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The end of democracy?

By Francesco D'Ignazio

Over the last days newsreels worldwide have exploded with the news and subsequent commentary of Trump’s leaked phone call with Georgia’s secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, where the sitting president appeared to pressure the state official to “find” additional votes that could have eventually allowed him to overturn the election in that state.

Of course, such actions by the holder of the presidential office are unprecedented; Carl Bernstein, the investigative journalist that broke the Watergate scoop, stated that Trump’s conduct is “far worse” than Nixon’s. The difference with 1974 is that Republicans were much less willing to stand by the actions of the president than today.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that this news, however unprecedented, will change much in the Trump saga. The reason being, of course, that pretty much everything in Trump’s tenure is unprecedented. The last four years have made the public accustomed to the President’s conflictual relationship with the media, made of insults and bombastic statements, and for which the media itself bears at least some responsibility. Few people still have to make up their mind about Trump. It’s unlikely that this leaked phone call is going to be the “smoking gun moment” of Trump’s presidency.

Moreover, there is the issue of Trump’s real motives. Under many points of view, the currently most likely scenario, Biden being sworn in as president with his predecessor still refusing to concede, is the best possible outcome for Trump: He won’t have to endure four more years of constant criticism, which surely have been quite taxing on him, and he will leave behind the burden of the responsibility as a head of state, returning to his lavish billionaire lifestyle. All of this while still retaining the image of undefeated populist leader to his supporters: estimates vary, but on average polls show that between 70% and 90% of Trump’s voters believe the election was “stolen”. It’s been said that Trump doesn’t care whether half of America hates him as long as the other half loves him and this is exactly what seems to be happening.

He did accomplish the difficult task for a president pursuing a second mandate to add twelve million votes to the previous election tally (Obama, by comparison, lost four million votes between 2008 and 2012) and he will be probably content to present himself to those voters as the heroic candidate that the election got stolen from because the cowardly republican establishment failed to stand by him.

Republicans have paid dearly this dangerous disillusionment with democracy on behalf of their voters. It has depressed the voter turnout of republicans in the two senate runoffs elections that are currently unfolding in Georgia, something that will probably cost the GOP both seats and control of the senate since democrats showed up at the polls at roughly the same rate as in the November election.

Muddying the waters and showing his supporters that he never gave up until the inauguration of the new president is probably Trump’s only objective, no matter the collateral damage done to “his” party.

More important than Trump’s legacy, however, is the damage this election controversy does to America’s standing in the world. Claims of a fraudulent election constitute precious ammo for the propaganda machines of hostile and undemocratic regimes. It will be much more difficult in the future for the US to challenge the legitimacy of the elections in countries like Belarus and Venezuela, or accusing China of suppressing democracy in Hong Kong.

Tragically, it is probably on his way out that Trump inflicted his worst damage yet to the US role as a superpower.

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