The possibility that Trump will not voluntarily leave
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a strong supporter of mass movements, grapples with the possibility that a tryant like Donald Trump may not recognize a victory by the Biden-Harris ticket. | Patrick Semansky/AP

Yes. This is a presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Yes. This is an election about health care, education, the economy, climate change, criminal justice, and so many other important issues.

More importantly, however, this is an election about whether or not we retain American democracy. This is an election we must not lose.

Today, virtually every national poll and most battleground state polls have Biden ahead. Yet, Trump continues to repeat a message he tweeted several weeks ago: “The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election.”

Think about what that means. What he is saying is that if he wins the election, that’s great. But if he loses, it’s rigged. And if it’s rigged, then he is not leaving office. Heads I win. Tails you lose.

Never before in the history of this country have we failed to have a peaceful transition of power from one president to the next. And now, for the first time, we are facing an election where it is not clear that a sitting president will voluntarily leave office if he loses.

I am not in the habit of quoting former President Ronald Reagan, but I think something that he said in his first inaugural address makes the point about how important this part of our heritage is.

Here is what President Reagan said:

“To a few of us here today, this is a solemn and most momentous occasion; and yet, in the history of our nation, it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place as it has for almost two centuries and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”

Protecting this “orderly transfer of authority,” as President Reagan characterized it, is absolutely essential if all of us—Republicans, Democrats, Independents—want to protect our democracy. And the truth is that Donald Trump poses the biggest threat to our democracy that we’ve ever seen from a sitting president.

Remember: Donald Trump is the president who made the preposterous statement after the 2016 election, which he won, that “millions of people voted illegally.” That’s when he won. What will he say in 2020 if he loses?

This is the president who was asked by Chris Wallace on Fox News whether he would accept the election results. Trump refused to give a straight answer and said: “I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”

This is the president who has talked about delaying the election.

This is the president who’s now talking about a third term, in violation of the Constitution.

And it gets worse.

Last week Roger Stone, a convicted felon who was pardoned by Trump, stated on a right-wing radio show that Trump should declare “martial law” if he loses the election.

Roger Stone continued to say:

“The ballots in Nevada on election night should be seized by federal marshals and taken from the state. They are completely corrupted. No votes should be counted from the state of Nevada if that turns out to be the provable case.”

Stone is following the rhetoric from Trump that mail-in ballots will be “rigged,” and the election should be called into question before a single vote has been counted.

And just the other day Michael Caputo, a right-wing political operative who, incredibly, is the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, made the outrageous suggestion that left-wing voters are planning an armed revolt following the election. He stated in a video to his social media followers: “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”

Think about that. A senior Trump official is telling Trump supporters to purchase ammunition for an armed conflict here at home.

Trump himself has recently threatened to use the Insurrection Act — a law that allows the president to bring in the National Guard to confront civil unrest. If there are protests on election night, Trump says: “We’ll put them down very quickly if they do that. We have the right to do that. We have the power to do that if we want.”

At a time when Trump is urging tens of thousands of his supporters to intimidate voters by becoming “poll watchers,” he is now threatening to bring in the National Guard if there are protests.

It is becoming clearer by the day that Donald Trump will do whatever it takes to maintain the power of the presidency.

Miles Taylor, a life-long Republican who previously served as chief of staff inside the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security, warned that Trump will stop at nothing to defeat Biden.

“Put nothing past Donald Trump,” Taylor told the Associated Press. “He will do anything to win. If that means climbing over other people, climbing over his own people, or climbing over U.S. law, he will do it. People are right to be concerned.”

In addition, after Trump proposed postponing the election, another Republican, Steven Calabresi, one of the founders of the conservative Federalist Society, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times condemning Trump. Calabresi called Trump’s comments “fascistic” and said that his call to delay the election was an impeachable offense.

So, given this very dangerous situation, what are we going to do about it?

Here is what I believe needs to happen in order to prepare for what could be an unprecedented chain of events following the November election:

First and foremost, we must do everything we can to ensure Joe Biden wins by the largest possible margin on November 3. The better Joe Biden does, the harder it is for Trump to overturn the election.

We need to mobilize our movement in an unprecedented way to produce the largest voter turnout this country has ever seen. The future of our democracy depends on it. And if we are successful in defeating Trump, we must also stay vigilant and do everything possible to prevent Trump from staying in power if he loses.

Secondly, we need Congressional hearings with local officials to learn how they plan to handle the Election Day process and the days that follow.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, and I have written a letter to Mitch McConnell urging bi-partisan Senate committee hearings on this issue. At this historic moment, we believe that Democrats and Republicans in the Senate must come together to guarantee the integrity of our election process.

Every agency at every level of government must do all it can to ensure that we have a free and fair election where every eligible voter can vote without intimidation, and where no one has to put his or her health or life in danger to cast a ballot. That is why Congress must hear directly from election officials to know what measures are being taken to make voting available to all and to ensure a smooth election process.

Next, with the pandemic and a massive increase in mail-in voting, state legislatures must take immediate action to allow for votes to be counted before Election Day, as they come in.

The longer it takes to count ballots after Election Day, the more we will be seeing chaos, conspiracy theories, and social unrest. Faith in the election system will be undermined if election results are not determined as soon as possible.

Further, what studies show is that most Democrats will be voting by mail while most Republicans will be voting in person on Election Day. This could create a scenario on election night where Trump and down-ballot Republican candidates are shown in the lead before all the mail-in votes are counted and final results become available. Trump, of course, will call the newly counted mail-in ballots “voter fraud” and will try to use it as another reason to discredit the results. Counting mail-in votes as they come in leading up to Election Day will help ensure a reliable and dependable election process while guaranteeing that accurate results are reported in a timely fashion.

The news media needs to prepare the American people to understand there is no longer a single Election Day and that we may not know the results on November 3.

Properly setting expectations ahead of time will be crucial. Never before have we depended so heavily on mail-in ballots in a presidential election, and we already know that some states may be counting votes in the days following the election. If we fail to have a national conversation about this reality, we run the risk of people buying into conspiracy theories and other disinformation as we process election results.

Social media companies must finally get their act together and stop people from spreading grotesque levels of disinformation and using their tools to threaten and harass election officials.

It is the responsibility of social media companies to take action against extremists who are spreading disinformation on their websites. We cannot allow any scenario where there is a widespread distribution of disinformation that will harm the integrity of our elections. Further, we need social media companies to prevent users from launching attacks against public officials who are administering the election. Otherwise, our whole election process could be compromised. Let me be very clear:

This is the most important election in the modern history of this country. And for the first time in America, it appears that we have a sitting president who will be reluctant to leave office if he fails to win re-election.

We absolutely must come together in November to defeat Trump by the largest margin possible and stop him from dragging our country in an authoritarian direction. Nothing less than the future of our democracy and our country is at stake.

Over the next 48 days, let us do all we can to deliver a decisive victory for Joe Biden on November 3. And once we do that, let us remain vigilant to see to it that Trump allows for the peaceful transition of power.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.

Correction: When this article was first published, the incorrect text was uploaded in error.

ELECTION 2020: Everything you need to know to vote in your state


Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Sanders of Vermont, Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, is the longest-serving independent in congressional history.