America's 2020 election may already be irrevocably tainted

US President Donald Trump answers questions at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 14, 2020.

This was excerpted from the August 17 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

No other modern US President has entered a reelection race claiming in advance that the result is likely to be massively corrupt and unfair. Trump falsely claims there's huge fraud in postal voting (a necessity in a pandemic), but an equal threat to the vote's legitimacy may be the US Postal Service's diminishing capacity to deliver all the mailed ballots on time, after it removed post boxes, cut staff hours and slowed mail under the direction of a new pro-Trump postmaster general. More funding might smooth election mail operations, but the President opposes granting that money because it would boost mail-in voting.
"The Democrats know the 2020 Election will be a fraudulent mess. Will maybe never know who won!" Trump tweeted on Saturday morning. He is characteristically betting that the repeated telling of an audacious falsehood will make it stick, and as usual, it's clear he's thinking about his own benefit, and not any deeper duty to protect America's democracy — a question that would not even be asked of most previous Republican and Democratic presidents.
    Democrat Joe Biden is nine points up in the latest national poll. Should he lose and refuse to accept defeat in November, Trump will not just fracture the legitimacy of the election -- he will destroy any hopes Biden may harbor of uniting the country against the pandemic, since millions of the President's supporters will buy his claim he was cheated. If Trump wins, tens of millions of Democrats will believe that White House pre-election maneuvering stole the presidency.
      Either way, trust in elections — the bedrock principle of democracy itself -- will be catastrophically eroded.

        If elections were decided by boats...

        If elections were decided by boats rather than votes, Trump would already have a second term. Asked in July if he was the underdog in the presidential race, Trump pointed to his popularity among boaters. "You look at the intercoastal in Florida, you look at the lakes, you see thousands of boats with Trump signs," he said. On Saturday, Trump supporters set out to prove it, mustering a "Mother of all Boat Parades" in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record. The Florida event was expected to include over a thousand boats, but no official count has been announced, per CNN affiliate WFLA (WFLA). Let's hope there is no boater fraud.

          'They're going to engage in lies'

          Last week, Trump flirted with the racist conspiracy theory that Kamala Harris, a California-born US citizen, is not eligible to be vice president. Biden's ticket mate isn't surprised at all, she told TheGrio on Saturday. "I'm very clear-eyed about the fact that they are going to engage, as you said, in what they have done throughout his administration, which is, let's just be very candid and straightforward: They're going to engage in lies. They're going to engage in deception."

          Cancel that balloon order

          The pandemic has stolen everybody's fun.
          US political conventions are normally riotous pageants of political excess, punctuated by the evocative mechanics of democracy — like the state-by- state roll call to anoint a presidential nominee and the schmalz of red-white-and-blue balloon drops after a potential President makes their case to the nation. But in the age of social distancing, the party spectaculars risk looking like everyone's office Zoom call.
          Democrats get the first chance to try and capture the country's attention with the first night of their virtual convention Monday. They do at least have a popular and charismatic headline speaker — Michelle Obama. But it's one thing to see a political star whipping up a huge crowd. It's another for them to create enthusiasm from a remote location even if some speakers at the Democratic National Convention will speak from symbolic sports around the country. That's one reason why Trump is set on delivering his keynote speech accepting the Republican nomination from the White House -- despite the tradition of shielding the iconography of the presidency from partisan politics.
          Though he's leading the race, Biden is under pressure to make a compelling case that he has the energy, vision and plans to replace the President -- though he has benefited from conditions robbing Trump of his best assets: the capacity to put on a show and to energize his own base voters with whirling speeches and rallies. Both candidates will likely miss out on the "convention bounce" in polling that usually follows their big speeches, in these toned down events.
          Then there is the future of conventions themselves. In recent years, as the political spinners turned these fabled events into endless infomercials, the interest of television networks has begun to wane. If online snoozers accelerate the process, US party conventions may join the list of post-coronavirus traditions that may never be the same again.

          'I feel differently about China than I've ever felt'

          The Trump administration's battle with China began with trade. Now it's the only thing still working for them, CNN's Laura He writes from Hong Kong.
          "A lot has changed since the two countries signed a partial trade agreement in January — nearly two years after the United States fired the first shots in a bruising trade war. That truce reduced some tariffs the US government had imposed on China while averting new ones. Beijing also agreed to buy billions of dollars worth of agricultural goods.
          "The countries have blamed each other over the spread of Covid-19 as the pandemic roils the global economy, and closed a pair of consulates over a worsening national security spat. US authorities have also taken aim at several Chinese tech firms and threatened to ban the popular apps TikTok and WeChat.
          "Even so, January's trade deal appears to be largely intact. White House advisor Kudlow said last week that China has "substantially" increased its purchases of US goods. During the month of July alone, China bought more than 4.6 million metric tons of soybeans from the United States, according to a CNN Business calculation using US Department of Agricultural data.
          "Asked about the status of trade talks Friday, US President Donald Trump was cryptic. 'We're doing very well on our trade deal,' he said. 'But I feel differently about China than I've ever felt.'

            A 'fire tornado'

            After torching more than 100,000 acres in California, Oregon and Colorado, the West Coast's rampant wildfires threw up a rare fire tornado on Saturday in Lassen County, California. (Dylyn Walker)