come into being any time soon.

One cannot help but suspect that this issue would have less urgency if there were more Democrats in Wyoming.

The only thing that seems almost certain about the 2020 election is that the losing side will refuse to accept the results, just as the Democrats did in 2016. This is selfish and irresponsible.

It is also the short route to chaos.





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