Trump election attack sparks fears of crisis

Uprising: Trump refusing to agree peaceful transfer if loser © Getty

Will the president refuse to accept the election result? Trump has once again cast doubt on the legitimacy of the coming vote, increasing fears of chaos and violence across a divided USA.

“There won’t be a transfer of power; frankly, there’ll be a continuation.”

When asked what he would do to keep the peace if he loses the US presidential election to Joe Biden in November, Donald Trump rejected the question.

The president is not one to countenance even the possibility of defeat, but for some his words went past bluster into the realm of the sinister. “The ballots are a disaster,” he said. “We want to get rid of the ballots.”

By ballots, he did not mean all votes; he was referring to postal votes, which many assume will favour Biden, his Democrat challenger.

Trump has already predicted “the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history”. Now, some fear he may use this accusation to cling to power. They think he could challenge the result if his lead vanishes when postal ballots are counted.

He may even have the power to stop the count legally if the Supreme Court supports him.

In 2000, the court ruled that Florida should stop its recount and award its electoral college votes to Republican George W Bush rather than Al Gore, ensuring Bush’s victory. Trump, some argue, is aiming for a courtroom drama sequel. He has already mooted the prospect himself.

This is why a recent kerfuffle over Republicans’ move to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has scared many Democrats. Some fear that with six of the nine judges on his side Trump will act egregiously to stay in office.

While others dismiss talk of such a judicial coup as a fantasy, Trump’s attack on postal ballots has had real enough effects. Already, Pennsylvania Republicans are preparing to challenge their validity in this crucial swing state.

Some even fear that Trump’s supporters may act violently to suppress votes, or refuse to accept that he has lost if that is the result.

In a nation that in this year alone has seen anti-police riots, violence from far-right counterprotestors and an armed militia storming the Michigan State House, the prospect of political violence is hardly far-fetched.

The USA may not seem much like Ukraine. Still, some are looking abroad to find parallels, preferring that to the US past, where comparisons with the Civil War or the 1877 compromise are unlikely to cheer observers.

In 2014, Ukrainian voters took to the streets to protest when president Victor Yanukovych refused to accept the election results. The resulting chaos ushered him out of power, but not before violent clashes in the streets. In Belarus, where similar protests are now ongoing, there have been mass arrests.

Fears of a comparable situation could evaporate on election night if either man wins decisively, but the US president, as is his way, is not doing anything to mollify either his supporters or his opponents.

So will Donald Trump refuse to accept the US election result?

Going rogue

Yes, he will, say some. Trump is trailing in the polls, so he has to muddy the waters. Looking at his statements, and at what has been happening at the US post office, it is clear that he is preparing to contest the result. He has been laying the groundwork for a legal challenge, counting on a close election and the precedent of Bush v. Gore to bring him a second term.

No, he won’t, say others. Trump loves to act up for the media, but his most shocking statements rarely translate into action(s). He was unable to fire Robert Mueller, for example. Additionally, there is no guarantee that even a Republican court would risk their reputation on keeping him in power. Stoking enthusiasm among his supporters is a more likely Trump objective than overthrowing a US political institution.

You Decide

  1. The UK Supreme court is chosen by legal experts, not politicians. But if you could pick anyone for the court, who would it be?
  2. Is it fair to call the USA a democratic country when the president did not win the national popular vote in the last election?


  1. Elections are often defined by a memorable campaign slogan, such as 2016’s Make America Great Again. Imagine you are running for president, and try to come up with five slogans that you think might help you win.
  2. The Republicans want to appoint a new Supreme Court Justice, despite having blocked a Democratic nominee in 2016 because the nomination came in an election year. Imagine you are the Republican Senate majority leader, and write a brief statement trying to explain why you think this is justified this time..

Some People Say...

“Nature has left this tincture in the blood, That all men would be tyrants if they could.”

Daniel Defoe (1660–1731), English Novelist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is widely agreed that the results will be controversial in such a polarised country; a majority of voters polled by NBC have doubts about the fairness of the election. Trump has publicly stated on several occasions that he might not accept defeat. Although some senior Republicans are insisting that there will be an orderly handing over of power, many are nevertheless clearing the path to challenging election results in the courts. They have increased voter-suppression efforts and are actively casting doubts on postal ballots in particular, in ways that may inflame tensions across the country.
What do we not know?
The key area of debate is how far Trump, and his supporters, are willing to go to secure victory. Many point to his bluster and showmanship as reasons not to believe that he would really subvert democracy. Trump could simply want to increase turnout among his base by keeping the focus on the supreme court. All of the discussion is centring on a close election, but a decisive result could be achieved either way.

Word Watch

To permit or tolerate.
Electoral college
The US presidential elections are not decided directly by the popular vote. Rather, each state has a certain number of “electors” and the winner of that state receives the votes of those electors. The overall winner is the candidate who receives a majority of electors. It is possible – as was the case for Trump in 2016 and George W Bush in 2000 – to win in the electoral college while receiving fewer popular votes.
Brought up or raised the possibility. As a noun, moot also means a meeting place and is used as the name for a mock trial by lawyers.
An argument or a row. To “fuffle” is an old Scottish word meaning to mess up.
Outrageous or shocking. It literally means in a manner that places one outside of the flock or herd. Compare it to the word “gregarious”, meaning sociable and coming from the same word for flock.
Short for coup d’état, a French phrase meaning a hit or blow of the state. When a government is overthrown by the people, it tends to be called a revolution, but when it is done by a faction within the government, or the army, then it is a coup.
Swing state
Some states in the US tend to always vote for the same party, whereas others, such as Pennsylvania, change sides often. Such states then become the focus of the campaign.
1877 compromise
The 1876 presidential election between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B Hayes saw several states dispute who had won their electors. Finally, an agreement was made whereby Tilden accepted defeat in exchange for the withdrawal of US troops from the southern states.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.