Donald Trump’s tweet mooting an election delay isn’t a sign of strength but weakness. Maybe he’ll say it was just a joke. Maybe it was intended to distract from the bad economic news. Maybe he’s trying to inure the public to the idea of a postponement. Maybe he’s preparing for his post-presidency with a farrago of excuses and complaints and lies. Or maybe Trump is simply flailing, a prospective loser who is already losing it.
His erstwhile champion Herman Cain, who denounced the idea of wearing a mask, has just died at 74 from coronavirus complications. His national security adviser has the virus. So does Rep. Louie Gohmert, who refused to wear a mask. Trump’s incessant attempts to depict the pandemic as a hoax have turned out be the palpable fraud. The results were fully predictable. He isn’t sagging in the polls. He’s collapsing. At this rate he’s headed for a 1932-style defeat with the Democrats sweeping into power across the country.
Trump’s presidency is predicated on the notion that he is the strongman who can bust norms, upend Washington, drain the swamp, and goodness knows what else. Instead, he’s turned the White House into an armed fortress complete with its own wall cutting it from the rest of the city. Mr I Alone Can Fix It has turned out to be a complete bust. Meanwhile, his Attorney General William Barr is doing his level best to make it all about Schmitt. His credo appears to be the political philosopher Carl Schmitt’s famous apothegm, ‘Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.’ In this regard, the Trump administration certainly has been exceptional.
Schmitt was serious about his authoritarianism. Trump isn’t. If he were really intent on delaying the election — a heavy lift — he would have devised a strategy to carry it out. Wait for — or engineer — a crisis. Invoke emergency powers. Insist that your supporters are menaced by a not-so-incipient threat from a fascist left and that waiting at least six months — a year? — for an election is imperative. Let the date keep sliding. Keep inventing new excuses. And so on.
Instead, Trump’s stated reasons are the usual grab-bag of mail-in voting and absentee voting. His statements about election fraud are themselves fraudulent. In offering such transparently self-serving statements, Trump is merely confirming former vice president Joe Biden’s prediction in April: ‘Mark my words, I think he is going to try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale it can’t be held.’
Coming on the day that memorial services are being held for former congressman John Lewis, who devoted his life to securing voting rights, Trump’s comments were particularly maladroit. They set it up perfectly for the assembled politicians, particularly Barack Obama and George W. Bush, to hit it out of the park in their remarks. The contrast between Trump and his predecessors could hardly be starker. In retrospect this may be seen as the day that the restoration of the old order began.