Omar El Akkad is the author of American War. He lives in Portland, Ore.
In the early hours of Wednesday, the President of the United States stepped before a lectern at the White House and called the country’s democratic elections “a fraud on the American people.” His supporters cheered him on.
There was no fraud, however; there never has been. Every serious study of voter fraud in America has concluded the phenomenon is statistically minuscule. Nonetheless, within minutes of Donald Trump delivering one of the most dangerous and anti-democratic statements in recent political history, a gaggle of Republican operatives took to the airwaves to feign concern over a crisis that didn’t exist. In the states where Mr. Trump was leading, it suddenly became vital to stop counting votes. In the states where he was trailing, it became vital to continue counting. All in the name of fairness, of course.
One of the defining characteristics of the modern Republican Party, perfected during Barack Obama’s presidency and employed ceaselessly over the past four years, is its ability to shield rank hypocrisy behind a veneer of good-faith concern. When a Supreme Court seat opened up during Mr. Obama’s last year in office, a parade of GOP lawmakers decried any move to fill it as unacceptable, an end run around the will of the people. When an even more egregious facsimile of the same situation presented itself this year, but with a Republican in the Oval Office, most of the very same lawmakers suddenly found it outrageous to even consider waiting until after the election. As a result, the Supreme Court is now likely to lean conservative for generations.
If current results hold, Joe Biden will be the next president. He will eke out victory with a handful more electoral college votes than his opponent, a monumentally disappointing result for the millions of progressives in the U.S. who truly believed this election would end in an overwhelming repudiation of the Trump era.
Instead, the notion that Mr. Trump was some kind of anomaly – the product of outside influence, perhaps, or of a temporarily misguided electorate – has been exposed as fantasy. More than 65 million people saw everything this administration did over the past four years – the Muslim ban, the caging of children separated from their parents, the steadfast support of white supremacists, the botched pandemic response that left millions unemployed and hundreds of thousands dead – and voted for more of it. Mr. Trump’s presidency was not an accident; his election victory in 2016 was not a momentary lapse of judgment. Mr. Trump represents the kind of America millions of Americans actively want.
But beyond having to find some way of governing a dangerously polarized citizenry, Mr. Biden will have to contend with a Republican Party that learned over the course of the Obama years the efficacy of political sabotage masquerading as principled ideological discipline. Until the election results are irrefutably ratified – a process that may well go through the Supreme Court – it is likely the GOP will maintain its superficial obsession with voter fraud.
Never mind that it was Mr. Trump himself, just a couple of months ago, who urged his supporters in North Carolina to vote twice. Never mind that, as a direct result of the President’s statements Wednesday morning, many of his core supporters will now likely view this election as illegitimate, and may take it upon themselves to rectify the results by whatever means necessary. Never mind that, right around the time Mr. Biden assumes office, the GOP will surely and suddenly come down with its cyclical bout of deep concern about the deficit – concern that will be reflected solely in an iron-clad resistance to whatever the new president’s policy priorities may be.
Time and time again, the Republican Party has been rewarded for its commitment to the selective enforcement of principles. Once the dust settles on an election that was always going to stress-test the country’s democratic institutions, this will likely be Mr. Biden’s biggest day-to-day challenge as president – working with a party that has learned the value of having no real values at all.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.