Once might have been a slip of the tongue, twice if we were prepared to be charitable a coincidence, but American President Donald Trump’s repeated suggestions that he might not accept defeat in November’s election must be deemed cause for worry in a country that has often delivered sermons to the world on its democratic traditions.
So serious apparently is the threat of Mr Trump not conceding defeat even if the vote goes against him that politicians cutting across partisan lines have assailed his position, with some reminding him that America is not North Korea. Former Democratic contender Bernie Sanders was scathing in his criticism of the President’s position.
Calling Mr. Trump the first President in the history of the country to refuse to commit to a peaceful transition, Mr. Sanders said: “What he is saying is that if he wins the election, that’s great. But if he loses, it’s rigged because the only way, the only way, he can lose is if it’s rigged.”
Mr. Trump has repeatedly alleged massive fraud in mail-in ballots, a charge implicitly rejected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.The President has stuck to two themes in the course of his campaign – first that mail-in ballots are a disaster and will be manipulated and, second, that the results of the election would not be known for months because of disputes over these ballots.
This has led to fears that he will attempt to cling on to power for as long as he can, using every means at his disposal. One of these means might mean involving American armed forces, a fear provoked by his desire some months ago to invoke the 19th-century Insurrection Act to send troops on American streets for countering protests provoked by the slaying of an African-American man by police.
So serious is concern about such a possibility that the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A Milley, was forced to write to lawmakers to say: “I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical US military. In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law, US courts and the US Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the US military. I foresee no role for the US armed forces in this process.” That the question was asked ~ and needed to be answered ~ points to the disquiet in the American establishment over the course that an unpredictable President might adopt.
Just last month, two US Army veterans had in an open letter told General Milley, “If Donald Trump refuses to leave office at the expiration of his constitutional term, the United States military must remove him by force, and you must give that order.” While admirers of America’s democracy will hope things do not come to such a pass, they will have their fingers crossed until the inauguration in January.