Frank DeFilippo: Not Fraud, Just Democracy in Action

President Trump boards Air Force One last month at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian via Flickr Public Domain.

Elections are never over. Their consequences live on.

It’s the high price we pay for freedom of expression in the voting booth. And most of the time we deserve it, to squeeze in a thought from H. L. Mencken.

Right up front, to borrow a few words that Thomas Edsall, of The New York Times, recycled from a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer, let us pause to reflect on the man America chose as its leader four years ago:

“More than a dozen investigations and civil suits involving Trump are now underway. Yet Trump has famously survived one impeachment, two divorces, six bankruptcies, 26 accusations of sexual misconduct and an estimated 4,000 lawsuits,” according to Edsall and Mayer.

Yes, but he just lost the biggest fight of his pyrite-plated life, the first incumbent president to be ejected from office since George H.W. Bush in 1992.

No other civilized nation can boast of an elected leader of such dubious character, not even some of the despots he admires.

Donald Trump may or may not be gone, but Trumpism will stay with us for a long while to come. He bequeaths a nation that he helped to cleave into eerily equal clashing cultural forces, each seething with resentment and bitterness over the other’s views.

Whether he remains a source of his own momentum within the Republican Party is their problem. Trump is still the nation’s thumb-king of Twitter and Facebook, with 119 million followers spread over the two, though they’re catching on, as well, flagging him lately, more often than not.

If anything, this election worsened the divide — urban and rural, Black and white, haves and have-nots, religious and secular, young and old, straights and gays, masked and unmasked, and most important in Trumpland, the exceptionalists who believe America is God’s country and those who believe it is the property of the people.

Watching the presidency and the Justice Department, Trump’s taxpayer-funded personal legal services bureau, slowly slip away, Trump unleashed a venomous post-election tirade the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Baltimore was nicknamed “Mobtown” in the 1860s when roving mobs intimidated voters and menaced polling places.

In fact, many of the flag-waving protesters outside of vote-counting centers across the country had been enflamed by Trump to go forth, in his name, to disrupt the election process and disenfranchise millions of voters by ending the vote-count.

“ANY VOTE THAT CAME IN AFTER ELECTION DAY WILL NOT BE COUNTED,” Trump tweeted. When Trump fumes in ALL-CAPS, you know his blood pressure is up.

Three nights into the vote-counting, for example, Trump, delivered a brief address from the White House, which was so filled with falsehoods, lies and disinformation that television networks cut away and switched back to regular programming. Few Republicans were, at first, willing to break away from Trump over his unfounded, nonsensical accusations and a sure signal of incipient desperation.

Trump once again assailed mail-in voting — even though he has voted by mail himself — and invoked the word “fraud” as lawyers from his campaign filed lawsuits in several states which many experts regarded as frivolous, only to have several dismissed almost immediately for lack of evidence.

He continues to grope as high as the Supreme Court for help in trying to salvage his presidency while those around him gently but grudgingly are prepared for defeat. Trump has complained repeatedly that mail-in ballots favored Joe Biden. Yet throughout the campaign he discouraged Republicans from using the mail to vote.

The pre-election polling, for anyone who accepts them as political predictions, which they are not, showed that the economy was the premier issue among voters over conquering the coronavirus. The polls got it backwards, not acknowledging that resolving the germ would also restore jobs. Yet it was the pandemic, and his bumbling inability, or stubborn refusal, to deal with it, that helped to accelerate the decline and fall of the Trump presidency.

While Trump was narrowly losing, and still doing his president-as-victim darndest to undermine the legitimacy of the election, his down-ballot accomplices were winning against the Democrats’ proclaimed “blue wave.”

Trump repeated the words “fraud” and “rigged” dozens of times while voting was underway, even ramping up his battle cry on election night by declaring victory and accusing, falsely, the opposition of trying to steal his victory.

By contrast, Biden, his Democratic rival, had consistently urged “patience” and “calm” — and confidence — since the vote-count began.

So here we are again. Biden led Trump by more than 4 million popular votes, but the election wasn’t won until the creaky, antiquated electoral college crept up to the 270 threshold, and beyond, and Biden became president-elect. The electoral college delegations will meet in their states on Dec. 14 to formally elect Biden.

Democrats so far have failed to recapture the Senate, and they lost seats in the House. Adding to their woes and further hardening the divide, Republicans gained control of even more state legislatures at a time when the once-a-decade legalized body-snatching called congressional redistricting will soon get underway. That in itself signals troubles for Democrats over the next 10 years and probably beyond.

So here’s the deal: Democrats won the White House and retained control of the House. The scramble for control of the Senate remains unsettled as several seats are still in play, two of them in Georgia set for run-offs on Jan. 5. Georgia is also prepared for a recount because of the closeness of the presidential race which Biden nonetheless leads, though it won’t change the outcome. And Republicans have a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court as well as a packed and stacked federal court system.

The laws of physics are the laws of politics: If two equal and opposite forces are applied against each other, the center of force is zero. Don’t expect dramatic change if Republicans retain control of the Senate.

To replay a frequent refrain, the cultural warriors aligned with Trump and his policies are still fighting the battles of the 1960s, many of which were resolved legally decades ago — reproductive rights, gun rights, civil rights, voting rights, health care rights, sexual orientation.

With the Trump-McConnell conservative court system now itching for action, the moral Luddites who resist change hope to reverse existing laws based on previous court decisions and restore the bad old days.

Trump was able to harness the hatred into kind of a nationalistic religion that became the maskless workforce of his campaign, especially among evangelicals who often ascribe the follies of man to the will of God. Trump even once described himself in Biblical terms as the “the chosen one.” What will all of those Elmer Gantrys of the religious right do now?

Yet for all of the nastiness engulfing the election, and contrary to Trump’s manic claims, voting proceeded very smoothly across the nation, with only a few incidents and glitches reported. What background noise there was emanated from unhappy and disruptive Trump supporters, egged on by their candidate from the White House.

Nationally, more than 160 million people voted, 56% of those eligible, the highest percentage in more than a century. In Maryland 2.8 million voters cast ballots, 2.3 million either by mail-in or early voting, with 1.5 million of that number by mail-in or drop box. The total Maryland turnout was slightly higher than in 2016.

Much of the vote-counting was live-streamed on television, which is about as transparent and fraud-free as democracy in action gets.

Frank A. DeFilippo
Frank A. DeFilippo is an award-winning political commentator who lives and writes in Baltimore. DeFilippo has been writing about the comic opera of politics for more than 50 years. He reported on the Maryland General Assembly for 10 years before joining the administration of former Gov. Marvin Mandel (D) as press secretary and speechwriter. Between times, he was a White House correspondent during the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and he has covered six national political conventions. DeFilippo is the author of Hooked, an alleged work of fiction, and an unpublished manuscript, Shiksa: The Rise and Fall of Marvin Mandel.