|The Soup Nazi
||10.28.2020 10:18 PM
Bits from Zakaria's Global Briefing:
Does America’s Election Measure Up?
How does America’s election measure up against international standards of freedom and fairness? At The Atlantic, Nina Jankowicz recently reflected on her overseas vote-monitoring experience and concluded America’s 2020 election might raise red flags: Notably, if President Trump’s supporters show up at polling places to watch other people vote, as he has exhorted them to, that’s a hallmark of trouble in any country, Jankowicz wrote.
At Foreign Policy, Democracy International President and Election Reformers Network Chair Eric Bjornlund concurs, writing that America’s Nov. 3 elections “increasingly resemble those in struggling democracies and autocratic countries. I speak from experience, having led or managed some 40 election observation efforts in 22 countries over more than 30 years.” Election Day voter intimidation is one telltale sign of a weak democracy, Bjornlund writes, but so are allegations of “fraud” and candidates questioning the results (as Trump has begun to do before next week’s vote, and as he did in 2016 despite winning the presidency).
“In the struggling democracies and autocracies where I have observed elections, much of the argument is about the integrity of the rules and process,” Bjornlund writes. “In fact, you can tell that a country is not (or not yet) a successful democracy when the losers of its elections blame fraud for their loss and attack the legitimacy of the process.” Bjornlund compares the US to Bangladesh, where “in each of the six national elections since the country’s transition away from authoritarianism in 1991, the losing party has accused the winning party of rigging the vote.” Bjornlund finds examples of contested results in Egypt since its 2011 revolution, Afghanistan in 2019, and Kenya in 2007; he notes premature claims of victory or questioning of the vote count by candidates in “Afghanistan in 2014, Honduras and Kenya in 2017, and Guyana and Malawi this year.”
His conclusion: “In large part because of Trump’s attacks on the process, elections in the United States look more and more like those we have observed in less-than-democratic countries. These are the kinds of problems that trigger substantial international concern.”
The Threat of Interference Doesn’t Disappear After Election Day
We tend to think of political interference as an attempt to disrupt an election before or as it happens, but the US could see interference ramp up after Election Day, “when the country may actually be most vulnerable,” Laura Rosenberger of the German Marshall Fund writes for Foreign Affairs. That’s because overseas meddlers don’t just seek to tip the vote in one direction or another, but rather to sow chaos and doubt in the election itself, Rosenberger writes. For instance, hacks into local voting systems can be used to make people wonder if the election results were tampered with, rather than to actually skew them.
Citing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan report on Russian interference, Rosenberger notes that Russia’s Internet Research Agency “actually increased its activity after Election Day in 2016. ... Americans should remember above all that the goal of foreign interference is to make them lose confidence in democracy itself,” Rosenberger writes. “They must refuse to let that happen.”
All The President’s Auto Plants
At The New York Review of Books, Mark Danner writes of a President Trump rally in Michigan, where Trump led with, and continued to harp on as a “leitmotif,” a claim that he has delivered a plethora of new auto plants to the state since being elected. “We brought you a lot of car plants, Michigan! We brought you a lot of car plants,” Danner quotes Trump as saying. “You know that, right?”
Except, as with many things Trump says, it’s not true. Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler has noted Trump’s repeated claims that auto-manufacturing plants have sprung up left and right during his presidency; in reality, plans for five have been announced nationwide, “three in Michigan, one in Alabama and one in Texas.” Two are foreign owned. Dave Boucher and Todd Spangler of the Detroit Free Press call the claims “wildly inaccurate,” noting plans for only one “major” new plant in the state have been announced during Trump’s term, while the auto industry has struggled.
Danner draws from this episode a lesson about Trump support: that Trump’s backers believe in such fantasies, and that believing is not about reality but about protest—an act of rebellion against the elites whose power Trump’s campaign takes as a target. “I had no idea he had done so much for the state! I mean, people hardly even talk about it,” Danner quotes one woman as saying. “She was a nurse, trained in anatomy, physiology, biology—science, that is to say. But to her the president’s word was Truth; the idea that ‘people hardly even talk about’ the car plants because they don’t exist was not only heretical but inconceivable.” Similarly, Danner finds “consensus” among supporters that a Trump loss could only mean the other side cheated. As such, Danner concludes, their grievances will linger, regardless of what happens on Nov. 3.
Imagining a Lame-Duck Trump
If President Trump were to lose next Tuesday’s election, what might he do in his final months in the White House?
Outgoing presidents often begin bold initiatives, particularly in foreign policy, that foist upon their successors the jobs of continuing them or carrying them out, historian Timothy Naftali recently wrote for Foreign Policy. But Trump will have ways to disrupt things domestically, too, Garrett M. Graff writes for Politico Magazine.
“The lame duck period is always a time when outgoing presidents feel free to stir up controversy,” Graff writes, after surveying legal experts. “Even presidents who care deeply about their legacies and abide by democratic norms often take uniquely unpopular actions in the closing weeks of their presidencies: George H.W. Bush pardoned six officials behind the Iran-Contra scandal; Bill Clinton pardoned more than 140 people on his final day in office … including financier Marc Rich, a controversy that dogged him as he moved into the post-presidency … Just days before he left office, Barack Obama commuted the sentence of leaker Chelsea Manning.”
Trump could pardon allies caught up in the Russia investigation or preemptively pardon his family members or himself, Graff suggests. He could fire top officials or seek revenge on those in the bureaucracy he dislikes. His aides could refuse to brief an incoming Biden administration, leaving them in the dark as to policy initiatives already underway, and there will be a temptation to destroy documents, Graff writes. (Trump reportedly tears up papers, requiring a staffer to tape them back together to adhere to federal record-keeping law.) He could launch a military action—though, it has been noted, Trump has shown no penchant for starting wars—or “just cease any effort to combat the pandemic,” choosing instead to “retir[e] to Mar-a-Lago to tweet and golf out the remainder of his presidency.” If it’s any comfort, Graff writes, “the sad truth is that the White House has been so disengaged from the pandemic response for so long that a total abdication of its role wouldn’t likely look all that different.”