Presidential debates are a strange pageant even in normal times, and this year is anything but normal. In 2020, the country faces crises at every turn. There is a pandemic ending lives and causing massive job losses. There is an economic downturn inexplicably tied to said pandemic, dragging the poorest Americans further into economic inequality. Widespread civil unrest protests racial inequality.
A wildfire is burning through the West Coast. The East Coast and the Gulf Coast are facing a historic hurricane season. Amidst all of this, democracy in the United States seems to be under siege, with the name in the White House trying to cast doubt on the as-yet-uncounted results of the coming election.
During the presidential debate on Tuesday, Trump doubled up on a troubling tendency: he refused to condemn white supremacy.
Following the 2017 Charlottesville protests and the neo-Nazi killing of Heather Heyer, Trump famously dodged reporters who tried to get him to openly condemn white supremacy.
This was mirrored during Tuesday’s debate, when Chris Wallace tossed an underhand, softball pitch to Trump, teeing him up to condemn white supremacy is a forceful way.
Trump refused to do so, dodging the question.
This should be appalling.
In the era of Donald Trump, it’s a footnote in an unprecedented debate. Trump likewise refused to call on his supporters to avoid civil unrest should he lose the election.
Many experts fear that in the event of a close election, Trump’s supporters could engage in widespread unrest and political violence.
Several reports have held that there is fear that Trump’s supporters could mire the election with violence. One prediction is that supporters of the president could cause violence near polling places in majority-Democrat regions. Supporters like the Proud Boys, an extremist right-wing gang, are likely candidates to do so.
Such violence could close polling places due to police intervening to break up fights. However, this could mean fewer people get to cast their votes, depressing in-person turnout.
This could then lead to another post-election strategy the Trump campaign is expected to use: denying the official results of mail-in ballots.
Those same mail-in ballots that Democrats are relying on to get out the vote could turn into a weakness if Trump claims an early victory from in-person voting. As mail-in ballots take longer to tabulate, it could result in scenarios where Trump is in the lead when the polls close, but declared the loser after all mail-in votes are counted.
Such a chaotic election night (or week) could lead to Trump claiming Democrats have somehow faked the election results.