If any conversation could be said to be simultaneously terrifying and boring, it is the ongoing one regarding the motives behind Donald Trump’s elaborate electoral tantrum. The question on millions of lips: Why is he doing this?
Multiple reports have suggested he knows he lost to Joe Biden, though as his niece Mary Trump has observed, the man has a singular talent for gaslighting himself. Perhaps he has genuinely convinced himself that he actually won, and that’s why we’re in this mess. Trump is also raking in cash from the willing dupes in his base, so the financial motive is clear.
Of course, the legal peril Trump faces in New York State and elsewhere would motivate him to hang on to the office past his expiration date. Likewise, it is demonstrably clear that the man has all the makings of an authoritarian tyrant, arguably save for talent and motivation, and crap like this is what authoritarian tyrants pull when Birnam Wood finally comes to Dunsinane, so there’s that, too.
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Yet all those, alone or in some sort of twisted combination, fail to account for Trump’s vivid astonishment in defeat. Ever since the deal went down, Trump has been walking around with a look on his face like he just watched Biden pull a live ocelot out of his nose and taught it to deal cards. The “He’s a superbrat” theory doesn’t account for Trump’s sustained astonishment; even the most epic of assholes get the message eventually, but not him, not yet.
John W. Dean, formerly of the Nixon White House and presently a political commentator for Findlaw’s Writ, proposed a theory last weekend that rang all the bells, in my opinion.
“Trump may be unable to believe he lost because, in fact, he rigged the election,” tweeted Dean. “But maybe he miscalculated with only 10 million extra votes. So he now thinks he was out-cheated. In fact, Dems outvoted him and he wasn’t ready for it.”
That sounds just about exactly right, the explanatory period at the end of this weird sentence.
It is a rule of thumb that virtually all of Trump’s accusations are, in fact, confessions of his own shabby behavior. His bellowed claims of rigged elections and vast conspiracies are actually his helpless testimonial to the serial election misdeeds of his administration and his party.
Trump, along with his Republican colleagues on the state and federal levels, have labored mightily for far longer than this election to rig the very notion of voting. The effort predates Trump by years. Look no further than the decimation of the Voting Rights Act by the Roberts court, which opened the floodgates for dozens of brazenly racist voting restrictions across multiple states. Meanwhile the rewrite of that vital legislation, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, gathers dust on Mitch McConnell’s desk.
Every single election since then, it has been made deliberately more difficult for people of color to vote. Voter suppression efforts throughout this period have included deliberate acts of sabotage, such as when Georgia’s then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, wiped hundreds of thousands of people off the voting rolls, even as he was running for governor against Stacey Abrams.
Let us also not forget Florida’s decision to levy what is essentially a poll tax on 1.4 million people with felony convictions, who only recently regained the right to vote in the first place. Let it be noted that the Roberts court made sure that rule sticks.
This was a huge year for mail-in voting because of the pandemic. In Milwaukee and Houston, Republicans attempted to deprive millions of voters the ability to cast their ballots by mail by depriving them of ballot boxes; only one was allowed in each voting district until hell was raised and the attempt were stopped. False ballot boxes started popping up in multiple places.
The disinformation campaign waged against Black voters on social media during the 2016 campaign is well-documented. “Four years after Russian operatives used social media in a bid to exacerbate racial divisions in the United States and suppress Black voter turnout,” reported The Washington Post in August, “such tactics have spread across a wide range of deceptive online campaigns operated from numerous nations — including from within the United States itself.”
On the eve of the 2020 election, Trump sent out an unambiguous call for “poll-watchers” to go to voting stations in cities like Philadelphia and Atlanta, home to huge Black voter populations. The unvarnished purpose was intimidation. After he lost, Trump’s lawsuits aimed at overturning the election focused on these and other cities with large Black populations. The unvarnished motive was racism.
And there was the mother of all 2020 attempted rig jobs: Trump’s frontal and inside attack on the United States Postal Service (USPS). Full in the knowledge that millions of Democrats would use the mail service to vote against him, Trump tried to burn the postal service down in broad daylight. The USPS proved to be far more resilient than Trump anticipated, and the ballots were carried to their proper destination with nearly seamless efficiency.
Trump’s accusations regarding fraud in the 2020 election are indeed a confession: His party tried, and failed, to rig the vote. That such massive labors came to nothing has left him, as Abraham Lincoln said of defeated Gen. William Rosencrans, “confused and stunned like a duck hit on the head.”
It makes perfect sense. If I cheated that hard and still lost, I’d have trouble believing it, too.