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US President Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion on donating plasma at the American Red Cross National Headquarters on July 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

US President Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion on donating plasma at the American Red Cross National Headquarters on July 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Trump's Election Delay Threat Is a Coup in the Making

Trump's tweet was a shocking display of his authoritarian impulses and his very serious consideration of means to de-legitimize the November election in order to maintain his grip on power, no matter what.

Robert Weissman

Earlier today, U.S. President Donald Trump floated by tweet the idea of delaying the November elections.

This is a coup in the making.

Trump’s tweet—now pinned at the top of his Twitter account—says that "Universal Mail-In Voting" means that "2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history." Thus, he asks, "Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???"

Some words on voting by mail in a moment, but first let's recognize that this has nothing to do with voting by mail or concerns with integrity of the election.

The real— the only—issue for Trump, of course, is Trump.  The economy is in free fall and Trump is worried about what that means for his electoral prospects.

"The most important steps to stop a Trump coup are prophylactic—that is, we must take steps now so that Trump doesn't dare to act later."

He is thinking out loud about how he can discredit the election, undermine its legitimacy and hold on to power even in the event he loses.

This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the American people and American democracy. Trump is broadcasting that he is considering a coup to hold on to power.

Pause and reflect on that for a moment.

As bullies will do, Trump is testing us: Do we let him get away with it? Or do we impose democratic discipline? It may sound apocalyptic, but we do now truly may determine the fate of our electoral democracy.

The American people of all political persuasions must come together to denounce Trump's suggestion, to defend our democracy and to uphold the rule of law against a would-be tinpot dictator.

The most important steps to stop a Trump coup are prophylactic—that is, we must take steps now so that Trump doesn't dare to act later.

That starts with speaking out.

It also means ensuring the election is administered as efficiently as possible, no easy task in the middle of a pandemic. We know exactly what needs to be done to ensure every American can vote safely: We need massively expanded voting by mail and early voting (to avoid crowds at the polls on election day). Otherwise, we face chaos of the kind that besmirched primaries in Wisconsin and Georgia, except on a far, far bigger scale.

Making it easy for Americans to vote by mail or vote early will impose major obligations on state and local election offices that are underfunded and themselves grappling with the challenges of working through the pandemic. They need to procure new equipment, make arrangements with printers, pay for postage, train new poll workers to replace the many seniors who will not be able to serve as poll workers safely, and more. At this point, they are going to have to scramble to get things in order. But to do that, they need funding—$3.6 billion. If Trump cared a whit about ensuring the election is conducted safely and efficiently, he'd be demanding Congress appropriate that funding immediately.

"This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the American people and American democracy. Trump is broadcasting that he is considering a coup to hold on to power."

But, of course, won't do that, so it's on us to make sure Congress acts.

The good news today is that Republicans, including Senators Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have affirmatively dismissed Trump's idea of an election delay. And, despite playing the tough guy who never backs down, in fact Trump—like a classic bully—regularly retreats when he gets real pushback. So that pushback is consequential.

But we can't have any illusions, either. Trump's tweet was a shocking display of his authoritarian impulses and his very serious consideration of means to de-legitimize the November election in order to maintain his grip on power, no matter what. Whether we get to keep our democracy in the face of the most brazen challenge of authoritarianism in American history depends on us.


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Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen. Weissman was formerly director of Essential Action, editor of Multinational Monitor, a magazine that tracks corporate actions worldwide, and a public interest attorney at the Center for Study of Responsive Law. He was a leader in organizing the 2000 IMF and World Bank protests in D.C. and helped make HIV drugs available to the developing world.

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