2020 marks 44 years since I cast my first vote in a United States presidential election. (Yikes.) That was 1976 – Jimmy Carter vs. incumbent President Gerald R. Ford.
I've never missed voting in a presidential election since casting that first vote. Nor have I missed voting in gubernatorial elections, whether here in Mississippi or California, where I also lived for 12 years. I've always taken my responsibility to vote seriously, a lesson I learned from watching my mother's struggles to earn that right in the Jim Crow Hattiesburg of the 1960s.
And here we go again, as America gears up for its next national election, barely a month from today.
As usual, the age-old refrain we hear every four years has been dusted off. You know the one: "The most important presidential election in our nation's history." Repeated every four years, the words seem almost cliche. Only, this time, they've never been more true.
Political animal that I am, I've always looked forward to presidential elections. It’s been that way since casting my first vote in 1976. The candidate I've voted for has not always won and, of course, neither has yours. That's the American way. Still, the excitement of watching democracy in action fascinates me. There's nothing like parking myself in front of the TV watching the returns come in on election night, especially when you feel good about your candidate's chances.
That was then, but let's talk now.
This will mark the first time I've been genuinely afraid how our election night will look. That's because the election pool has been poisoned, even as some Americans have begun the early voting process in this year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though mail-in voting has been around for years, more states are opting in this year. It's worth noting, states that historically use mail-in voting have done so without the "massive voter fraud" our sitting president, Donald Trump, alleges will take place. In fact, Mr. Trump says on an almost daily basis that the only way he loses in 2020 will be because of widespread voter fraud. It’s a claim he makes with absolutely no proof. In my lifetime, or yours, have we ever heard a U.S. president make such a self-serving or, worse, dangerous assertion? When did this kind of talk from a president become acceptable?
In the case of Donald Trump though, it's nothing new. Some of his nonsensical utterances would have doomed the candidacy of any other U.S. president. And yet, his base of support, roughly 40 percent of the American electorate, believes every word that comes out of his mouth. Here's a reminder of some of the things he's said.
Back in the days when the number of COVID-19 cases could be counted on our fingers and toes, Mr. Trump insisted there would end up being only a handful of cases, that the virus would, on its own, miraculously "disappear." We're living everyday with how false that turned out to be. The Trump administration's inept complacency in handling the response to the pandemic has been touted as a success. Really? As of this writing, more than 7 million cases of the virus have been reported in our country, with over 200,000 of our fellow Americans dead. Success?
In another episode of bluster, Mr. Trump claims that were it not for his brilliant actions handling the virus, "millions" might be dead. We get so caught up with impersonal numbers, it becomes easy to forget each "number" – the 200,000 souls we've lost – represents someone's son, daughter, mother, father, grandparent, or lifelong friend. These are people we know. There is no "success" to talk about here, only tragedy.
Then there's America's historic nemesis but, apparently, Donald Trump's best friend, Russia. When news leaked that Russia might be paying bounties to the Taliban for the killing of U.S. service members in Afghanistan, Mr. Trump turned a blind eye to the allegations provided by U.S. intelligence. Where is the public outcry? Can you imagine these charges being made when anyone else was president? The charges deserve a thorough investigation. And yet, Donald Trump chose to look away, content to take the word of former KGB spy and Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who claims the allegations are false. So, Donald Trump would rather believe Putin over our own CIA and FBI. (Seriously, what's going on here?)
During his 2018 trip to Paris, to honor American troops, Mr. Trump declined to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery to honor American troops killed in combat on European soil during WW I. Mr. Trump later complained he couldn't attend by helicopter because of the weather, adding it was not feasible to drive to the cemetery. Both claims were largely debunked, making room for the truth. Mr. Trump simply "did not believe it was important to honor America's war dead." He reportedly told officials, "Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers."
When it comes to honor and reverence for our heroic military men and women, for those who've given their very lives fighting for our freedom, could Mr. Trump's words have been more obscene?
I've had friends on Facebook who support the president say to me, when Donald Trump does something truly outrageous, illegal or, yes, obscene – take your pick – that’s when they'd call him out for being wrong, admitting he's not the right man for the job of president. I can see now, their words were hollow.
Back as the 2016 presidential election geared up, then candidate Donald Trump infamously said, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters." Even then, Mr. Trump sensed invulnerability in his standing with his loyal base. They would stand to defend him, no matter what, never recognizing, in his own way, he was mocking them.
Which brings me back to why I'm so afraid about the upcoming presidential election.
We've witnessed the daily untruths and outrageousness spoken by this president. His surrogates often claim he was only "kidding" with some of the things he says. Truth is, he isn't. It's one of those rare times you can believe Donald Trump, when he broadcasts his ill intent.
The latest is among his most egregious, that if he does not win the 2020 election, there will be no peaceful transfer of power. He's not kidding with that one either.
I'm not sure who will win this election but, in the 44 years I've been voting, this is the first time I've heard such a claim from a presidential candidate. In his mind, losing is not an option for Donald Trump. After all, he's already told us he doesn't like "losers." (Take that, Senator John McCain.)
Election night 2020 will look like no other. Avoiding long, crowded lines at polling places, for fear of exposing themselves to the COVID-19 virus, millions of us will vote early, or by mail. On election night, early returns will come from in-person voting, which may favor Donald Trump. Eleven percent of Mr. Trump's supporters say they plan to vote by mail, while 47 percent of Joe Biden supporters say they'll opt for mail-in voting.
Watching the polls, and fearful he may lose the election, Mr. Trump has taken to attacking mail-in voting. This, in spite of the words from FBI Director Christopher Wray who testified to Congress that the agency has not historically seen "any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election," including with mail-in voting. Mr. Wray's testimony undermines the president's repeated, baseless claims. But when has the truth ever gotten in the way of a lie perpetuated by Donald Trump? (This is one President who won't have any references made about him cutting down a cherry tree.)
Mr. Trump could lead on election night, before mail-in votes are added to the tally, occurring over several days following Nov. 3. This year, election night will turn into election week. And that's when, I fear, the trouble may begin.
Donald Trump is a shrewd marketer and knows how to manipulate his compliant base. His number one priority is not the good of the United States, but what's good for Donald Trump. He will not mind sending this country into chaos; in fact, he thrives on it.
His claim that mail-in voting will be rife with fraud is by design, meant to sow discord, even before the first votes are counted. That claim is backed up by his minions, including William Barr, who behaves more like Donald Trump's personal attorney than his official role of U.S. attorney general.
Mr. Trump will claim "victory" before all the votes are counted. Next, Republican lawyers (in a process already being discussed) will move to nullify mail-in voting in key states, effectively canceling the votes of, perhaps, millions of Americans. These, mind you, are the kind of things that happen in a banana republic. Sounds like the makings of a coup. Has America begun its slow descent into an autocratic regime?
Having unapologetically admired murderous dictators, Mr. Trump relishes the idea of our country being just another subsidiary of The Trump Organization. He wants to be president for life, with the job "handed down" to Ivanka, Jared or Don Jr. You know, like they do in North Korea.
Think I'm wrong about all this? (God, do I ever hope so.)
In the meantime, America, watch this space.
Elijah Jones is a proud Hattiesburg native who enjoys writing. Email him at email@example.com.