- As political polarisation in the electorate has reached a fever pitch and the stakes are beyond existential, the U.S. Presidential Election is primed to be a drawn-out and protracted affair, increasingly at the risk of being derailed due to “violent actors”.
According to a report by the International Crisis Group, as political polarisation in the electorate has reached a fever pitch and the stakes are beyond existential, the U.S. Presidential Election is primed to be a drawn-out and protracted affair, increasingly at the risk of being derailed due to “violent actors”.
This description could have just as easily been attributed to any failed state, or one that is undergoing democratic backsliding, yet the report highlights that President Trump’s incendiary rhetoric and pencha nt for stoking tensions has contributed to dangerous levels of political polarisation in the country - which could extend well beyond his term in office, and threatens to derail an already tumultuous political process.
The report summarises that “while Americans have grown used to a certain level of rancor in these quadrennial campaigns, they have not in living memory faced the realistic prospect that the incumbent may reject the outcome or that armed violence may result”. Furthermore, the report highlights a variety of factors which could potentially result in violence and strife on and in the aftermath of the Election day.
The proliferation of online misinformation and hate speech, especially against minority racial and religious communities, has seeped into the political discourse at an unprecedented scale during the Trump presidency, with the report adding that “his [the president’s] toxic rhetoric and willingness to court conflict to advance his personal interests have no precedent in modern U.S. history”.
President Trump’s blatant refusal to denounce and condemn violent factions of the far-right, including the Klu Klux Klan, in addition to his incendiary comments pertaining to his “perceived political enemies” (which he often terms as the radical left), raise serious questions about his ability to use “the full weight of his office to quell violence”, not to incite it.
The report highlights that President Trump has made repeated attempts to diminish the electorate’s confidence in mail-in voting, making inaccurate allusions to voter fraud in the process, which could prove to be catastrophic for the electoral process, as his campaign will continually use this rhetoric to hijack the outcome of this election.
President Trump has also on multiple occasions flatly refused to allow a smooth transition of power, if he fails to secure a second term, raising serious concerns pertaining to an escalation of politically-motivated violence in the immediate aftermath of the election - harkening back to the Bush v. Gore saga in December 2000, in which the Supreme Court had to get involved in a botched recounting process. The report elaborates that “President Trump has already seeded the baseless narrative that mail-in voting will occasion massive fraud and sought to delegitimise post-Election Day vote counting."
The report urges both state and federal authorities to “become as familiar as possible with the tools and resources that are at their disposal to fend off voter intimidation”, while also bringing social media companies into the fold in ensuring that disinformation does not spark violence or lead to a premature announcement of results prior to the December 8th deadline.
It urges social media companies by stating that “Traditional and social media should take extra precautions not to pronounce winners prematurely, which can create the impression that the result has been fixed, or, conversely, foster resentment in the event the call has to be reversed”, especially in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Twitter has recently announced stricter regulations on political ad campaigns, and in countering election misinformation; with the company stating that political candidates or representatives cannot claim to have won an election before it is formally announced from state election officials.
Why does this matter? The implications of a botched election, and any gravitation away from democratic norms, could seriously diminish the United States’ reputation and credibility in the international community, especially when the country is at the cusp of undergoing a period of major socio-political change.
The turnout of this Presidential race is expected to reach historic heights, with 93 million people having already cast their votes as of Sunday, with the incumbent President trailing significantly behind Biden by an increasingly wider margin (approximately 9-10%). While President Trump was riding on a wave of political fervour and enthusiasm throughout his presidency, despite the many controversies that surrounded it, the shadow of the administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of 225,000 Americans, has extinguished any hopes of a clear-cut second term.