British journalist explains why US democracy will face ‘the mother of all stress tests’ in 2020

British journalist explains why US democracy will face ‘the mother of all stress tests’ in 2020
Donald Trump, Joe Biden.

Although the United States has had more than its share of ugly, divisive presidential elections over the years — from 1968 to 1988 to 2000 — it also has a long history of candidates making gracious concession speeches after their losses and wishing the president-elect well. But British journalist Edward Luce, in a July 2 article for Financial Times, expresses fears that the 2020 election will be especially ugly — so ugly that U.S. democracy itself could be in danger in November.


Luce, in his appearances on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” has stressed that democracy is “fragile” and that there is no guarantee that a democratic country will remain democratic. Concession speeches and accepting defeat gracefully, Luce has often asserted, are a crucial part of democracy — which is why, Luce notes in his article, Democratic Vice President Al Gore eventually conceded defeat to Republican George W. Bush in 2000’s presidential election. Gore, according to Luce, was an “institutionalist” who put the country’s interests ahead of his own.

But Luce fears that in 2020’s presidential election, the loser might not be so willing to accept defeat. And he offers some troubling scenarios in his article.

Luce explains, “Twice in the last 20 years, a candidate has won the U.S. presidency after losing the popular vote…. The difference (between) 2000 (and 2020) is that Americans are far likelier to view their opponents as enemies than competitors. Today’s toxicity is more redolent of the 1860 election that preceded the Civil War.”

One possible scenario, according to Luce, is one in which former Vice President Joe Biden “had clearly won the popular vote and the Electoral College, (but) the result was contested. Mr. Trump only agreed to leave office after Mr. Biden promised him a blanket pardon.”

Another scenario Luce fears: former Vice President Joe Biden loses the electoral vote but wins the popular vote — and some blue states see the election as stolen by Republicans through voter suppression.

Describing that scenario, Luce writes, “Donald Trump has won the Electoral College by a clear margin. Yet America is in ferment. Cities around the world are holding candlelit vigils for U.S. democracy, and smaller Democratic states have joined California to threaten ‘Calexit.’ Unions plan a general strike to pressure chief executives to back America’s majority. To be fair, Joe Biden won 6m more votes than Mr. Trump — 52% to 47%. Turnout was low because of rampant coronavirus and obstacles to absentee voting. Yet Mr. Trump was reelected according to the rules. What U.S. court would dare question the outcome?”

Luce also describes the possibility of “a narrow Biden victory and an inconclusive Electoral College result” — and in that scenario, “Trump threatened to federalize the National Guard to skew or shut down ballot recounts in contested states. Bill Barr, the U.S. attorney general, helped Republican legislatures certify results that contradicted their Democratic governors. Four swing states — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina — have split party control. In each scenario, Mr. Trump leverages his office to gain the upper hand. The Supreme Court remains aloof.”

The Financial Times journalist concludes his op-ed by asserting that the best-case scenario would be one in which Biden enjoyed a landslide victory in both the Electoral College and the popular vote — a victory Trump would have a hard time disputing.

“Since Mr. Trump has almost no chance of winning the popular vote, the most realistic hope for U.S. stability would be a clear Biden victory,” Luce asserts. “Today’s polls suggest he would win comfortably. But Mr. Biden’s lead will probably narrow in the 18 weeks between now and then. The closer the race, the less soundly we should sleep. American democracy is heading into the mother of all stress tests.”

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