By Harold A. Gould*
Charges of election fraud have become standard rhetorical fare in the American political environment since Donald Trump began raising this bugaboo during his recently concluded presidential campaign, despite abundant evidence to the contrary emanating from empirical sources that any significant electoral fraud ever occurred.
According to the Washington Post, for example, three academics who investigated election results in several states found no significant evidence of widespread voter tampering: “Our results do not imply that there was no fraud at all in the 2016 presidential contest, nor do they imply that this contest was error-free… They do strongly suggest, however, that the voter fraud concerns fomented and espoused by the Trump campaign are not grounded in any observable features of the 2016 presidential election.”
In point of fact, if indeed any kind of significant “fraud” has occurred in the American electoral process it pertains to the manner in which Republican-controlled state legislative bodies, in particular, conspire to prevent Blacks and other ethnic minorities from gaining free and uninhibited access to the polls. This is a process that has been going on since the 1870s after the federal government ceased obstructing the ability of Southern racists and White bigots in general from reimposing de facto racial segregation. It takes place today just as much as it did over a century ago with only methodological variations .
What then really lies behind such claims that, to use the word employed by the Trump camp itself, the 2016 election was “rigged” against them? A rather strange assertion, to say the least, given the fact that Trump is the declared winner and should be the last person to be complaining about the election’s outcome!
Such charges, of course, must be judged in the context of what could have been the real motives for promulgating them in the first place. And the answer is quite apparent: They fit into the rabble-rousing nationalistic populism that is Donald Trump’s political hallmark. Throughout his campaign which won him the presidency, and now in the process by which he intends to consolidate it, Mr. Trump is embarked on a multi-track political strategy: viz, to blend the old-fashioned fascist-style demagoguery, flavoured with implicit White racism, ethnic bigotry, and phobic aversion to foreign immigration, on the one hand, with a veneer of conservative establishment political respectability, on the other.
This is plainly apparent in the pattern of selections thus far being put forward for cabinet and key staff positions. The dilemma Trump faces, of course, is how to reconcile the inherent inconsistencies in his doctrinal scenario: How to hold together the dominantly White working-class support structure that got him elected in the first place, consisting of a saraband of people yearning to restore a gradually fading and ultimately unrestorable ethno-cultural panacea that he implicitly promised them, while simultaneously endeavouring to assemble a core of credibly competent professionals who appear to address America’s real domestic challenges, like economic inequality, Medicare, social security, educational reform, while also reassuring the corporate elite and the privileged classes in general that they will continue to enjoy the special fiscal advantages that enable them to control more than 90 per cent of the country’s wealth.
Also Trump’s appointments are endeavouring to reassure the public that his at times erratic and confusing campaign rhetoric concerning foreign policy will be superseded by more mature and responsible diplomatic and strategic judgements, something he will consistently find difficult because of his own convoluted fiscal machinations.
In his quest to reconcile these apparently contradictory strategies, Trump has been making a mixture of interesting choices. Selecting South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as US’s United Nations representative is one, for example. She is of Indian-American descent; led the movement to have the Confederate flag removed from the South Carolina statehouse grounds; has in general won recognition as a fair and balanced conservative politician. Another is the nomination of retired Marine General James Mattis for Defense Secretary. Although nicknamed “Mad-Dog Mattis”, the broad consensus is that General Mattis is an extremely able and intellectually impressive military man who would comport himself well in this role.
Then there is Alex Tillerson, Chief Executive of Exxon Mobil Corporation nominated for Secretary of State. However, Tillerson, despite his admitted talents as a world-class business executive, has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin; having negotiated a 2011 energy partnership deal with Russia that Putin said could eventually be worth as much as $500 billion. In 2012, the Kremlin bestowed the country’s Order of Friendship decoration on Tillerson. And these are factors which might affect his ability to win confirmation even by a Republican majority in the US Senate.
Simultaneously, however, we see unfolding a parallel pattern of appointments that are clearly aimed at diminishing and wherever possible nullifying many of the country’s principal social safety nets as well as some of President Barack Obama’s pet policy initiatives. .
Trump has tapped Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the US Environmental Protection Agency who, if confirmed by Congress, would put a climate-change denier in charge of the agency that is supposed to be responsible for reducing air pollution and other causes of climate change.
An array of billionaires sympathetic to Trump’s declared entrepreneurial machinations and reactionary policy propensities have been designated for several key posts in his impending administration, all of whom in one way or another are the diametric opposite of the kind of people he would need to fulfil the promises he made to his White working-class followers to “drain the swamp”. Ironically, some of these key choices have been plucked from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms, the very financial behemoths against which he railed throughout his campaign, and correlatively accused his Democrat rival Hillary Clinton of having sweetheart relations with.
They include his proposed appointment to Treasury (Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive), Transportation (Elaine Chao, wife of the Senate Majority Leader, Mich McConnell), Commerce (William Ross, worth $2.9 billion and opposed to Obama’s trade deals), the CIA (Mike Pompeo, who approves torture for terrorist suspects); Small Business (Linda McMahon: one of Trump’s biggest donors); E.P.A Administration ( Scott Pruitt, close ally of the fossil fuel industry); Health and Human Services (Tom Price, led opposition to Obama’s Affordable Care Act); National Security Advisor (Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, arch reactionary and outspoken opponent of so-called ‘Islamist militancy’); and Chief Strategist (Stephen Bannon, right wing media executive, with known racist biases).
More appointments are on the way that are anticipated to be in the same vein..
What does all this mean?
Film maker Michael Moore says President-elect Donald Trump might not make it to the White House; that “something crazy” could happen, such as the Electoral College rejecting him or the real-estate mogul quitting. “He’s not President of the United States yet. He’s not President until noon on January 20th of 2017,” Moore said during an appearance on NBC’s Late-night-with-Seth-Meyers: “Would you not agree, regardless of which side of the political fence you’re on, this has been the craziest election year? Nothing anyone has predicted has happened… So is it possible, just possible, that in these next six weeks, something else might happen, something crazy, something we’re not expecting?”
Why not indeed!
*Harold A. Gould is a Visiting Professor in the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]