Prior to the elections of 2020, America was universally considered the land of free and clean elections, citadel of the institutions of democracy, and sanctuary of the democratic process and its values. There was a time — from the emergence of Ramon Magsaysay in the political scene to the installation of the brilliant and eloquent Ferdinand Marcos as president — when Philippine politics and the electoral process mirrored those of America. But Mr. Marcos corrupted them to stay in power.
Trump’s post-election antics are making the world see America as an authoritarian state ruled by an egotistical but incompetent and boorish man. Ironically, Trump himself likened the United States to Third World countries where electoral fraud comes with the territory, alleging without presenting evidence that the recent US election was rigged. As I monitored the pre-election campaign and the events following Election Day, I often wondered if American politics and its electoral system are eroding to a state similar to that when Mr. Marcos ruled the land.
The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, Peter Wehner of The New York Times wrote in his column, “He is unlikely to be contained by norms and customs, or even by laws and the Constitution.” In the four years he has been president, Trump seems to have proven Wehner right.
In the months leading up to the election, Trump repeatedly said that he could only lose to Joe Biden if the election was rigged. He told reporters: “We want to make sure the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be.” He also declared, “Either I win the election or I delegitimize the election.”
Now President Trump refuses to accept defeat and continues to undermine the legitimacy of the just concluded electoral process, shattering yet another norm. He has spent the past weeks claiming electoral fraud but he has failed to back up his claim. He has said he will never concede and has hinted he won’t leave the White house on Jan. 21, 2021.
In addition to Trump’s refusal to commit to providing a peaceful transfer of power, he also encouraged his supporters to monitor Election Day polling places for instances of fraud, raising fears of voter intimidation, violence, and disorder. Although he said he was misinterpreted when he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” the group seemed to have taken his original remarks to be a tacit endorsement of their violent tactics if the election didn’t go his way. Many were seen armed around polling places.
From Election Day, the Trump campaign has filed a series of lawsuits disputing ballot counts in several states in an effort to stay in office, but judges in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Arizona have ruled with striking consistency and similar language that there is not sufficient evidence to back the claims of fraud.
Trump lawyers complained that Trump’s observers were denied sufficient access to watch the processing of ballots. But when the lawyers admitted that the observers had, in fact, been permitted within 15 feet of the poll workers, US District Judge Paul Diamond asked, “Then, what’s your problem?”
In Georgia a judge rejected the claim that Chatham County may have mishandled ballots as he saw “no evidence” to substantiate the claim. A Michigan judge denied Trump lawyers’ petition to halt absentee ballot counting in Macomb County, home to Detroit, over allegations that Trump campaign observers were not given “meaningful access” to observe the process. The evidence presented was a hearsay affidavit, which the judge found inadmissible.
A judge in Nevada denied efforts to toss out verification machines in Clark County, home to Las Vegas, based on what Trump lawyers said was “lax procedures for authenticating mail ballots.” The judge didn’t find the evidence sufficient. The lawyers also complained about observers not getting close enough to hear everything poll workers were saying. The judge asked, “At what point does this get ridiculous?”
In a suit filed in Maricopa County, Arizona by the Republican Party, the judge found “no misconduct, no fraud and no effect on the outcome of the election.” The GOP lawyers had identified nine mistakes during an inspection of 1,626 ballots that had been duplicated because the originals were damaged or could not be scanned. Those nine mistakes did not demand the “extraordinary act” of annulling the more than 3.3 million votes cast by Arizonans, the judge said.
But President Trump and his allies continue to insist they had evidence of misconduct at press conferences and on social media. A written statement released by Trump said, “We will pursue this process through every aspect of the law to guarantee that the American people have confidence in our government. I will never give up fighting for you and our nation.” Meanwhile, Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted: “When America sees everything we are uncovering they will be disgusted.”
But election officials in states and counties where Trump lawyers have asked for recount of ballots have certified Biden as the duly and fairly elected president.
In Michigan’s Wayne County, home to Detroit, unanimously certified elections results showing Joe Biden winning over President Trump hours after Republicans first blocked formal approval of the results of a free and fair election. Joshua Douglas, a Law professor at the University of Kentucky, said, “We depend on democratic norms, including that the losers graciously accept defeat. That seems to be breaking down.”
In Georgia, after completing a hand audit of ballots, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, confirmed Biden as the winner of the election in the state. “The audit confirmed that the original machine count accurately portrayed the winner of the election,” said he. Trump had claimed without evidence that there were widespread irregularities and fraud in the state.
In Wisconsin, Milwaukee County’s recount showed Biden gaining 132 votes to his margin of victory over President Trump, Biden gaining 257 votes and Trump adding 125 to his total. Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said that the recount demonstrated that elections in the county are fair, transparent, accurate and secure.
Last week, Attorney General William Barr, who is one of Trump’ loyal allies, contradicted the persistent claim of the president of widespread election fraud. He told the Associated Press that US attorneys and FBI agents have looked into the complaints filed by Trump’s lawyers but have found no evidence that could change the outcome of the Nov. 3 election.
Yes, America remains the paradigm of democracy, where the Constitution is sacrosanct, where the rule of law is supreme. Sadly, I cannot say that of our country. Our very own Supreme Court of Justice has evinced a tendency to go by the rule of the powers that be instead of the rule of law.
Take the case of the electoral protest of 2016 vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. where the associate justices sit as members of the electoral tribunal. They should have dismissed the case last year in accordance with the rules of the tribunal when Mr. Marcos failed to prove that he was cheated in provinces he specified in his protest. The recount of ballots showed that he lost by more votes than originally reported. The tribunal — actually the Supreme Court — deferred ruling on the case, giving civil society the impression that dismissal of the protest would displease the powers that be.
The rule of men prevails over Lupang Hinirang!
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.