Donald Trump’s antics in the wake of the November 3 election have kept even those with only a passing interest in politics entertained for weeks on end.
But while it’s easy to be sucked into the spectacle of the Trump circus, it masks a very real threat that could come back to bite America in the future.
According to a string of experts, including Griffith University political scientist Professor John Kane, voter fraud allegations had been part of the Trump campaign’s game plan well before Americans headed to the polls.
But while it’s now all but certain the 74-year-old will be prised from the White House on January 20, his actions have exposed serious cracks in the system – and could pave the way for a savvier and more destructive player to take advantage of the chaos to seize power down the track.
DANGEROUS GAME PLAN
Kane said the Trump campaign began laying the groundwork for its so far baseless election fraud allegations well in advance.
“When all the polls started going against him and it was clear he would not win unless he had another strategy, he started to attack mail-in voting, which they had lots of because you’ve got a Covid crisis on your hands,” Kane told news.com.au.
“There was absolutely no evidence at all, but he started hammering on and on and on about his rigged election mantra, and he was clearly setting the stage for when he did lose.”
Kane said the Trump team also initially pursued the “crazy” strategy of demanding counting be stopped early in some areas when Trump pulled ahead because of the so-called “red mirage”.
That was created as the majority of Republican supporters tended to vote in person, while Democrat votes trickled in later via mail-in ballots.
Kane believes Trump now privately accepts that it’s game over, but that he continues to push the election fraud conspiracy theory in an effort to save face.
Meanwhile, most Republicans are sticking by him as they do not want to offend their supporters who back the outgoing President.
“It’s getting increasingly uncomfortable for Trump himself and you can see from his attendance at the G20 Summit that he has mentally checked out,” he claimed.
“He knows it’s all over but he has a reputation to maintain.”
But while it’s tempting to view the ongoing Trump saga as little more than an entertaining spectacle, Kane argued that Trump’s behaviour was creating a potential future hazard in a post published on Medium this month.
“Trump’s relative triviality may lead us to think he cannot pose such a vast threat,” he wrote.
“Perhaps, yet he has exposed chinks and vulnerabilities in the constitutional fabric of the American politics that, if left unaddressed, may be ruthlessly and devastatingly exploited by some future demagogue more astute and more determined than Trump.”
He told news.com.au Trump’s “attempted coup” exposed the cracks in America’s political system, and that a savvier player with an agenda could potentially take advantage of those very cracks to seize power in future.
“There’s no getting around it – he’s trying to rob an election from the person who won it,” Kane said.
“Trump is incompetent and bumbling … but what he has done is shown up the cracks in the system and he has shown that things many people thought were impossible are not.
“If you have someone with real political talent and an agenda, Trump has shown how far you can push the system.”
He said Trump’s behaviour proved a great deal of the political system was built on “honour” and that if a leader chose not to do the honourable thing, there was “no comeback”.
“It’s concerning for all American people – the situation is hilarious on one level, but it’s actually genuinely scary,” Kane said.
So what would it take for a future tyrant to take advantage of Trump’s groundwork?
According to Kane, there would need to be several key factors at play – an economic crisis, disillusioned masses and a “charismatic character willing to do practically anything” who had the military on side.
“The kind of fanatical following Trump did achieve is very rare and it grows out of dissatisfaction with the system,” he said.
“We see this kind of scenario in coups around the world, and it’s one a determined autocrat could make use of.
“When opportunities come around, ruthless people grab them, and all it would take would be for someone with some political nous to challenge (the system) after Trump.”
Kane said Trump’s repeated “lies” and support of conspiracy theories was also “a worry” as it encouraged the public to disregard reality and eroded trust in institutions and processes without justification, although he hoped the “fake news” hysteria would fizzle out once Trump was removed from office.
Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are quietly preparing to take over the leadership, with Biden previously describing Trump’s refusal to concede “an embarrassment”.
Once the votes are certified in each state, the Biden administration will commence on January 20 at noon during an inauguration ceremony which will take place in Washington DC – with or without Trump’s blessing.
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