Donald J. Trump will not accept the results of next month’s US presidential elections unless he wins. His words, not mine.
With increasing evidence that he will lose the election on November 8, Trump has resorted to a familiar refrain favored by anti-democrats. An election result is only acceptable if it validates one’s claim to power.
Uttered by opposition candidates in many African countries, these words are usually justifiable given the incumbent rulers’ reticence to play by the rules, including ensuring a level playing field.
In countries where the electoral commissioners and the entire state machinery are part of the ruler’s re-election campaign, the pseudo election is nearly always decided before the polls open.
However, Trump’s allegation of a rigged political and electoral system in the USA is patently false, albeit not surprising. It is just one more offering from his bag of gross exaggerations and outlandish claims.
He is probably fully aware that elections are managed by states, not by the federal government. Many of the states are controlled by the Republican Party, an unlikely accomplice in a left-wing conspiracy to subvert a Trump victory.
Trump probably knows that there are enough checks and balances to ensure an outcome that reflects the will of the voters through the Electoral College system.
However, his campaign strategy has been to manipulate that segment of the electorate that has little interest in facts and analysis of American reality. The same crowd that believed Trump’s claims that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States will believe any other falsehood that the Republican nominee throws at them.
No doubt errors have occurred in past US elections. However, extensive studies by American psephologists (people who study elections and political polls) have repeatedly shown that significant errors are very rare indeed.
Memories of the Florida saga of 2000, where spoiled ballots in the Bush-Gore contest may well have tilted the results in Bush’s favor, are very fresh in our minds. Trump is cleverly citing that episode to buttress his allegations that “the system is rigged folks!”
Florida was an anomaly, albeit with very serious consequences for the United States. In its aftermath, corrective measures were taken to reduce the likelihood of recurrence of significant errors that could again alter the people’s will.
Naturally Trump will not allow facts to spoil his campaign of psychological manipulation. He has enough gullible voters cheering him on to continue the deception.
However, Trump’s claims will not affect the legitimacy of next month’s election. Whether or not he accepts the results, Hillary Rodham Clinton will be sworn in as president on January 20, 2017. America will continue, with its strong institutions humming along and its citizens drinking deep in their love of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Where Trump’s outlandish claims will hurt America is its role as the world’s exemplar of democracy that works. American leaders are accustomed to dispensing advice to rogue regimes to democratize. Though rarely acted upon, American threats to withdraw development funding to overtly anti-democratic regimes in Africa, for example, often persuade the dictators to slightly moderate their handling of elections and opponents.
Trump’s claims that there is no democracy in America will be great news to the dictators, who will now counter any American statements about democracy with defiant retorts that the USA has no moral authority to lecture them.
The man who seeks the presidency of the United States has effectively undermined his own country’s standing in societies whose citizens desperately want to emulate the American way of choosing leaders – open, free, regular, predictable and reasonably level-grounded competition.
Trump has given ammunition to Africa’s anti-democrats who dress up their antipathy to western democracy with the all-encompassing phrase: “African solutions to African problems.” This convenient declaration is used by those who believe that western democracy does not work in Africa. Now they can argue that they do not wish to import a “defective, corrupt and rigged system” like the American one.
Not that it matters to Africa’s democratization efforts who becomes president of the United States. Whether it is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, America will continue to offer lip service to the democratization process in Africa. The president of the United States is interested in serving and protecting American interests, not democracy and freedom in Africa.
Hillary will support Africa’s dictators as long as they are prepared to serve American interests. A President Trump, notwithstanding his grandstanding about Africa’s dictators earlier on in his campaign, would arm and fund the most repressive regimes in Africa if they served his country’s interests.
But even before the US election is held, Trump has already become the great friend of the African dictator. We can expect greater resistance by the ruling class in Africa to this “foreign system of governance” called democracy. Do not be surprised if, for example, the Ugandan rulers and their cheerleaders begin to sing about the virtues of the Chinese model of choosing the country’s rulers.
Trump will not be president of the United States. But his rhetoric may have a lasting negative impact on democratization efforts in Africa and other societies.