Measuring the Health of Our Democracy

tags: democracy, Donald Trump, 2020 Election

Heather Cox Richardson is Professor of History at Boston College.

Counting continues in the 2020 presidential race. There is a lot I’d like to say about what this election looks like, but I will wait until it’s final. Remember: the fact that polling officials are taking time to count the ballots is a good thing, not a bad one. And there is no reason to think election officials are being anything but careful.

Apart from the vote tallies, there have been some important indicators in the past two days about the health of our political system.

First of all, much of Trump’s power during his term has come from his ability to dominate the public narrative through threats or rumors. From his insistence that he had hired detectives to investigate President Obama’s birth certificate, through conspiracies about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails and Hunter Biden’s laptop, Trump has gathered power by warning that something untoward was looming just over the horizon.

But yesterday, after all the hype about expected violence at the polls, there was remarkably little trouble.

Trump’s attempt to control politics by controlling the narrative continued early yesterday morning, as the Department of Justice sent an email to federal prosecutors telling them that, while the law prohibits sending armed federal officers to polling places, it did authorize them to monitor “voting fraud” by sending armed federal officers to the places where election officials were counting ballots. About a half hour later, Trump called a press conference in which he declared victory and claimed that the ongoing counting of legally cast ballots must be stopped. Counting the ballots, he said, was the Democrats’ attempt to “steal the election.”

But Trump’s power is wavering, and he can no longer control the narrative completely. As he spoke, NBC News and MSNBC cut in to note that he was lying. After he finished, other media outlets also pushed back. On ABC News, Terry Moran said: “This isn’t law, this isn’t politics, this is theater,” Moran said. “And let’s be blunt: it’s the theater of authoritarianism.” Throughout the day, Trump tweeted angrily about the ongoing counting of ballots; Twitter hid many of the tweets behind warnings that they were spreading disinformation.


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