From the first day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, and listening to his dark acceptance speech, I’ve been convinced that this presidency will not have a right ending. It was affirmed the next day when Trump spoke at Langley. While standing in front of the CIA’s wall of stars that represents agents lost in the line of duty, he paused in mid-sentence, recalling how many times he’d been on the cover of TIME magazine.
That moment begged for a solemn statement of gratitude, acknowledging the sacrifice those anonymous Americans had made in service to their nation. As it has turned out, that moment was a precursor to similar moments, then days and weeks and months. Pundits began debating whether the office of the presidency would be transformative.
Certainly, the man who rode down the escalator in Trump Tower, who campaigned recklessly, who rarely discussed policy other than to promise a wall built, a swamp drained, Muslims banned, all while aggressively inciting his supporters with denigrating comments aimed at the “fake news” media would rise to the office.
Gradually, incrementally, I came to realize that Trump, the man from the campaign, is now the president. He has transformed the office.
It soon became clear that he is a man who traffics in conspiracies, alternative facts and magical thinking, all integral to his ultimate explanations regarding reality. It began with his call for Obama’s birth certificate while insisting he was born in Kenya. If Trump knew it was a lie, but a convenient one that delegitimized Obama, then he was a carnival barker. If he believed this outrageous, conspiratorial alternative fact, then it’s worrisome in the extreme for he now occupied the oval office. Ditto global warming and Trump Tower being surveilled.
Recall shortly after the 2016 presidential election when it was established that Hillary won the popular vote. Trump insisted that this was due to voter fraud. He soon thereafter created a short-lived Voter Fraud Commission to confirm this belief and expose the conspiracy.
And now we come to the midterm elections, and Trump’s conviction that “Illegal votes are a problem all over the country” has once again been resurrected. In a recent interview with The Daily Caller, a conservative 24-hour news/opinion website, Trump stated, “The Republicans don’t win and that’s because of potentially illegal votes. I have no doubt about it. And I’ve seen it, I’ve had friends talk about it when people get in line and have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in, vote again. Nobody takes anything. It’s really a disgrace what’s going on. The disgrace is that voter ID. If you buy, you know, a box of cereal, if you do anything, you have voter ID.”
Given the fact that the G.O.P. is now Trump’s party, it should be no surprise that the Republican candidate for Florida’s Senate seat, Rick Scott, locked in a close race with the incumbent Democratic senator, Bill Nelson, accused Nelson’s campaign of rampant voter fraud, a conspiratorial allegation supported by Trump, who went on to say something similar about the Arizona senatorial contest, which was razor thin.
It’s now a familiar Republican narrative, one that does damage to our democracy while sowing doubt regarding the integrity of the vote. It is self-serving, irresponsible and absent even a shred of corroborating evidence and ultimately undermines the public’s trust in our democratic process. And it echoes Trump’s 2016 “rigged election” playbook. Recall that he stated, chillingly, that he was prepared to accept the results of the vote only if he won.
So what happens in 2020 should he lose? Will “rigged” once again be shouted from a rally dais? Will his supporters respond to his call to what? We’ll see.
Chris Honoré is a Daily Tidings columnist.