These are times unlike any other we have faced in our lives. A pandemic is ravaging our population, 1 in 5 households in the U.S. are food -insecure, and tens of millions of our neighbors worry that they will not be able to pay the rent. Now, President Donald Trump has admitted to seeking to rig our elections and undermine democracy by sabotaging the U.S. Postal Service.
Trump has shown us how much danger he can do to the courts, the rule of law, the free press and the environment in four years. A second Trump term would be far worse.
Trump has shown us how much danger he can do to the courts, the rule of law, the free press and the environment in four years. A second Trump term would be far worse. For these reasons and many others, the stakes in this election feel higher than they have in any other since the Civil War. A defeat could leave the president and others close to him vulnerable to prosecution for crimes from tax fraud to obstruction of justice. For our enemies around the world, this is the best hope to further weaken a foe that has challenged and contained them for decades.
For these reasons, what is unfolding is not simply an election but an existential struggle between two ideas of who we are and what we should be. But, as of now, it is not shaping up as a fair fight.
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One side has vastly more resources and capabilities and a take-no-prisoners mentality that has it operating outside and perhaps at odds with the law. The other side has strongly worded complaints that it shares on social media. One side is taking action to gain an unfair advantage right now. The other side is at risk of not taking concrete steps to stop it until it is too late, the damage has been done and former Vice President Joe Biden’s lead in the polls is lost amid the quirks of our electoral system and a firestorm of vote count challenges.
Nowhere is this clearer then in the fight over mail-in voting. Trump and his administration are right now attacking the Postal Service. He is promoting unsubstantiated assertions that voting by mail is suspect. He is pressuring voters to vote in person even as the threat of COVID-19 makes that especially dangerous to the elderly and minorities.
The Senate and Trump appointees have failed to create adequate safeguards to prevent Russia from interfering in this election, and they have sought to downplay what U.S. intelligence experts worry are more active measures from Moscow. Trump campaign officials are continuing their efforts at voter suppression. Lawmakers have launched efforts to discredit opponents — including both the Durham investigation and the Senate Ukraine hearings — with the objective of helping the president. And the White House seems to be preparing now to challenge vote totals.
The other side has, thus far, done little more than warn that the GOP is not playing fair. But with Attorney General William Barr and the Republican-controlled Senate on Trump’s side, Democrats can no longer rely on mechanisms of government that might have, in the past, ensured fairness.
There are encouraging signs elsewhere that Democrats are beginning to recognize the stakes and are starting to respond constructively.
Hearings will take place Monday to investigate voting interference. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has recalled lawmakers early to try to pass a bill that would block changes at the Postal Service. Sadly, however, that bill would likely die a swift death in Mitch McConnell’s Senate.
That having been said, there are encouraging signs elsewhere that Democrats are beginning to recognize the stakes and are starting to respond constructively. Attorneys general in six states are considering taking legal action to stop changes to Postal Service procedures they say may deter or depress the vote. Former President Barack Obama has called for those who can to vote early and for those who are young to mobilize as poll watchers. Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and others have begun to mount efforts to counter voter suppression. In Kentucky, to choose one example, measures are being taken now to expand mail-in and early voting. (Meanwhile, new efforts to educate citizens on their voting options, including one here at NBC News, are being launched.)
But we must not stop there. Given the welter of complex state election laws, other state attorneys general must also step up. States should make it easier to vote by mail, create multiple ballot pickup and drop-off options and extend early voting. Poll-watching efforts must be expanded. International election monitors should be invited and welcomed into the U.S. The GOP’s army of lawyers should be matched and exceeded. Voter awareness campaigns to combat Russian and GOP disinformation efforts should be expanded.
Government officials who see abuses or threats that are going unaddressed should call them out instantly. Private tech companies should flag and seek to stop illegal foreign intervention in real time, before damage is done. Voters themselves should become more active, share information on state voter options, volunteer to help get out the vote or ensure its fairness and donate to efforts to protect our democratic processes. And finally, most importantly, vote totals must be so great that they deny the president and his allies at home and abroad the opportunity to affect the outcome via meddling, manipulation or legal maneuvers.
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This is not the first time America has faced foreign or domestic enemies who would weaken or destroy us. However, it is the first time that such an effort was led by the president of the United States, drawing on the full resources of the U.S. government and the support of the majority party in the U.S. Senate. As a consequence, we must combat this threat with even greater resolve, energy and ingenuity than those we have faced in the past. Or we must begin to prepare our apologies to generations to come.
David Rothkopf is the host of “Deep State Radio” and the author of the upcoming book “Traitor: A History of American Betrayal from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump.” He is the former CEO and editor of Foreign Policy magazine and served as a senior official in the Clinton administration.
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