All this agonizing over what may happen if President Trump tries to steal the election is annoying. It normalizes the idea that aggression can steamroll the democratic process.
Here are healthier assumptions for those who value a fair election: If Trump loses, he leaves the White House on Jan. 20, 2021. If he wins, then he stays. If, by evening on Election Day, there is no clear winner - mail-in ballots still need to be counted - we wait until the mail ballots are counted. If, by bedtime in the Central time zone, Trump leads in-person voting in key swing states and declares victory, we still wait for the mail-in ballots to be counted. It's too bad The Washington Post has called this last outcome a possible "election-night disaster." Anti-Trump conservative David Brooks marched anxiety forward by imagining a "nightmare scenario" whereby Trump supporters prematurely hit the streets only to be met with angry Joe Biden voters, and mayhem ensues. The problem with all this handwringing of what Trump may do is that it helps set a stage for him to do it. And it could spur Biden voters to participate in chaos when they should be keeping their cool. If Trump declares victory when it is not his, the proper response is to ignore him and proceed with the counting. The same brush-off would apply to Trump supporters who erupt into a premature happy dance. Sure, Trump did say "the only way we're going to lose this election is if this election is rigged." Jeff Flake, a former Republican senator from Arizona, responded: "What kind of president talks like that? What kind of leader undermines confidence in the elections in his own country?" Even many who plan to vote for Trump would agree. Biden said in June that if Trump loses and refuses to leave, the military will escort him out of the Oval Office. It seems unlikely the armed forces would rush in to keep Trump illegally in office. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley says any dispute over results would be resolved by law, the courts and Congress, not armed forces.
If Trump doesn't win more Electoral College votes than Biden, the only thing doomed is his administration. Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen has predicted there "will never be a peaceful transition of power" if Trump loses. But there will be a transition. And the best way to keep it peaceful is for the Biden camp to not reward Trump's efforts to intimidate. The 2018 midterms showed power could be passed to another party. Be prepared for stress, but don't assume the democracy can't withstand it.
Froma Harrop is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.