Through all of 2020 the ‘leader of the free world’ hinted loudly that the US presidential elections of that year would be rigged.
Of course, that would only be the case if he had lost. Afterall, there’s not much point in complaining after the event if he’d won but, sure enough, it could come in handy if he ended up the loser.
By a margin totalling more than the population of New Zealand and Botswana combined, Biden the challenger won the election, thanks in part to a handful of states that sufficiently swung the electoral college tally.
Right on cue, Trump and his acolytes claimed a rigged election and pulled every stunt possible, including dozens of court challenges, direct coercion of election officials and an incitement to a violent riot on the Capitol as the final confirmation was happening. These manoeuvres, never seen before in US history, were not merely consistent with a deranged plan to claim the election, even though he obviously lost, but were clearly fuelled by a fragile ego that can never admit defeat. In fact, the overarching ego driver was likely more the reason than any cunning strategy.
Before we go any further, let’s be clear about the four years of Trump’s presidency. It happened after the 2016 election, not because he won the majority of votes – he received fewer votes than his rival. No, it was aided by a weird voting system that automatically favours more sparsely populated rural areas and, therefore, conservative Republicans. On top of that, it had more than a little help from the Russian secrecy machine that bombarded the digital airwaves with falsehoods against Clinton and in favour of Trump. A federal investigation, after the fact, confirmed what had happened and didn’t clear Trump of collusion with the Russians, whilst avoiding laying the blame directly at his feet due to a lack of hard evidence.
But what is more frightening is the millions of American voters who actually believed the manufactured rubbish and were prepared to stake their futures on this one-man crusade for a return to the dark ages.
An understanding of what happened, and is continuing to happen, is complex but here’s a simple explanation.
Trump is a deeply insecure individual with an ego that is inflated by myths that he manufactures about himself – witness the criminal investigation of his business tax and loan arrangements by New York and Manhattan District Attorneys. Trump didn’t expect to win the 2016 election so came into the White House with no real plan or people to carry out his non-plan.
Proof of that is the unprecedented turnover of White House staff and the fact that little of consequence was achieved, apart from a few kilometres of border wall – to keep ‘bad people’ from entering via the southern border – and huge tax cuts for the already mega rich.
Otherwise, he retreated the US from the Paris Accords (climate agreements), waged war with long-standing western allies and cozied up to every despot crazy enough to inflict agony on their own populations, e.g. North Korea, Turkey and Russia.
In short, a fragile adolescent ego was running the show and it was only due to incompetence and inconsistent support that things didn’t spiral into something much worse.
So, more than a year after the last presidential election and two years into a life-changing pandemic, the world is looking for salvation and ways to harness everything we can to address a collapsing environment, rampant global health issues and poverty that is getting rapidly worse.
Putin is threatening to invade the Ukraine with thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces, Kim Jong-un is test firing hypersonic missiles and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is still waging war on his own people. If Trump was still in the White House, he’d be spending more billions on a useless border wall and be licensing oil and gas companies to further rape and pillage the wilderness.
So, did the world dodge a bullet with Trump’s defeat in 2020. Yes, but the ‘rigged election’ story has taken hold in Republican circles to such extent that it’s now being used at state and local levels to suppress voters and distort democracy. That does not auger well for this year’s Senate and Congress elections or for the next presidential elections in 2024 where Trump is tipped to run again.
Next time, the election may actually be rigged, and Trump will be returned to the White House to fuel all manner of global conflicts, unshackle environmental damage and turn a blind-eye to pandemics. And this time, he might actually achieve considerably more, such as permanently destroy American democracy.
A Biden Democrat led US is no guarantee of constructive global progress against the many issues confronting us all, but another Trump presidency will be more than a stain on the world, it may be the biggest threat to life as we know it.
Fraser Carson is a former member of the XŌtaki Ōtaki College Alumni Trust and the founding partner of Wellington-based Flightdec.com. Flightdec’s kaupapa is to challenge the status quo of the internet to give access to more reliable and valuable citizen generated content, and to improve connectivity and collaboration.