The Trump “Truth Decay” Precedent and the Threat to Democracy Worldwide

The Trump “Truth Decay” Precedent and the Threat to Democracy Worldwide

Despite the substantial victory of President-Elect Joseph Biden in the 2020 election, democracy in the US and indeed in the entire democratic world may well be in dire trouble. Proof of this is the results of a Monmouth Poll on the attitudes of those who voted for Biden and Trump in the wake of the election. Focusing on the almost 74 million Trump voters, who we assume are largely republican.

The Poll found the following: “Among Trump voters, 26% are angry that the incumbent lost, but more (36%) are angry at the idea that Biden won. While 60% of Americans believe Biden won the election fair and square, 32% say he only won it due to voter fraud. Three-quarters (77%) of Trump backers say Biden’s win was due to fraud. Murray added, “The anger among Trump’s base is tied to a belief that the election was stolen.” 

Consider what it means for the future of US democracy that 77% of the almost 74 million individuals who voted for  Trump are convinced that the election was ridden with fraud. The election was stolen without a shred of actual evidence. Consider what it means that despite some 30 legal actions by the Trump lawyers alleging many forms of fraud without any evidence have been thrown out by the US courts. Yet, the Monmouth Poll still comes up with this stunning number of over 50 million US citizens who have somehow moved into an alternative fact-based reality. They remain convinced that they don’t have a legitimate President. That number represents over a third of the number of people who voted in the 2020 elections taking into account the over 80 million who voted for President-Elect Biden. These poll figures confirm what former President Obama has called the rising use and acceptance of “truth decay” promoted by far-right networks like Fox News, talk show radio hosts and social media promoting bizarre conspiracies against the democratic party.

This potential danger to democracy in the US is also a threat to the rest of the democratic world.

Already some of these Trump followers have been involved in the intimidation of poll workers, street fights and death threats. Before the day of the election, some who seemed to be inspired by Trump’s call to liberate Michigan were involved in the planned kidnapping and execution of the democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer while also planning to attack or burn down the state capital and executing other public officials.

The proper functioning of the democratic process in the US could be endangered by the presence of a third of the electorate in the 2020 elections who have rejected the fact that President-Elect Biden has not only won the same level of support of the Electoral College that Trump had in 2016 but also he obtained the largest popular vote in US history surpassing Trump’s total by some 6 million votes. President-Elect Biden has pledged to seek to unify the country and govern as equally for those who voted against him as those who voted for him.  Biden ha showed great ability in the past to work with his political opponents when he was in the Senate, and perhaps, he and the leadership team he will surround himself with will be able to overcome this vast democratic challenge posed by the alternative facts, lies, and conspiracies dreamed up by the departing president and his followers.

This potential danger to democracy in the US is also a threat to the rest of the democratic world. The precedent that Trump is setting for undermining legitimate winners of properly run democratic elections could entice aspiring autocrats around the democratic world to do likewise with the goal of eventually toppling incumbents. The Trump precedent could incite aspiring autocrats worldwide to use and be used by media outlets that promote divisive lies and dangerous conspiracies,  falsely asserting widespread fraud and attempting to use what they perceive as sympathetic judges to undermine elections while refusing to concede to the legitimate winner of the elections while encouraging partisan elected officials to ignore constitutional. Elections laws to just declare the losing candidate the winner. Some observers assert this dangerous Trump precedent will eagerly be embraced in fragile democracies, especially in Africa. However, it could easily spread to democratic societies in the western democracies and emerging democracies in other parts of the world. We have already seen variants of the Trump precedent at the heart of the European Union in Hungary dominated by the autocratic government of Viktor Orban. No democratic country is immune from this form of “truth decay.” 

 The reality that a US president who still managed to get a third of the electorate to believe the election was stolen without any basis, in fact, may well inspire aspiring autocrats around the world to explore how they can build on and perhaps even improve the Trump “truth decay” precedent.

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