It’s another day in the presidency of Donald Trump, which means we’ve entered another news cycle of “will Donald Trump accept the results of the election if he loses?” It’s the kind of breathless, hyper-ventilating reporting we’ve had, non-stop, ever since Trump descended the golden escalator in 2015 and entered the presidential race.
And like most things, it’s a projection. Not many have accepted the results of 2016, least of all the left.
The stories started emanating from Chris Wallace’s interview with the president on Fox News. Wallace said of the conversation:
The fact is, the President is out there. He’s out there in this broiling heat with me for an hour, he took all the questions. You can like his answers or dislike them but he had answers and Joe Biden hasn’t faced that kind of scrutiny, hasn’t faced that kind of exposure.
The critical point causing contention this time is Wallace’s question to Trump. “Are you suggesting that you might not accept the results of the election?” Wallace asked.
Trump responded, “No. I have to see.” The answer prompted The Washington Post‘s news reporters — not opinion — to publish a story titled: “Trump’s assault on election integrity forces question: What would happen if he refused to accept a loss?”
The problem isn’t Trump’s statement. He’s ducked in and out of this same answer for five years now, even when winning. There’s nothing new to this story that hasn’t gotten played out a hundred times.
Gless Kessler, the main fact-checker at The Washington Post, tried to explain this time was different by saying, “Yes, he made the same threat in 2016. But he was not the incumbent President. He is expected to be a steward of American democracy and its more than 200-year tradition of peaceful transfer of power.”
And I agree with that point. It’s true. It’s also true that no one has any real sense that these are real threats from Trump. And, further, the real issue here isn’t Trump.
Like most D.C. issues, Trump is only a reflector of the dominant spirit that pervades the nation’s capital. That is this: no one has accepted the result of the 2016 election, and everyone is preemptively preparing to reject an outcome they don’t like.
That issue is happening at all levels too. Joe Biden has already accused Trump of manipulating election results to stay in power. MSNBC political analyst John Heilemann is going on television accusing Trump of using federal agents to quell protests in places like Portland, Washington, and also to steal the election.
These are, to put it mildly, unhinged conspiracy theories masquerading as truth-telling in American politics. Not one vote has been cast. Not one shred of evidence has been presented. These are the machinations of people wearing tin-foil hats using a string theory bulletin board full of newspaper clippings and several yarn rolls. Their credibility is about strong as your crazy uncle ranting about chemtrails on Facebook and Youtube.
The point here isn’t whataboutism. The point is that American elites are using the threat to democracy trope to attack the legitimacy, any legitimacy, of their opponent winning an election. The true believers here on the left would go back to the year 2000, claiming that George W. Bush was also illegally elected. On the right, you get conspiracy theories on crowd sizes and illegal voters.
The Washington Post‘s entire schtick now is their motto, “Democracy dies in darkness.” They add to these conspiracy theories daily running them as fact in the news section. These kinds of ravings belong next to Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot columns, which say the same thing every day.
Even if Trump’s statements had merit, the power of the press focusing on them now gets undercut because they’ve made these accusations non-stop for five years. The latest outrages will be forgotten in days or weeks for the next scandal because not even the press can focus on it for more than a few seconds.
If Trump loses, will he claim that loss is illegitimate? Sure. He will. Just as if he wins, these same reporters will breathlessly tell their readers and viewers that something untoward happened in the election.
Maybe Trump will even option off part of his name for alternate history, like Hillary Clinton. She’s got a show coming out exploring an alternative history of what-ifs across her life, starting with Bill Clinton. Maybe that history will explore if she ever campaigned in Wisconsin in 2016.
The problem here isn’t Trump; the problem is the broader belief in our elite groupthink that rejects anything that it did not preordain as good. Eventually, Trump will be gone from the scene. These same people will argue that anyone they don’t approve of is somehow illegitimate. That’s a legacy beyond and separate from Trump. It’s also a more significant problem.