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Democratic Dangers and Election Law Porn

Do CounterPunch, Setembro 29, 2020
Por DAVID SCHULTZ



Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

American democracy is threatened, but not for the reasons depicted in recent election law porn. Donald Trump’s comments about mail-in-voting being rift with fraud or his refusal to respect a peaceful transition of power if he loses, while troubling, are merely a symptom of deeper problems plaguing American democracy.

Election law porn is the journalistic de jour theme of the corporate media now. Recent articles in The Atlantic and The Guardian describe the 2020 elections as make or break for American democracy. The New York Times and the Washington Post writers decry Trump’s threat to the United States and how he plans to steal an election. Other articles tell of plots by Republican state legislatures to take away the popular vote and directly award the electoral votes to Trump. All of these stories appeal to the fear, paranoia, and conspiratorial insecurities of Democrats, looking for reasons why Trump will win and Biden lose. These articles represent bad journalism but are good clickbait business—they get readers to look at them, titillating their anger and arousing angst. They are election law porn meant to hook readers.

These articles first feed into the Trump narrative. For nearly five years the corporate media has profited over coverage of Trump. It gave him undue $5 billion free media coveragein 2015-2016 because it was profitable to do so. It continues to cover ever one of his Tweets and statements he makes even though the mainstream media such as the Washington Postacknowledges that the president is a serial liar. His lies are brilliant diversions that set the political agenda. Criticize the president about his handling of the pandemic and he talks of fraudulent vote by mail. Ask him about health care and he will talk about not accepting the results of an election or agreeing to a peaceful transition of power if he loses. Simultaneously the press and the public—mostly Democrats—take every word he utters as a lie and as literal truth. Take a lot of what he says, as Hermann and Chomsky declared in Manufacturing Consent, as part of a propaganda machinery in a symbiotic relationship between him and the corporate media where the latter takes what the former says and delivers it in a way to sell news and divert the public from the real problems. Here the real problem is what is wrong with American democracy.

As noted above, among the more recent manifestations of election law porn is that Republican legislatures will force delays in vote counts or otherwise take actions to directly award electoral votes to Donald Trump as a way to ensure his victory. Great conspiracy, thin reality.

The Constitution does ultimately allow state legislatures to pick the electors who pick the president. Our popular votes for president to select the electors are a product of state law which theoretically can be changed. Yet in reality it would be difficult and probably not make a difference. According to Ballotpedia, there are 36 states where one party has a trifecta where it controls both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office. Of those 36, Democrats have 15 trifectas, Republicans 21. Of those 21 states, only two—Florida and Arizona, are swing states where Joe Biden has a chance to win. Perhaps maybe three if Ohio is still a swing state. The remainder of the states where Republicans hold a trifecta are ones Trump is going to win anyhow. Of the real swing states in play—Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, there is no trifecta and therefore Republicans could not change the law to pick the electors. If Biden loses the election by losing in these swing states it is plausible he will do so simply because he ran a lackluster campaign or the voting demographics in these states were against him.

Yes, there are additional and legitimate fears that this election will be close and in some states there will be allegations of vote tampering and miscounts. One should not minimize these as issues, but again they are diversions away from the more systematic and deeper problems facing American democracy.

The United States is a troubled democracy. Even before Donald Trump it faced problems. Its gap between the rich and poor is among the highest compared to other western-style democracies with wealth and income concentrating into fewer and fewer hands.. It has a troubled legacy and history of race that goes back to the settlement and founding of the country. The criminal justice, education, and health care systems reveal huge racial disparities. The death of George Floyd and the causalities of the pandemic are reminders of this.

America has the lowest voter turnout among its peers, with the electorate stratified by race and income. Its neo-liberal style election system has reduced democracy down to the right of the few wealthy donors to spend unlimited money to influence elections. Corporate interests spend billions to lobby, and the 50-state patchwork of election rules and eligibility requirements have already disenfranchised millions. All of this occurred before Donald Trump and perhaps made his election possible.

Donald Trump is a product of an American democracy that was failing before he was elected. The 2020 elections have brought home those failures, but even if Biden were to win the problems will not go away because they are more than about Donald Trump. His policies have exacerbated a challenged democracy and perhaps made them worse, but the root of them is deeper than him and it will take more than a Biden victory or hand wringing sensationalism by election law porn to fix them.


David Schultz is a professor of political science at Hamline University. He is the author of Presidential Swing States: Why Only Ten Matter.

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