Unhinged as it may be for the president to accuse, without a scintilla of evidence, a morning television host of murder, that particular conspiracy theory was not the most disturbing accusation to issue from Trump’s Twitter feed this week. No, that prize goes to his tweet from 26 May, claiming:
There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed … This will be a Rigged Election. No way!
The president’s defamation of Joe Scarborough is no more than an extreme version of something we have seen throughout Trump’s tenure in office: his ability to deflect attention from one colossal misstep by simply committing a fresh outrage. The fact that even a handful of Republicans have expressed mild regret at Trump’s bizarre accusation only underscores that it has served its instrumental purpose. For the moment, the news cycle is consumed not with the fact that 100,000 Americans have died in a pandemic that the White House recklessly insisted posed no threat; instead, all attention is riveted on the spectacle of a sitting president accusing an opponent in the “lame stream media” of homicide.
Trump’s attack on mail-in ballots, by contrast, is far more ominous. Here, the president is defaming not an individual but the integrity of our electoral process, confidence in which is a key to a stable democratic order. And the purpose of this attack is not distraction but pointedly political. The politics of disenfranchisement has emerged as a staple of Republican electoral strategy, and the reasons for targeting mail-in ballots are not hard to divine. The bulk of such ballots are cast in urban areas, where Democratic voters predominate, and as the nation continues to grapple with the Covid-19 outbreak, we can expect millions of urban voters to cast mail-in ballots in November as a hedge against the obvious health risks that come with in-person voting. Trump’s tweets serve, then, the politics of voter suppression. [Continue reading…]