President Donald Trump’s four-year history of undermining American rights and legal norms is fittingly ending with his attack on one of the most fundamental: the right to vote.
The current attacks by Trump and fellow Republican leaders on valid election results, without any evidence, represent more than a flailing attempt to keep Trump in the White House. They amount to the ultimate disdain in a democracy. Voting is cherished as a basic, universal right, because when people cannot choose their representatives, they lose a path toward ensuring other rights.
Trump’s disregard for the franchise, particularly when it comes to that for Blacks and Latinos, culminates a pattern of scorning democratic norms that began four years ago.
It is a pattern that has been deep and disturbing, yet somehow so routine and predictable that it fails to provoke widescale public outrage.
As president, Trump has derided the justice system and tried to delegitimatize individual judges on a regular basis. He challenged accepted principles by declaring certain suspects guilty or deserving of the death penalty, even before a hearing. He opposed any due process for people who had come to the US seeking asylum. He said he wanted an end to birthright citizenship, despite its guarantee in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
As Trump has tried to dehumanize immigrants and racial minorities, he has attempted to delegitimize officials in positions to protect against the arbitrary denial of individual life and liberty. Soon after taking office, he disparaged one federal jurist as a “so-called judge.”
Now election officials and systems have drawn his wrath. This week he fired Chris Krebs, the Department of Homeland Security official who rejected Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
President-elect Joe Biden, to be sure, has called out Trump’s baseless moves to erode public confidence in the election results. When he was asked on Thursday what message Trump’s refusal to concede sends to Americans, Biden replied, “I think they’re witnessing incredible irresponsibility, incredibly damaging messages being sent to the rest of the world about how democracy functions. … I don’t know his motive, but I just think it’s totally irresponsible.”
Trump and his allies have not been deterred. They persist in trying to reverse the election results, even as they continue to lose in courts across the country with their groundless claims. They lost three challenges Thursday – in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
It also emerged on Thursday that the President earlier this week personally contacted two Republican canvass board members from Michigan’s Wayne County who had reluctantly certified election results from that county covering Detroit. Trump has repeatedly targeted the majority-Black city of Detroit, writing baselessly on Twitter on Thursday, “Voter Fraud in Detroit is rampant, and has been for many years!”
His personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed, in the same vein, with no evidence on Thursday that people from Camden, New Jersey, vote in Philadelphia. “They do it every year,” he said of people in the heavily African-American city. “Happens all the time in Philly.”
From the start of Trump’s time on the national stage, he has stoked racial divisions.
When he was running for the White House in 2016, he declared of Mexicans, “they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.” He said to Black people, “you’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs.” He claimed a US federal judge would be naturally biased against him because the judge, born in Indiana, was of Mexican heritage.
Among Trump’s prominent campaign promises: keeping Muslims out of the US and building a wall at the Southern border.
After the May police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and renewed Black Lives Matter momentum, Trump stepped up his support of police. “The only way you will stop the violence in the high crime Democrat run cities is through strength,” Trump said. He also cheered on caravans of his supporters that arrived in cities to confront BLM protesters.
The first of Trump’s glaring racial remarks as President came in August 2017 after the killing of a woman in Charlottesville, Virginia, during protests begun by White supremacists. Klansmen and neo-Nazis, some carrying torches, demonstrated against the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” he said, later adding that there were “very fine people on both sides.”
Among those incensed by Trump’s remarks was Biden, who said they helped prompt his presidential run against Trump. Biden said Trump’s description of “fine people” on both sides “assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it.”
Around the same time, Trump used his first presidential pardon on former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his racial-profiling practices and convicted of contempt of court for refusing to stop his unlawful detention policies.
Trump repeatedly criticized the FBI’s role in investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, pushing a discredited claim that the FBI spied on his campaign. He has used the word “scum” to refer to FBI employees he believed acted improperly.
At the start of 2020, Trump’s pattern of delegitimizing institutions was seen in his scorn for the case against his political strategist Roger Stone. Trump referred to the possibility of “a bad jury.”
And continuing to fume about federal investigators, he said in a February appearance in Las Vegas, “So we had a lot of dirty cops. FBI is phenomenal. I love the people in the FBI. But the people at the top were dirty cops.”
The remarks reflected his preoccupation with former FBI director James Comey, who first led the Russia investigation.
Now, Trump’s focus is on the people who counted ballots this month. He has homed in on Detroit, where he falsely claimed on Wednesday, “there are FAR MORE VOTES THAN PEOPLE. Nothing can be done to cure that giant scam. I win Michigan.”
Biden, in fact, has a lead of about 158,000 votes over Trump in the state’s count.
“We won Michigan,” Biden said on Thursday. “It’s going to be certified. … It’s hard to fathom how this man thinks. … I’m confident he knows he hasn’t won and is not going to be able to win, and we’re going to be sworn in on January 20th.”